Growing Pains

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If you’ve read any of my posts this year, you know full well that 2016 has had kind of a rough start. January was hard.  And as it drew to a close, I braced for February to be even more so.  February followed through.  And just because it didn’t think I’d seen enough, February went and threw an extra day at me.  Thanks, Leap year.

As I sit on the precipice of March, I am quite certain it will prove itself to be challenging in its own right. But I am quite certain, I will prove to be stronger.  I usually do.

Yesterday was my first race in a really long time. I had signed up for a 15k trail race back in the fall to give me a little focus through the winter months.  I’m glad to say that it definitely helped me build my mileage and give me a sense of accomplishment during these weeks that have been a somewhat blurry funk.  While I was fortunate enough to get some really beautiful days for some long runs (I made it all the way up to 10 whole miles…albeit slow miles) I never managed to get out on the trails like I had hoped.  So I went into yesterday’s event with the motto that it wasn’t going to be a “race”, but rather an “accomplishment”.

When I awoke yesterday morning feeling well rested, I marveled at how unusual that is. I typically don’t sleep well the night before a race, so perhaps there is something to be said for the lack of stress when the pressure is off and the only expectation I have of myself is to go out and have fun.

As I dressed, I took 2 things into consideration. 1. The weather was expected to start cool but warm up to 60 degrees by the time we finished.  And 2. Perhaps starting with a personal trainer at the gym on Thursday had been really bad timing.  My quads were feeling it, but I managed to make my way down the stairs slowly and gather my necessary gear.  I got a good luck text from B while I sat eating a piece of toast with peanut butter and drinking my coffee.  A few minutes later, I kissed the kids goodbye and headed off to Castlewood.

When I arrived, I had to drive to the back of the park before I found open parking. I was sitting in the car checking my phone and changing into my shoes, for about 5 minutes before I finally realized that Steve was parked right next to me.  He admitted he had even noticed my 140.6 magnet on the back of my car and thought, “Oh cool, an Ironman” but failed to recognize it was me.  We can’t even blame being up early since this race has a late start time of 10am.  We grabbed our bags and walked toward the Start/Finish area together.  When we got there, he still needed to get his bib so he went off to do that and I joined Kristen and Gerry at a nice spot in the sun.  As we stood in line for the port-a-potties, Kristen and I discussed our mutual goal of finishing this race and not requiring medical attention.  Beyond that, we both hoped to finish in under 2 hours.  I knew she would probably smash that, even with the muddy trail conditions due to a typical Midwestern snow storm that hit mid-week and was completely melted making the trails nice and sloppy.

Our group grew as others showed up, Tony, Wes, Roberto and Brian (Laiderman, to avoid confusion). Even Shane and Heather who weren’t racing had run the Al Foster trail over to say hi and bid us all a good race.  I waved to several other familiar faces and I found myself smiling.  A lot.  It felt good.  As race time drew nearer, we had begun asking “Where are Nick and Andrea?” but we all know that Nick runs on his own time frame, so we banked on the fact that Andrea would get them there before the gun went off.  We were correct.  As we all gathered and determined that we were primarily split between waves 6 and 7, we decided to all start together in 7, with the exception of Nick, Steve and Brain who are faster than the rest of us.  I was just glad to have friends to run with, especially in the beginning.  It made it feel less like a race, and more like a typical Saturday at Castlewood.  When our turn came, it didn’t take long for our group to spread out.  We basically ice-skated across the muddy field and came to Lone Wolf hill which I haven’t run in ages.  I had been chatting with Andrea and we made it up most of the hill before we decided not to overdo it right off the bat.  I had planned that this “race” might be more of a glorified hike.  We got up to the bluff, veered right and carefully made our way down the switchbacks toward the creek.  We ran along the creek and at about 2.5 miles we came up on the aid station.  I grabbed a cup of water from Gerry, half expecting it to be Tequila.  Fortunately, it went down smooth, it was water.  We crossed the road and instead of taking Cardiac Hill we went right to go up the switchbacks.  Thank God!  It was shortly after that when I gave a quick glance over my shoulder and saw that several people had snuck in between me and Andrea.  Rather than stop where there isn’t really room to do so, I just kept going  and figured we would find each other somewhere on the course.  The next few miles were a lot of sloppy ups and downs.  At one point a young kid was running by me and I heard someone ask him how old he was. “12” he answered.  The lady right in front of me said, “My 12 year old is at home asleep”.  I responded, “My 13 year old is home watching my boys.  She got the tougher job today.”  We chatted some before she ultimately let me pass to run down the hill faster than she was comfortable with.

A little while later, as I made my way back up, my shoe had come untied, so as I stopped to make adjustments, a passing runner asked, “Everything ok?” And I realized it was Tim. So we walked up hill together, agreeing that neither of us had been on trails in way too long, but we couldn’t have asked for a better day.

About halfway through the race, with the temperature rising, the sun shining through the trees, the mud puddles splashing around me on trails where I have so many great memories, it occurred to me, this is like Homecoming, in the middle of winter. It was so perfect, I couldn’t stop smiling as I jumped over familiar roots and ran down hill with reckless abandon. My park was saying, “Welcome Home”.

With 6 miles down, I knew I would easily finish under the 2 hour goal I had set for myself. So I continued to enjoy myself.  At 7 miles, I was almost sad that there were only a couple miles left.  My quads were a different story, lamenting how much I had put them through in less than 48 hours.  At about 8 miles, we came back around to the aid station Gerry was at.  I tossed my gloves to him and said to a runner right over my shoulder, “It’s time to get wet!” and I plowed through the creek.  The cold water felt good, but it made my already heavy shoes feel even heavier.  I knew I didn’t have much farther to go, so I shook it off and just ran.  I passed a lot of folks in that last mile.  As we came around the field into the finish, I had my sights on the guys ahead of me, I made a push to pass him.  I caught him, but I felt another guy off my other shoulder trying to catch me.  I sped up.  He sped up.  I sped up again.  He sped up again. He was a step in front of me.  I took back the lead.  It was a photo finish.  But it was fun having that little bit of competition right at the very end.  And because I am who I am, I wasn’t going to let some guy in a green headband come from behind and beat me.  I said, “Nice race” and then I easily sauntered over to where Tony was standing, while green headband went hands to knees to catch his breath.  I may have been smirking. (Read: I was definitely smirking)

A minute or so later I saw Nick heading toward the finish line to cheer Andrea in. I walked over with him.  I said to him, “My face hurts from smiling.”  A more than 9 mile trail race I had just completed and my face is what I noted was hurting.  I’m a weirdo.

When Andrea crossed we walked over to the pavilion to enjoy the benefits of the post race party. We stood in line for our food and then found a spot at a picnic table in the sun.  Other members of our clique eventually joined us.  We ate, and drank, and laughed and caught up.  And my face still hurt from smiling.  As I sat there amidst my crew of friends that I haven’t seen nearly enough lately, it occurred to me that I felt like ME again.  The fog had finally lifted.  Even if only temporarily the hard had disappeared.

Everything about yesterday made me so happy. Being with friends that I love dearly in a place that feels like home with the sun shining on me while doing my favorite thing in the world.  I was so full of gratitude I thought my heart might explode.

As things started to die down and we all had to go our separate directions, I decided to walk back to the car, rather than wait for Steve who was going to ride back with Brian. He had pulled his jeep up to the pavilion but was busy saying good-bye to, um, everyone.  I knew exactly what would happen, and sure enough, just as I got back to the car, I heard cat calls from behind me.  They had arrived at exactly the same time.

The three of us were single file driving out of the park. I honked at Dan, who wasn’t able to run but came to hang out with us anyway. And I left Castlewood, with the windows down, the sun shining, and my face hurting from smiling.  I said softly to myself, “I needed this.  I needed this so much.”

I arrived home to find B helping Silas make a “super suit” out of cardboard boxes, construction paper and toilet paper rolls. Everyone was in good spirits.

B asked, “How was it?”

“It was perfect.” I responded, “It was exactly what I needed.”

“That’s what I was hoping,” he said.

 

Today was another absolutely gorgeous day. This morning the kids wanted to get donuts and go to the park, how could I say no to that?  There is this amazing new park just up the road from us and its set right in the middle of the woods.  It’s so unbelievably cool.  I sat on a bench with my coffee watching my kids play.  I could feel my frustrations wanting to come back and anxiety over the week ahead trying to creep back in.  No, I thought, just no.  I lifted my face to the sun and thought, “In this moment, right now, things are good.  I will not worry about what hasn’t happened yet, or the things I can’t do anything about. In this moment, things are good.”

A few minutes later, Ally came and sat with me. She was sharing her frustration with trying to plan out our day, but not getting much of a straight answer from those we were trying to plan with.  And we were talking through some things.

I said to her, “Well, adjustments are hard.”

She said, “But I’m happy, I mean I’m glad to have this new (adjustment)”…

“I know,” I said, “but even good change is an adjustment. Even good change can be hard.  It just takes time. That’s why it’s called ‘Growing pains’.”

She nodded in agreement and put her arm around my shoulders. We sat there in the sun, smiling.  And I realized that all this smiling, has made my heart hurt a little less.  It doesn’t mean March will be easy, but in this moment, right now, things are good.  Things are very good.

Typical

Typical

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What the Heart Needs

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It’s the middle of February and Valentine’s Day is upon us, so you can probably guess what this post is about. Yes, Love.  But before you roll your eyes, or run away screaming, just bear with me for a bit.  I guarantee I’m not going where you think I am with that.

I’m not gonna lie, the first 6 weeks of 2016 have been tough. I didn’t even blend a family and I can tell you that this blended family thing is haaaaard.  Going through a divorce, hard.  Learning to be a single parent, hard.  Helping my kids (and myself) through the transition of their dad getting remarried, I had no idea.

I’ve been saying it all along, my head knows that nothing, absolutely NO-THING, can replace me as my kiddos’ mom. My head has had that thought on repeat for the past couple of months.  I just wish my heart would catch up to the idea.  Every other Thursday when my babies leave for the weekend with their dad, my heart breaks a little, knowing that they are not only spending that time with their dad, but also growing a relationship with another mother figure.

Don’t get me wrong, I WANT them to have a relationship with their step-mom. And I want them to be close with her.  But I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt somewhat.

So, as we’ve been riding the rollercoaster of learning how to do this, I’ve tried to remind myself to find what my heart needs.

A couple weeks ago, knowing that I needed a break from the familiar everyday reminders of what life is now, Brian and I loaded up the car for a weekend in the woods. We drove to Table Rock Lake and spent a blissful weekend, with shockingly high temps for January, hiking, watching the sunset, playing pool and ping-pong (I went down gloriously at both) and sitting by the fireplace drinking wine.  It was perfect.  It was exactly what my heart, and my head, needed.

While it would be really nice to just jump in the car and drive to a cabin in the woods whenever I felt the anxiety or the sadness or the frustration start to overwhelm me, that’s just not realistic. Fortunately, I do have an old friend, that never lets me down when I need a break from reality.  His name is running.  He will go the distance with me, or if I don’t have time for a long visit, short and sweet works for him too.  The other day, we got another brief break from the cold of January, and while I only had time for 3 short miles, running came through.  It was one of those perfect experiences where my feet felt light, my lungs felt full and my heart felt happy.

So, back to the whole Valentine’s Day thing. February 14, to a lot of people, is really just another day.  A Hallmark Holiday. I totally get that.  But for me, it’s undeniably special.  This Sunday, while couples all over the world are exchanging flowers and chocolates (Yes, I have something for my sweetie, too) I will actually be celebrating the 13th anniversary of the day I became a mom.

I say all the time that God knew exactly what he was doing when He gave me Ally first. I also say that if Silas had been first, he would probably be an only child, but that’s beside the point.

Ally becomes a teenager on Sunday. My baby girl, who was the best Valentine ever, is about to turn 13.  With this milestone, it’s hard not to be even more reflective that usual.  13 is a big deal.

But here’s the hard part. This Sunday, Ally will wake up at my house and we’ll have cake for breakfast cause that’s how we roll.  And then she will go back to her dad’s and spend the rest of the day there, because that’s how the custody schedule works.

Fortunately, I get tomorrow with her, so we’ll get pedicures and drink Starbucks and I will probably even take her shopping (her choice, not mine). I’ve wrapped her presents and I’m working on her requested One Direction birthday cake.  I’m open to ideas on that one.  Anyone?

But then she will go and spend the rest of the weekend with her other family, the one I’m not a part of. I will be ok.  This is something that it took me a while to get used to, because anyone who knows me at all, knows that I LOVE Birthdays.  Seriously, I love them.  I make a huge deal out of them.  My mom always does the same, so I come by it honestly.  But I will be ok.  Because I know what my heart needs.  My heart just needs to be reminded that I am her mom and I always will be.

There’s a quote by Elizabeth Stone that goes, “Making a decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

My heart turns 13 on Sunday, and even though she won’t be with me all day, she will be well loved, by many. I can’t help but think about the song I used to sing to her as a baby.  I would sit and hold her and sing to her.  I would keep singing long after her eyes would close and she would drift off to sleep.

The song begins, “You’re a little piece of heaven, You’re a golden ray of light, And I wish I could protect you from the worries of this life…”

Since I can’t sing you the whole song, you can check it out here.

She’s still my little piece of heaven, and now she is a BOLD golden ray of light that shines brighter all the time. No matter how old she gets, I will always want to protect her.  As she crosses the threshold of 13, I know that so many heartbreaks are right around the corner for her, but she is strong and I will walk with her through anything.  I could not be more proud of the person she is and who she is becoming.  She is so beautiful, inside and out.  She is smart, and determined, and loving, and thoughtful and she is not afraid to stand up for herself.

I know my heart will be ok, because even when it wonders off, it always comes back. And I know who is holding my heart in His hands.  Because He knows what my heart needs even before I do.

There are seasons in life that are hard, it’s just that simple. But even during those times, the heart will find what it needs if you let it.  It’s in the moments when the sun is shining, or when the wind is at your back, when your feet feel light and your heart is happy.  Eventually it will be 13 years later and you’ll look back to realize you don’t even remember the pain, all you can see is the beauty that came from it.  And all that remains is love.

Happy 13th Birthday, Little Al.

Happy 13th Birthday, beautiful girl.

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Learning to Navigate the Weird

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Running in negative 14 degrees and watching your spit freeze in mid-air…weird, right? A few days later, running in shorts and short sleeves, in January, in Missouri…also weird.

The word ‘weird’ has been thrown around a lot at my house lately, and in my head.

During a conversation with Ally just after Christmas, it occurred to her that there were people living in her other house (her dad’s house) while she wasn’t there. “Weird.” She said.

After the first day of being back at school, “Hey Ethan, how was it having Miles (new step-brother) in your class?” “Weird” was his response.

Seeing my kids’ new step mom also in the drop off and/or pick up line each day…Weird. Even weirder…being out for a run on Thursday afternoon and knowing that she was picking them up instead of me.

It has occurred to me that we use the word weird, when we aren’t really sure what other word to use.

Yesterday Brian and I bundled up and went over to brave the cold at Castlewood to get our first look at the post-flood version of our favorite park. Driving in was certainly weird, as I kept telling him various places that I had seen pictures of that had been completely under water.  Even the spot we parked in had been submerged just a couple weeks ago.  There were still remnants of puddles in lower lying areas, but for the most part, the ground was dry.  At first glance, things appeared normal, but that eventually changed as we went deeper into the woods.

We hiked up Lone Wolf Hill and walked along the bluffs. The height up there allows for a good overview, which also gave the appearance of things being mostly back to normal.  When we approached the stairs, I mentioned to B about a picture I had seen of the water being way up into the massive staircase.  Hard to believe, especially since the water has since receded into the confines of the river banks.  As we sat for a moment at the bottom of the stairs, watching a red-headed woodpecker just overhead, an older fellow came by and said, “A couple weeks ago, you would have been sitting under water right there.”  Weird.

As we went through the tunnel that goes under the train tracks and popped out on the other side by the trail that runs along the river, I started to get my first glimpses of the changes that had taken place. To the average person who had only been there once or twice, I’m sure those changes wouldn’t have been noticeable.  But to those of us who have made this park a second home, they are glaringly obvious.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but there was a time when I felt more comfortable being lost in the woods out there than I felt in my own house.  Weird.

“Woah” I said when I noticed how the massive erosion had washed the rocks from beside the train tracks down over a signpost, almost covering it. And again when I saw that part of the trail was now completely gone.  Vanished.  Weird.

We turned right to head out into the flats to see how far we could get before we might be forced to turn around due to mud, or possibly still flooding. The tiny, little, almost invisible stump that B tripped over about a year and half ago, injuring his rib, was still there.  However, if he were to fall the same way now, he would have ended up in the water.  The path had eroded and narrowed considerably.

B kept pulling sticks out of trees, sticks that had likely floated into the tree branches weeks before. We came across a pile of saw dust, evidence of someone with a chainsaw clearing the path of some of the bigger obstacles…entire trees that had floated down the river and been deposited in a new location.  As we got to the flats, we had to climb over a tree to continue.  Shortly after that we decided to turn around and go back along the river.  When we got back to the stairs we ran into my friend Lara, we talked briefly, but we started getting cold standing still, so we parted ways knowing that we would reconvene at the tri club party later.

As we continued along the river, familiar places looked totally different. From where I am sitting right now in my house, I can see a picture of my kiddos framed and hanging on the wall.  It was one of the first pictures I had taken to fill my new home.  It’s the 3 of them, smiling, sitting on a huge downed tree right by the path B and I were on.  That tree is now almost completely gone.  As I noticed how different the trail looked, I thought of that picture, and it made me kind of sad.

“This is so weird.” I kept saying, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this was even the same place.  “New territory to explore, new trails,” he said.  I smiled.  While that’s true, there are parts of Castlewood that are almost unrecognizable to me now because of the changes that have transpired.  There were parts that the old brush had been completely washed away, and parts that looked more like a tornado had gone through depositing so much debris up in the tree that it looked like a fort.

I’ve been struggling lately with the unfairness of the world. Having lost 2 friends to cancer, less than three weeks apart, who knew each other, I am having a hard time accepting that their children will have to grow up without their moms.  And when I think about how weird that my kids have another mother figure in their lives that isn’t me, what I am really thinking of is…it’s not fair.  Now, I don’t want to be someone who whines all the time about ‘It’s not fair’, but the reality is, it’s not.  I say to my kids all the time when they are unhappy about the fairness of some situation that parental line, “Sometimes life isn’t fair.”  No one ever promised us that it would be fair all the time, but sometimes what we mean when we say something is ‘weird’, what we really mean is…it’s not fair.  It’s not normal.  It’s different. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  And honestly, when we realize that, it hurts.  It hurts a lot.

So, what do I do with that? How do I navigate the unfair?  Sometimes I grieve it, sometimes I call it weird and keep on moving, sometimes I have to look a little deeper to figure out what’s really changed.  And what do I do with the weird?  Well, I cry when I need to.  I hug B and my kids, sometimes more than they probably want to be hugged.  And I just keep doing the best I can with it, until the weird becomes the new normal.  And I remember that even though the trail is still in the same place, there was no way it was always going to look the same.  Some of the same little details are there, some of the big things are now missing.  There are some places where someone paved the way by clearing some of the larger obstacles and there are some places where the path has narrowed and made the trek significantly more challenging.  But I’ll climb over things, or swing from vines (yes, I actually did this yesterday.  B shook his head at me, but I laughed despite hurting myself) and I’ll do whatever I need to do to get back to where I need to be.

Fact: I am the old wife. There is another who has taken my place in that role.  Also fact:  I cannot ever be replaced in my more important roles.  There is some truth to the saying ‘Out with the old and in with the new’, but if you didn’t know what it looked like before, how would you even know it was new now?

Just like Castlewood, I have weathered the storm and I am not the same as I was before. But this won’t be the last storm, and I will be forced to change again.  The old plus the storms equal the new.  And just like B said, that gives us new territory to explore, and new territory equals new experiences. I am being refined in the fire, and being made new.

So now what? Is it weird that I find myself wanting to be friends with the new wife?  Maybe.  But wouldn’t it be even weirder if I didn’t want to forge a relationship with the other person who will be nurturing and helping to raise my children?  The other person who is listed as their emergency contact?  The other person who has the word mom in her title? I think so.  But maybe I’m just weird.

This is the photo of my kiddos from Castlewood on that tree.  The tree may be changed, but so are we.

This is the photo of my kiddos from Castlewood on that tree. The tree may be changed, but so are we.

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Expectation vs. Hope

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Since I haven’t had a chance to say this until now, Happy 2016! A year ago I said that I wanted 2015 to be big, and I’m pretty sure I lived up to that. It was certainly a year of surprises.  Surprises like a week in the hospital, a trip to Nicaragua, a new step family for my kids, jumping out of a plane, a diploma and a budding nursing career.  I haven’t quite figured out what 2016 is the year of yet, but I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately.  After a week in LA to finish out the year, a week that proved to be the week of failed expectations (or so I thought), how could I not?  Expectations of our lives, expectations of others, others expectations of us.   If we aren’t careful, expectations can be really damaging, especially to ourselves and our relationships with others.

Am I the only one who does this? With a vacation on the horizon, I plan out everything we are going to do and what it’s going to look like and how perfect it’s going to be.  I do not however, work the stomach flu into the equation.  I had plans of going on lots of hikes, having a ball at Legoland with the kids and taking them all around Hollywood to see the sights.  In reality, a very few of us went on 1 single hike, Legoland was pretty much lame and only Ethan made it to Hollywood with me.  Failed, right?  Well, not exactly.  Ok, so the things I had set my sights on didn’t go just as I thought they would but how often does anything turn out how we think it will?

The other day I set off for my first run of 2016. My expectations were looooooooow.  Seriously, I have been seriously struggling to get back on track physically since I tried to shut my kidneys down in May.  It continues to amaze me, as it becomes clearer, just how close I was to not being here today.  At my annual doctor visit the other day, Dr. Meddows was looking at my electronic chart and she said, “LINDSEY!  Oh my gosh, this was really bad!”  She used words that no one had said to me in the hospital, I’m sure in an effort to keep me calm.  Or maybe they told me and I was so delirious I just have no recollection.   At any rate, I am in the very early stages of a comeback now, so maybe 2016 should be the year of the Comeback.  But that insinuates that I didn’t learn anything from last year.  I need to remember that sometimes the unexpected happens, and that I need to not expect more from my body than it’s capable of.  I’d like to think that I’m back on the horse, but I’m going forth with a much better awareness of listening to my body.  And not being dumb.

That being said, as I set out for my run the other day, I kept in mind that while I used to be able to run sub 8 minute miles, now the goal is to return home without feeling like I’m going to keel over. So I set out with a general distance in mind, but considerably slower than what used to be my normal.  So what if I’m a couple minutes slower now, the point is to enjoy it.  And I did.  It was a beautiful 55 degree day, not like today’s running temp of -14 that I faced this morning.  Ouch.  Anyway, I took my water and set out in search of potentially my longest run since the Berryman Marathon nearly did me in.

While I ran, I did a lot of reflecting on our week in LA. I’ll be honest, what was supposed to be a fantastic week of vacation with family, turned out to be a really tough week.  Before picking the kids up from their dad’s house to head to the airport on Christmas day, I was in the middle of getting ready to go when I grabbed my phone and read a text from my friend Stephanie.  I think I gasped slightly before Brian and I looked at each other, I simply said, “Inga…” and he knew.  Our friend that we had known since grade school, who has been battling Cancer for 8 long years, had finally been called home to celebrate Christmas with Jesus this year.

While we were in LA, we missed a lot of what was happening back here in Missouri. Watching videos of the flooding Meremac River was surreal.  Places that I pass on a daily basis and places that I love, all became completely submerged.  The Al Foster trail, where Brian and I ran on Christmas Eve was probably among the first to be under water.  My beloved Castlewood was totally unrecognizable in the pictures I saw.  I was very fortunate that my house is in a secure location and when Brian checked on it, he reported that all was well.  But hearing the pleas for prayer over friends’ businesses and the homes of their loved ones made my heart hurt for them.

Several of our vacation plans got side-lined or rearranged as the week went on and Silas was the first to go down with a round of the stomach flu. But he was only down and out for a day before he bounced back and we thought we were good to go.  I was able to take Ethan and Ally, along with their cousin Brooke, off for a hike at Rocky Peak that day while Silas recovered.  It was 6 years to the day since the last time we had been there.  It was weird to think about how much life has changed for all of us since then.  The next day when Silas woke up feeling like himself, and no one else was showing any signs, we thought we were back on track.  We headed off to Legoland, which turned out to be something that we never have to do again.  But my mom and I had taken the 4 big kids and enjoyed spending the day with them.  Unfortunately, on the drive back from Carlsbad to my brother’s, Ally was the next to go down.  And she went down hard.  The poor girl was a mess and being in the car only made it worse.  She always somehow ends up sicker than the others and has been to the hospital multiple times for dehydration, so it gets scary really quick.  By New Years Eve, Silas, Ally and mom had all fallen victim.  While they were pulling through it, they were just out of energy.

Adam and I took the last 2 standing off to Hollywood for a few hours of fun before heading home to witness the Spartans massive destruction that was the Cotton Bowl. I’d like to say it was the game that did me in, but the reality was, I was the next to fall.  At 10pm on New Years Eve.  12 hours before we had to begin our journey back to St. Louis.  And as much as I hoped that Ethan would remain the strong one, he followed shortly after me.  I somehow, miraculously, woke up feeling almost completely 100%normal.  It was a tough journey home for my little dude, but he was a trooper.

I promise you our trip wasn’t entirely tears and illness. We actually had some really great moments mixed in there too.  And the best part is they were things that were totally unexpected.  One night, before everyone got sick, my brother decided to take the kids over to the church playground just to get them out of the house for a bit.  I needed some air too, so I went along.  I couldn’t be happier about that decision as it turned into my favorite memory of the week.  We laid the ground rules for hide and seek, and then we played by the light of the almost full moon.  AJ found that he could just lie down on the ground in his black sweats and he was pretty much invisible against the dark green spongy ground.  Ally sat curled up in a ball on a tree stump and went unnoticed for several minutes.  We crouched into tiny spaces until we had leg cramps, Brooke found Ethan when she tripped on a “rock” which turned out to be Ethan, and I actually climbed a tree for the winning spot.  And we laughed hysterically.  It was pretty chilly out, but we agreed unanimously that the only parts of us that were cold were our ungloved hands.  It could be said that running around is what kept us warm, but I’m pretty sure there was more to it than that.

As I ran the other day, I found myself smiling at that memory. I also found myself thinking a lot about Inga.  I was really sad that I missed her memorial service while I was gone.  But I have some pretty special memories of that girl.  I love that whenever I would see her, even if she already knew my stories from reading them here, she would always say, “Tell me a story!  Tell me the story about…”  So, if you will indulge me, now I want to tell you a story about my friend Inga.  Maybe not a story exactly, but I want to tell you about the woman she was.  Inga was an absolutely amazing person.  She was stunning.  She was valedictorian of our high school class.  I didn’t actually graduate with that class because I had moved back to Michigan, but I still feel very much a part of it. More than anything, Inga was one of the sweetest, kindest souls you could ever meet.  In 8 long years of battling a totally unfair disease, Inga never once waivered in her faith.  She rarely complained about anything, she just simply continued to live out everything she believed and have hope.  So much hope.  Christmas was her favorite time of year, so as hard as it had to be for her family to say goodbye to her on Christmas, it almost seems appropriate somehow that she got to spend Christmas celebrating in Heaven.  Especially since she was born on Easter Sunday.  And could there be any other 2 days of the year that signify ‘Hope’ more than Christmas and Easter?  I didn’t get to see Inga much over the past year, but I was able to be present on her 40th birthday when my friend Teri presented her with her Powered by Hope medal.

By definition hope means a feeling or expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, or a feeling of trust. There’s that word again, expectation.  But in this case, it sounds so positive.  I don’t typically ‘expect’ that bad things will happen, like massive flooding and Cancer and the likes, even though I know these things happen in our world.  Why is that?  Well, I guess it’s because of hope.  I don’t claim to have even a fraction of the hope that Inga exhibited on a regular basis, but I think that’s my goal for the year.  More hope in 2016.  Hope for myself, hope for the people I love, hope for many little unexpected moments of wonder.

A little over a year ago, just before Christmas, Inga and I had a spontaneous lunch date at Panera. I was headed to her house to drop something off when she suggested that we meet for lunch instead.  I remember sitting across from her and she said, “You’re such a good storyteller.  Please don’t ever stop telling stories.”  You got it, friend.  RRG is officially signed on for another year.  The year of Hope.

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A New Kind of Strength

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This post is way overdue considering that I’ve been back from Nicaragua for approximately 2.5 weeks. It’s amazing how busy a person can be while not working and not going to school.  And quite frankly, I’ve been enjoying my “break”, if you can call it that, with Orientation, kids, Christmas prep and all of the processing that comes along with a major life event.  I’m referring to my trip to Nicaragua, but I suppose I could also be referring to the fact that, as of this weekend, my kids have a brand new step family.  Not that my world changes much from that, but my kids’ world does, and thus, we are processing.

So, Nicaragua. Wow.  I’m not really sure where to begin. I guess I’ll start at the beginning. After spending a few days in Kirksville for Thanksgiving, and dealing with some anxiety about being away from my kids for so long, Brian drove me to the airport on Saturday evening to catch my first flight to Houston.  Despite the prediction that Lambert had the potential to be chaos on the holiday weekend, it was completely desolate.  After checking my bag, going through security and getting a snack, I was at the gate with my book open in about 20 minutes.  I had lots of time to chill.  And fortunately, any of the anxiety I had been having melted away in the time I sat waiting to board.

As we lined up to get on the plane, I found the pair I was traveling with. Dave and I were wearing matching Living Water shirts, so we were easy to locate, and Dave’s daughter Rebecca was with him.  The flight to Houston was uneventful.  We landed, got our bags, caught a cab to the hotel where we checked in for the night around 11pm and planned on the 6am shuttle to the airport.  Not much time there.

At 5:59am, my phone rang as I was shoving my toothbrush into my backpack and slinging it over my shoulder. I was about to miss the shuttle.  Oh great, I had already been labeled the late girl.  Or as I prefer to be known, the girl who comes flying in just in the nick of time.  I don’t much care for any time of day that comes before 6am, so I cut it close.  But we got back to the airport, grabbed bagels and coffee and made our way to the gate where we found several other matching shirts.  Our trio doubled when we met our 3 Canadian friends, Eric and Jean from Toronto and 15 year old LJ from Saskatchewan.  Then Lauren and Anthony joined us from Houston, separately.  We would meet Enrique from El Salvador when we landed in Managua.  Or group had formed from mostly a bunch of random strangers from around the world.  And it couldn’t have been more perfect.

A few hours later we were in Central America. We got our bags, went through Customs and eventually met up with Enrique, Pancho and Chico (both are named Francisco so they go by nicknames to avoid confusion).  Pancho and Chico were our lead drillers for the week and were in charge of getting us to wherever we needed to be.  Our group chatted as we sat around a table full of fried chicken before heading to the compound where we would stay for the week.  When our bellies were full, we loaded the suitcases into the team van and drove about an hour to Rivas, our temporary home.

I followed the girls into our room and we got settled. Then we had a meeting with Lisette, the Hygiene team leader.

A little background info, when I signed up for this trip, I had the option of being a member of the drill team or the hygiene team. My gut instinct is to always sign up for the hard job, give me manual labor.  Weirdly, I don’t have any idea which team I asked to be placed on.  I likely checked the box that said, put me where you need me.  But I of course planned to get down and dirty in the mud and a hard hat.  However, as the trip edged closer, I started receiving emails for the Hygiene team.  Uh, so I guess I’m doing that?

Anyway, I went to the meeting with Lisette and she said we could do drilling or hygiene, it was entirely our choice. What exactly does the hygiene team do?  Well, they teach lessons to the women and children in the community about how to keep the water clean, how to avoid spreading germs, oral hygiene and nutrition.  They do skits, crafts and play with the kids.

I love kids, but somebody hand me a drill already. Right?  Wrong.

I don’t know if ya’ll know this about me, but I sometimes have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder about proving how strong I am. And by a little bit, I mean a really giant chip on my shoulder.  Well, as I embarked on a week in Nicaragua, I was about to learn about a new kind of strength.  I somewhat begrudgingly (only inside my own head because that’s where the battle was going on) agreed to start with the hygiene team on Monday and take things one day at a time.  I really wanted to use my work gloves that my kids had written messages on for me.

After meeting with Lisette, and with Jorge, our overseer for the week, we all got changed into more appropriate clothes for 85 degrees and went on a little tour of the city. We were situated very near Lake Nicaragua, which is absolutely gorgeous.  The lake was surrounded by mountains, there were kids swimming at the beach and wild horses roaming everywhere.  We were informed that one of our options for our “free day” on Friday was taking a boat to several of the islands on the lake.  Awesome, sign me up!

We drove back to town, stopped into a church in the city center and wandered a little bit. Then we headed back to the “house” for dinner.  Every meal we ate all week long was delicious, lots of rice and beans, fried plantains, fresh pineapple and watermelon.  I may or may not be drooling just thinking about it…

On Monday morning we were up early. Devotional time on the patio started at 6:30am, followed by breakfast at 7 and leave for the work site by 8.  We would stop to gas up the van and get supplies on the way and hopefully be ready to start work by 9ish.  “ish” is key in keeping time in Central America.  They are very, um, flexible on time.  It was a welcome change from the states.

When we arrived in Nandaime the first day, we took a little walk around the community to meet some of the people we would be building the well for. It was about 45 minutes from where we were staying and was more rural.  Many of the neighbors had considerable livestock, chickens, pigs and it wasn’t uncommon to see cows using the main thoroughfare.

After our walk, the drill team got right to work and I joined forces with Lisette and Lauren to prepare for our first lesson. In the mornings we would teach the women and the younger children who weren’t in school yet. Then we would all break for a picnic lunch.  After lunch we would teach the same lesson to the school age children while the drill team would get back to it.

While I fully intended to participate in the actual drilling at some point, as the week wore on, I couldn’t fathom giving up my role with the hygiene team. Typically, Lauren would talk them through the lesson, Lisette would translate, and I would do my best to illustrate the points through acting out a skit or being the voice of our puppet, Francisco (yes, another one).  Even with minimal Spanish, I was able to make the audience laugh.

On the first afternoon, the very first little girl that I walked over to and said, “Como se llama?” gave an answer that made me both excited and brought a tear to my eye at the same time. “Alison” she said.  I stumbled through my Spanish to tell her that was my daughters name too.  I showed her a picture of my kiddos.  Alison and I were bonded immediately.  She was my little piece of home, away from home.  My heart knew it was in the right place.

Everyday Alison would wave excitedly when our eyes would meet, I would beam and wave back. She was always full of hugs, just as so many others were.  After the lesson, we would do crafts and Lisette would make balloon animals, or we would paint their faces.  They always left smiling.  So did we.  We also left exhausted.  We would nap in the van on the way back.  And our no hot water showers were actually very refreshing after a sweaty day in the heat and dust.  One night we went out for ice cream and a walk in town, another night we went out for a fantastic steak dinner at a nice restaurant.  We all slept well at night, even if I forgot to plug in the AC one night, and despite my bed that creaked if I got too close to the right edge.

We had a few complications with the drilling project through the week, and we questioned whether or not we would complete it. On Thursday we went to the community and it looked like we were all set to finish up and do the well dedication that afternoon. However, the pumping process that day took longer than it should have.  That afternoon, Pancho posed a scenario for us.  We wouldn’t finish on Thursday, so we could come back on Friday, our “free day” and finish, or we could go do our end of the week activity and then Pancho and Chico would come back and finish the well without us on Monday.

No one gave it a second thought. It was immediately unanimous.  We were coming back on Friday.  There was no doubt about it.  We all wanted to finish what we had gone there to do.

So Friday morning looked much like every other day. But since the hygiene team had no more lessons planned and we were all just waiting to put the pump together, we played.  Anthony and LJ threw the football and kicked the soccer ball with the kids.  Enrique and Lisette made balloon animals and hats and swords and hearts and anything you can think of.  We played with bubbles and just hung out.  And then, it happened.  Pancho filled a bucket with water and started chasing the kids.  And before we knew it everyone was filling anything they could find and dumping water on everyone.  What better way to celebrate fresh water, than with a huge gigantic water fight?!  I was on my way to put my phone, and Rebecca’s phone in the van, for safe keeping when I saw Pancho headed my way. I held the phone over my head so he would see it, and he dumped the water right into my ear.  I laughed, since the phones had been spared.  And then the phones went away.  And I lived in the moment.  And I laughed.  And laughed.  I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard I had actual tears at one point. It was the best water fight I have ever participated in.  The kids were using the hard hats, filling them with water, and getting anyone and everyone.  It was amazing.  It was the best possible way to spend our free day.

Eventually it calmed down and the kids went home to get cleaned up. We put the pump together and we had a working well.

I had asked for a fresh coconut earlier in the week and at lunch I was presented with my very own coconut with a straw. One of the families gave us a watermelon, so we sat around eating and laughing and LJ throwing rinds at the Rooster.

The community members started congregating; we all gathered around the well and said a prayer. We took pictures and celebrated that our new friends had a well that would safely provide clean water for them.  As our time was coming to a close, the hugs came fast and furious.  And as the hugs slowed, and the waves down the street started, so did the tears.

Have you ever seen the movie Inside Out? Ya know how as a baby, her emotions are very simple, but as she gets older, they become more complex as she feels many things at once?  Well, in that moment, I felt so many things.  That whole day was about feeling everything on the spectrum.

This trip was the perfect capstone to the year 2015. I have experienced every emotion on the spectrum this year, as well. I said in the beginning of the year, I wanted 2015 to hold big things.  12 months ago, I couldn’t have imagined all that this year would bring.  A week in the hospital, a diploma, a new step family for my kids, a budding career in nursing, a new stamp in my passport.  I’m still healing from some of my past, but 2015 proved that none of that can hold me back.

In Nicaragua, I didn’t pick up a tool, or get muddy, or even put my gloves on once that week. But I don’t think my friends in Nicaragua will remember that about me. My Spanish is conversational enough to ask names, and ages and what things they like to do.  But I don’t think they will remember that about me either.  They don’t know anything about my struggles as a single mom, or missing my dad, or any of the tragedies of my life, so they won’t remember that either.

I think they will remember my smiles, and my tears, and my laughter, and my goofiness, and my hugs, my joy. They might remember that my Spanish wasn’t perfect. I believe I told them I was sad to snow, instead of sad to leave, but the figured it out. More importantly, I think they will remember that I was willing to be vulnerable enough to try.  I was vulnerable enough to leave a piece of my heart in a little village in Nicaragua.  And there is so much strength in that.

With Valeria, Alison, Vianca and friends

With Valeria, Alison, Vianca and friends

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RRG’s Grateful List

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This time of year can be challenging for many of us.  If you’ve ever been through a holiday season without someone you love, then you know what I mean.  Thanksgiving falls right in the midst of some of those “anniversaries” that aren’t really the kind that you celebrate.  I have an especially hard time with Thanksgiving because the last one that my dad was alive, I was supposed to be at home in Michigan with my family.  But since they had decided to go to Ypsilanti to have the traditional feast in my brother’s college apartment, I decided not to make the drive back to the mitten.  Instead, we spent the day with some of my then husband’s family in the Chicago suburbs.  At some point during the day, I called my family to say Happy Thanksgiving.  I called my dad’s cell phone, but at we talked, I picked up on the fact that it sounded like they were at home.  Puzzled I asked, “Where are you?”  And my worst fear was realized.  They had in fact changed their plans and cooked up the turkey, along with all the other goodies, right at home in EL.  My dad explained that they didn’t think I planned to come home regardless, but I bawled into the phone that I would have been there if I had known they were HOME.  My dad felt terrible.  I felt terrible.  I spent most of the rest of that day feeling sad.  And that is still my association with Thanksgiving.  A few days later, it became clear that if I had been there, it would have been the last time I saw my dad.  Did I want that as my association with Thanksgiving?  Which is worse?  So, all these years later, and I am finally coming to the realization that I may never reconcile that.  I don’t know what to do with Thanksgiving, in that respect, and it’s possible I never will.

In large part, for that reason, I have tried to add a lot of “Happy” to this Thanksgiving week by catching up with several of my friends that I have been neglecting in my chaos of the fall.  On Saturday, the beau and I hosted Friendsgiving at my house.  We made a ham and several friends brought a variety of dishes.  We had wine, champagne that Heather brought, and Fireball soaked cherries.  We had more mashed potatoes than we knew what to do with since Vega made the equivalent of a pound per person.  We had a very rich Reese’s Cheesecake that goes a long way.  Steve was convinced he could eat the entire huge first piece I cut.  He made it about half way. It was a valiant effort.

On Monday I had lunch with my friend, Stephanie, who was my very first friend in the 4th grade.  There is a good chance Brian and I will get together with her and a couple of our other classmates back in the ‘Ville later this week.  Stephanie can make me laugh til my stomach hurts and she can remind me that no matter what things will be ok.

And then today, I had lunch with my sweet friend Jaime.  She is a ray of sunshine in a sometimes dark world, and she always shows up in my life right when I need her.  Today was no exception.  We both have a tough time with the holidays.  She lost her dad a little more than a year ago and her story is absolutely tragic.  But her strength and resolve to overcome the unthinkable, inspires me to keep shining the light.

We caught up on all the happenings in our busy lives, talked about our plans for the holiday and we talked about my impending trip to Nicaragua that is edging ever closer.  I mentioned that there was no coincidence in the timing of this trip.  When I signed up back in the beginning of the year, I still hadn’t even thought about going back to school.  When I started school, it looked like my trip would land right in the middle of my externship.  But due to a transfer of credits and finishing up early, I find myself in between programs with no school, no work, no major commitments.  But in addition to the fact that the logistics of the trip worked out perfectly, I see even more reasons why this is the perfect time to go.

Sometimes its easy to get so focused on the craziness of life that is happening right in front of us in our own tiny little corner of the world, that we forget that there is so much more to the world.  And for that reason, I am thankful that I get to leave my stress, and struggles, and blahs of what is happening in St. Louis, behind for a week to reprioritize and focus on someone else.

Something else Jaime and I talked about was an article she read lately called Grieving and Grateful.  Even if our grief, that will never completely go away, it is still absolutely possible to find joy and be grateful.  Sometimes it comes easy and sometimes you have to search for it.  But without further ado, and in no particular order, I give you…

RRG’s Grateful List

  • My children, even when they are driving me bananas, they are truly the light of my life.
  • My health, even during this season of sore throats and sniffles.
  • Running, even when I hate it.
  • Ice cream. Cereal. Pizza. Chips and Salsa. Pancakes. You get the idea.
  • My family. All of them, near and far, the ones I talk to daily and the ones I don’t.
  • My education, my brain that is smarter than I give it credit for sometimes.
  • My awesome friends, who make me laugh or listen to me or pick up my kids or run with me or give me hugs do whatever it is I need done at any given moment.
  • Movies. Books. Music.
  • The opportunity to travel, to experience new cultures, make new friends and see where my path leads.
  • Boots and sweaters.
  • 40 years of amazing memories.
  • 40 years of success and failure. I know that I am right where I am supposed to be and my struggles have made me into exactly who I am.
  • Coffee.
  • My beau, who takes care of me when I’m sick, pays attention to the things I say, cleans my gutters, and accepts me just as I am.
  • My house, and everything in it. But mostly the safety it provides and the love that fills it.
  • Mountains and oceans and woods and everything about the incredible world we live in.
  • March Madness. My Spartans.
  • My heart that feels joy and pain, and that loves fully.
  • My God, who loves me enough that he doesn’t allow me to grieve without hope.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope.  Romans 5:3-4

 

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Rambling Runner Girl Rant

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Disclaimer:  This is in fact a rant.  I promise to return to my regular ramblings on running shortly, but if you can’t handle my rant, do not read on.  If you think you can handle it, its still my typical rambling style.

We live in America (by we, I mean myself and the vast majority of the people reading this).  Are we not at the top of the list as far as wealth is concerned? And are we not heading into a season where we spend an insane amount of money on the commercialism that has become the holidays?

I don’t know what your financial status is, or what your planned budget for the holidays is, but as we prepare to launch into the holiday season, let me propose something for all to consider.

Allow me start by saying, I tend to align myself as an Independent.  I do not have any kind of political agenda here.  I have some liberal views and some conservative views, and I vote for the candidate who I feel best represents where I stand.  But more importantly, where I stand is Love.  I am a human being with a heart for other human beings.  And my heart aches when I see a fellow human hurting, homeless or harmed in anyway.

The world has witnessed much pain unfold of late.  I could say in the last week, in reference to Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, and Kenya (I’m sure I missed one or several, and I’m sure someone will be happy to point out that I am an awful person because of it) but it goes beyond that.  I could say this has happened in the past months, in reference to the refugee crisis and ISIS.  I could say look what has been happening for just over a year right here in our backyard of Ferguson.  But the truth is, we live in a broken world and these things, sadly, are not new.  Our world has been witnessing this kind of pain for a long, long, long time.  It doesn’t matter where you live or what your circumstances are, no one is exempt from bad things that happen.

In the past couple of days though, I have seen so much hate and anger.  The name calling and the political slants that make people to feel entitled to put others down because of their beliefs are just not ok.  I’ve read headlines against helping the refugees because we have veterans and homeless children right here in America.  I’ve also seen pictures of some of these refugee children and read about the things they witnessed and the kinds of conditions they are currently dealing with.  I just watched a video of a man whose wife was killed at the Bataclan and now he is raising his 17 month old son alone.  It’s awful.  All of it is awful.

But here’s my proposal.  Next time you think, Oh yeah, I’m going to repost this article because it perfectly portrays my stance on (fill in the blank), even if it’s well intentioned, stop for a second.  Instead of reposting that article that will either get a bunch of likes from people who see everything exactly the way you do, or it will stir up a debate with a high probability of turning ugly and perpetuate the problem, think about what you have done recently to support the group you so passionately represent on your chosen social media sight.

I don’t care where your personal convictions lie, but how are you helping the human race?  Whether its war vets, the homeless, the refugees, whoever, have you given anything to assist?  Or are you just sitting in Starbucks with your $5.00 latte complaining as much about a ridiculous red cup debate as you are about how the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket?

I am no exception here.  Last week on my way in to the Central West End for my last day of training, I rolled down my window at the intersection of 40 and Kingshighway to hand a homeless man an extra granola bar that I had sitting in my car, but then today after my run, while my children were safe at school, I went to lunch with a girlfriend and splurged on a huge breakfast and a Bloody Mary.  The fact is, our lives go on.  We go from one thing to the next, we go from holiday party to Christmas shopping, we may drop a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket along the way.  Or maybe not.  Sometimes we are sensitive to the big picture of the world, sometimes we are not.  Sometimes we get really fired up, and that’s ok too.  As long as we are using that energy in a constructive way.  Tearing other people down for not agreeing with our passions is not constructive.

Are we going to fix all of these issues over night?  Nope.  But if each person used the time it takes to repost that random article to do something for the cause that pulls at their heart, well, it would be a start.  I don’t care what your chosen charity is I just want human hearts to stop hurting.  I want children to have a bed to sleep on, inside a house.  I want people who have served our country to not be tossed out on the street and rejected.  I want to hug all of them.  And while I know that it’s not possible for me to hug every single hurting person on this planet, at least next week I will have a chance to do something for some of them.

No, I’m not going to Syria, and I’m not going to be here saving the world either.  But I have a plane ticket booked and my passport is ready for Nicaragua.  I’m not asking anyone to do anything that I’m not prepared to do myself.  I’m pleased to report I exceeded my fundraising goal, and I did in fact contribute a portion to that myself, in part so I am not getting a free trip to Central America. I guarantee I will come back a changed person.  I’m going to drill a well in a community that desperately needs clean water, and somehow in my broken Spanish I will help teach classes about hygiene. But more importantly, I’m going to love some people who I’ve not met yet.  I can’t fathom how I will return from that experience and want to spend a bunch of money on Christmas presents that none of us really needs.  That’s probably why I have been preparing my kids that this year will be smaller, scaled back, different.  Our church talks a lot about Advent Conspiracy, the concept of spending less and giving more of ourselves.  I have always been of this mind, so I jumped up and down the first time they talked about it and it finally had a name. Relational gifts are where it’s at.  Make something.  Give someone a “date in a box” that you have to use together.  Plan an activity.  Invite someone to coffee.  Give of yourself.  Give someone clean water.

I’m also not saying everyone needs to jump on a plane next week to give of themselves, this took many months of planning.  I just want everyone to consider that maybe, just maybe, instead of complaining about the issues, there is something you have to offer that can help even just one.  Your resources, your time, a smile.

My friend Cheri Kay has been in China for the past 10 days.  Tomorrow she gets to bring home her little girl.  Cheri Kay already has two children that she adopted from Haiti.  Cheri Kay is a single mom.  She has done every single bit of this of her own accord.  And because of that, there really are no valid excuses.  Cheri Kay has a strong faith and an amazing support system, yes.  But if she can go to the ends of the earth for just one, I’m sure everyone can come up with something to help end the hurt for someone, too.

*If you are looking for a way to give, you can still donate to Living Water International.  Go to https://www.water.cc/ and you can purchase Living Water gift cards, or donate directly.  You can also still donate on my Living Water page.

 

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Making Lemonade

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My dad used to love the word ‘ade’.  I remember many times being in the reception hall at church for refreshments and my dad would offer to get me some ‘fruit-ade’.  My dad was a dork.  But he made me laugh.  And that is one word that I always get right on crossword puzzles.  3 letter word for fruit drink…got it.

Another thing my dad always said, that I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before, was the advice “Surround yourself with good people.”

Yesterday, I went for a run with my friend Ken Clark.  It was so appropriate to celebrate my first day of “freedom” (I finished my Medical Assistant externship on Tuesday) by going for a run with Ken.  A year ago today, I was on my way to Arizona for the big event.  Today, Ken is on his way to Arizona.  I just got a text from him a little while ago, he was sitting on a plane in Dallas waiting to fly to Phoenix.  Anyway, last year in Arizona, I was surrounded by good people.  I drove out with Ally, Brian and Dan.  My mom, brother, sister in law, niece and nephew met us out there.  I stayed in a house with a bunch of friends who were either competing or supporting.  A huge smattering of Swim Bike Run club members were out there.  I had lunch with a friend from High School and saw various other friends from different parts of my life throughout the weekend including all over the course.  From start to finish, I was surrounded by, not just good, but GREAT people.

Ken was one of those people.  He had gone to Arizona to volunteer on the course, earning himself early registration into this years’ event, like I had done the year before.  I never did see Ken on the bike course at any of the aid stations where he was an official volunteer, but he was waiting at the transition area as I cruised in to jump off my bike.  I remember he gave me a quick hug as I passed my bike off to another volunteer and threatened to throw my bike shoes into Tempe Town Lake.  Ken found me at various parts of the run course, he would run back and forth across the bridge to tell my family approximately where I was and how I was doing.  And when the sun had finally sunk low into the Arizona desert and I was resenting the people who had said, “Nah, you won’t need a headlamp. It’s well lit” Ken showed up with his iphone to light the way up that one lonely, dark hill on the course.  He was full of encouragement.  And since he was wearing a “volunteer” t-shirt, I could do things like throw my cup on the ground for him to pick up and not get in trouble.  We aren’t allowed to have “pacers” but that volunteer shirt got me a personal escort in the dark.

So, when I realized how close I was to finishing my required hours for my externship last week while I was at a small party for Ken’s 40th, I knew I had to finish up before he left town so we could run together again.  It had been almost exactly a year since the last time we ran together.  I needed to give him a send off since I can’t be on the course to support him the way he was for me.  Funny story, Ken and I met as teammates for the Smoky Mountain Relay a few years ago when I was in rough shape emotionally.  Ken and I spent a weekend in a smelly van with sweaty people, we ate lukewarm Ramen noodles at 2am, we had a conversation while in adjoining port-o-potties (nothing says bonding like pooping) and he is the one who came into the woods, grabbed me by the hand and pulled me up a hill on my last leg of that race.  Seriously. I love this dude like a brother.

On Tuesday, as I said goodbye to all the people I have spent my time with for most of the past 6 weeks at my externship site, I realized that through the good and bad of that experience I once again found myself surrounded by really great people.  I am already missing the MAs and nurses that I spent so much time with.  And as I drove out 40 towards West County to pick my kiddos up from school, I thought of the people who have played taxi driver to my kids throughout the past year while I went through this program.  And when I gathered the kids we went to Steak n Shake to celebrate everything that has occurred since a year ago when I crossed that finish line in Arizona and heard the words, “Lindsey Jacobs, you are an Ironman”.

While I drove towards my kids, I thought of those words, and how important they were.  It occurred to me that this week I tackled another kind of Ironman.  Last year in Arizona, the idea of going back to school hadn’t even occurred to me, but since then I set it up, started the program and saw it through to completion.  And with nursing school on the horizon, I have absolutely zero doubts that with the people on my team, I will make that happen too.  And in each season of life, in order to make those things happen, I will continue to surround myself with good people.

This morning, I woke up in a somewhat foul mood.  I got plenty of sleep, so I’m not really sure what my deal was, but today had the potential to be ugly.  However, when I walked into my neighborhood coffee shop to meet a friend for lattes after dropping off the kids at school, I saw the face of another friend that I hadn’t seen in ages.  Paul has his own business called Trickle Down Happiness.  I love that concept.  And I actually got to see it in action today.  As soon as I saw Paul, my mood changed instantly.  And when he asked me how things were, I immediately started rambling on about all the good things in my life.  That turned the day around for me.  I was focused on the good things happening and the great people involved.

A couple hours later, when I took my phone into T-Mobile to see why it hasn’t been working lately, I ultimately walked out with no contacts.  This could have been a huge headache, but rather than stress about it, I posted a plea on Facebook and waited for the contacts to come rolling back in.  As they progressed they have been funnier and funnier.  My face hurts from smiling, hearing from friends and the silliness of having to guess who they are.  Who knew something that has the potential to be a huge pain in the butt would turn out to be so fun?  I guess you could say I’m finding the silver lining.  Or I’m making lemons into “ade”.  But I think it just has to do with being surrounded by really amazing people.

When Ken takes to the course on Sunday, I already know he will be surrounded by some greats.  His wife Marti is one of the coolest people ever.  My friend, Jess, was the volunteer who handed me my Run special needs bag last year and she’s competing this year.  My friend, Nicci, who I’ve known since she was a peanut, grew up in the house next door to me in Michigan, this will be her third Ironman I believe.  And every other athlete on that course has a story, young, old, war vets, amputees, illnesses, losses, struggles.  The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve all had to overcome something to be out there.  They’ve all been handed some lemons.  And  all the people standing by, helping them, cheering the on, encouraging them, getting them whatever they need.

I just wish I could be out there to light the way up that hill for Ken.  Or maybe offer him some ade. 😉

With Ken at Creve Coeur for a send off run

With Ken at Creve Coeur for a send off run

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Welcome Back to the Unknown

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Ya know those moments in life where you’re just kinda cruising along and you start thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’m doing alright. I totally got this.”  And then there’s a shift in the wind and suddenly you’re like, “Oh, wait…Welcome to the unknown”   Or should I say, welcome back to the unknown?

I’ve been a single mom for a little over three years now. It’s been a bigger challenge than I ever could have imagined.  But I have my days where I’m like, “Oh yeah, I ‘ve got this down.  I’m totally kicking butt. No problem.”  Our weekly schedule is a little crazy, especially on Wednesdays when it looks like this: Out the door by 7:45am with lunches in hand and the crockpot set for dinner, drop the kids at school by 8, drive the hour in traffic to the Central West End and pray that I can find rock star street parking not more than a few blocks from the hospital, walk (or run) into Siteman for my externship hours, at the stroke of 4:00 bolt back to the car, the kids have been picked up by a friend and dropped at home for Ally to be in charge until I get there, drive the hour back to Wildwood, burst in the door (by 5pm if I’m lucky) hoping that homework is done and Silas is at least partially changed for soccer practice, change clothes, sign off on homework, shovel food down the kids throats, try to remember to eat something myself, leave again by 5:40 to get Silas to practice in the valley by 6 (tonight we snuck a quick stop in to their grandparents’ house to pick up some of Ally’s forgotten items), drive across the valley to drop Ally at the church for youth group, drive back over to the ballfields so I can get in a quick couple miles before practice ends at 7:15, drive home, put Silas in the shower, clean up the kitchen, finish the homework, go pick Ally up from youth group by 8:30 (I lucked out tonight and she got a ride home), get Silas into bed, get Ethan into bed, sink down into a chair somewhere and finally take a breath.

Wow. That’s a day.  But I’ve gotten somewhat accustomed to the craziness and doing it *mostly* on my own.  I’ve very thankful for my villiagers who help how they can.  But I’m used to being on a minute to minute schedule most days.  And, if I do say so myself, I’m doing alright.  Not perfect mind you, but alright.  I’m keeping the boat afloat.

So here we are going along, doing our thing, but yesterday Silas threw me for a little bit of a loop. After not seeing the kids all weekend, I arrived home to hugs and chaos.  After about a minute, Silas said, “Hey Mom!  Guess whaaaaat?” with the last part of the word going up a few notes in that sing-songy way that kids do when they want to spill the beans.

“What?”

“We have some news!”

My mind was spinning with, ‘Oh please let him say he lost another tooth, or they had pizza for lunch, or something…’ but I already knew what he was about to say.

“On Saturday…Dad engaged Katie!” He was beaming.  I was too, just because of how cute he was with his verbiage.

“Oh yeah? Your dad proposed to Katie? Are you excited?”

“Yes!”

I sat with that a minute. I wasn’t surprised in the least.  Even though they started dating around March of this year, I fully expected things would go quickly.  Call it gut instinct, women’s intuition, whatever.  I really was ok with it.  But I’m still processing the fact that my kids are about to have several members added to their family, people who I really don’t even know.  That’s kind of weird.  Kind of like that change in the wind I mentioned earlier.  Katie currently lives in Iowa with her 3 kids.  They will be married and moved in by Christmas.  Maybe instead of a light breeze, that’s more like a big gust.

Tonight after dropping Ally at youth group I drove back over to the Chesterfield Athletic complex where Silas was at practice. I had plans to get in a couple miles on the levee if I could scrounge up a headlamp in the car. I pulled the car into an empty space, pilfered through the running bag I keep in back, scored a headlamp with non-dead batteries and had all of 35 minutes until practice would end. It was still light enough when I started but the sun was already beneath the horizon, so I knew it was only a matter of time.  My first mile out, with the wind at my back, seemed easy and my feet cruised along the old familiar path.  At a mile and a half, I turned back to wind in my face and it got darker with each step.  I turned on the headlamp, which helped a little, but since I was also wearing a visor, some of the light was blocked.  Oh well, I would adjust.  I was dealing with the challenges, but I was still doing just fine.  My mind went back to a conversation with Ethan last night at bed time.

As I was tucking him in, he was telling me that Katie’s youngest would be in his class since they are less than a year apart in age.

I said, “You’re pretty excited, aren’t you?”

“Yes!” He responded. After a pause, he leaned over the top bunk to look at me, with a big smile and concerned eyes, he asked, “Are you, Mom?  Are you excited?”

“Am I…um, what? Excited?  Uh…”  I admit I wasn’t very graceful in the moment, I mean how in the world do you answer that?  But I recovered fairly quickly.  “Bud, if you are happy, then I am happy.  I’m glad you are excited.”

He smiled. I smiled.  Then I kissed him on the top of his head, as is our custom, and said “Good-night, bud, I love you.”

So, during my run tonight, I was thinking. Am I excited?  No, that’s not the word.  How do I feel? I’m not upset in any way.  It’s weird, for sure, to think about it.  And like I said, I’m still processing.  But I’m ok.  It creates a new dynamic, like wind or running in the dark, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.  It will take some getting used to, but we’ll adjust and in time it will just be what we’re all used to.

As Silas’ team came back into view, the lights of the field were much brighter than my headlamp. I could see them down on the field, running, playing, having fun.  And I thought, “I really do just want my kids to be happy and taken care of.   And if they have one more person (or several) in their lives to love them, then that just adds to their happiness.  As a single parent, all you can really hope for is that if your former spouse finds someone to share your children with, that this new person is good to your kids.  It’s the ultimate in letting go of control.  And it’s ok if I’m not always graceful when I feel like I’m running into the wind, in the dark.  I’ll adjust, and recover, and keep going.

As I neared the end of my run, I found myself praying…

God, help me with forgiveness. Help me continue to let go of what I thought my life should look like and help me to be gracious, always. God, Bless the union that is going to bring two families together and please protect my babies in that.  And God…bless the woman who is about to take on the new challenge of being a step-mother to my 3 amazing kiddos, carry her as she enters unfamiliar territory.  And guide her when she feels like she’s alone in the dark.  Show her grace and mercy and remind her that she isn’t alone.

As I prayed I noticed a lump forming in my throat. I know exactly what to pray for her, because it’s what I pray for me all the time.

It’s tough to run and cry at the same time, it really just makes you start to hyperventilate.

And God…please help me to remember to breathe.

 

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The Beauty of Sport

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Whoever first made the statement, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” must have been made of steel. Because from my personal experience, words have the ability to hurt a whole lot more than anything physical could.

Sportsmanship is defined as “an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.” But from what I’ve witnessed over the past week, from both sides of the fence, fairness, ethics, respect and fellowship all seem to be lacking from sports on many levels.  Allow me to share some examples.

I am a Cubs fan. Ok, ok, make your jokes, I’ll wait…but I promise that you won’t come up with anything original that I haven’t heard before.  I mean seriously, I am a Cubs fan living in St. Louis, trust me when I say that some of the more personal attacks can actually hurt my feelings.  The NLCS has been somewhat painful to watch, my Cubs going down in flames with a grandeur even the most loyal fans could not have anticipated.  I’m sitting here writing this because I can’t stand the pain of watching the Mets destroy us any longer.  However, last week, when we won the NLDS, it was glorious.  But as is always the case with sports, there is a winner and a loser.  After the final game of the series the other night, the kids asked if we could go up to Mobile On the Run for 50 cent slushies (there is a deal here that when the Cardinals score 6 runs, the next day you can get fountain drinks, coffee and slushies on the cheap)  Anyway, we went up to the store, me in my Cubs shirt, Silas in his Cardinals shirt, and the cashier was teasing me, “Hey, we don’t serve Cubs fans here!”  His teasing was light hearted, there is a difference.  It’s a game.  It’s supposed to be FUN!

As I turned to leave with the kids, he said, “Actually, I hope they win it all.” The man behind me, loudly and angrily said, “I DON’T.”  Everyone in the store was taken aback by his hostility.  One woman said, “Why?”  He got right in my face, with my kids standing there watching, and practically spat the words on me, “Because I HATE Chicago”.  With my eyebrows raised, I made the Okay then face and we calmly left the building.  When we got in the car, my kids asked why that man was so angry.  I assured them it had more to do with his own life than it did with baseball.  The kids caught the tears in my eyes when the Cubs won and asked why I was crying.  My response, “Because your Grandpa would have loved this.”  But they didn’t see the tears I cried later for that man whose name I do not know, he has obviously been wounded and so he wounds.

Skip forward a few days to Saturday when I got to watch my Spartans take on our biggest rival the University of Michigan wolverines. With a couple minutes left in the game, the Spartans were down by 2 with a chance to score. But they failed to convert at 4th down and 19, so the wolverines had the ball again.  With only 10 seconds left their kicker, who had scored almost half of their 23 points for the day came out to punt, but the placement was wrong, UM fumbled the ball and the Spartans ran it back for a touchdown to win 23-27 with no time left on the clock.  Despite my prediction to Brian that it was indeed possible, even I didn’t really expect it to happen.  It was a shocker to anyone watching.  As a Spartan, I celebrated.  As a human being, I was sad to learn that the young Australian kicker has since received death threats because of it.  Sad.  Just sad. Where are the priorities?

As a Spartan fan, I am used to winning. (March Madness anyone?)  As a Cubs fan, I am used to losing.  Sad, but true.  As a Jacobs, I have learned to do both graciously, sportsmanship.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While I watched my Spartans win, and my Cubbies lose to the Mets in game 1 on Saturday, the best game I watched that day was my 10 year old’s soccer game. Silas’ game was great too, it ended in a tie.  But there was something really special about Ethan’s game.  One of his best friends from school was on the other team and they played hard against each other.  At the end of the 4-0 game, which team won is actually irrelevant, the boys found each other and Drew, the score forgotten, immediately asked, “Can Ethan come over to our house?”  Drew’s dad and I worked out the details and they were off.  Sportsmanship at it’s finest.

So why is it that when we grow up it becomes more acceptable, even expected, to talk smack? Especially among fans who aren’t even in the lineup?  Especially when the teasing pushes way past light hearted fun and becomes bitter and hurtful.  The answer: It’s NOT acceptable.  If we really want our kids to remember to practice sportsmanship, we have to continue to practice it ourselves.

Go on and celebrate when your team wins. Absolutely! Cheer to your hearts content, but remember how to cross the field and shake hands with the other team.  It’s reasonable to feel sad when your team loses, but hang your head only for a moment and then raise it high again.  And remember to congratulate the other team, and then try to learn something from the loss.  Learning from our mistakes and our losses is a necessary part of life.

In a press conference earlier today, that young college kicker said, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go again. That’s the beauty of sport.”  Yes, there is even beauty in losing.  You can try again.

And because of that, I will continue to love my teams. Even my Cubs.  Being a Cubs fan is about so much more than baseball to me.

It’s about a legacy, I am a 6th generation Cubs fan.  And I am more proud of being a Jacobs than I am almost anything else in my life.

It’s about loyalty, staying true through the good and the bad. Even if it’s mostly bad.

It’s about texts with my brother, my uncle, my cousins when Baez redeems himself by hitting a homerun or Schwarber hits a bomb that will remain on top of the Wrigley Field scoreboard.

It’s about learning to live in the moment and celebrate the victories we’re given, because we are never guaranteed another opportunity.

It’s about learning to accept defeat. And knowing that winning isn’t everything.

It’s about being gracious in any and every situation. (If some other jerk Cubs fan has run his mouth to you, I am not responsible for his behavior, so please don’t hold it against me.)

It’s about sportsmanship. One of my favorite quotes from my dad was this, “Don’t throw the equipment.  It’s not the equipment’s fault.”  It’s also not your opponents fault.

It’s about memories.  So many memories. Some that make me laugh and some that make me cry.

It’s about knowing that my 90 year old Grandma is watching the game too.

It’s about tradition. It’s about family.  It’s about hope.  It’s about having a connection to a man that I loved dearly and I look forward to seeing again some day.

My dad didn’t get to see a Cubs World Series win in his lifetime. Neither did my Grandpa.  And there is a chance I won’t either.  If you want to throw your world series wins in my face or pick on my team for losing, I’ll deal with that.  But the personal attacks are the ones that bother me. You can call it “teasing” but putting someone down is bullying, plain and simple.  I assure you my IQ is just fine and yeah, sometimes I am a “loser”, but aren’t we all on some occasions? I can’t say that some of those things don’t hurt, but I can say they still won’t change who I am.  After all is said and done, I’m a Jacobs.  And being a Cubs fan is just in my blood. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I hope that at the end of the day, or the end of the game, or the season, that Ethan gets his example of sportsmanship from me. And I really hope he doesn’t grow out of that.  Because just like that young kicker said, “That’s the beauty of sport.”

My cousin Chuck's facebook post the other night. I love my family.

My cousin Chuck’s facebook post the other night. I love my family.

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