Don’t Stop at Pain

I wish I could take credit for the title, but I really can’t. It came from someone I have a lot of respect for, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Hi.  Remember me?  I’m that girl who runs, and raises three kids and tries to do way too much at any given time like training for an Ironman while learning how to be a single mom.  And when that’s done I jump into writing a book and going to nursing school, while still trying to figure out how to be a single mom.  Oh, and I write a blog about all of it.

Anyway, it’s been a while, so I figured I owed you all an update on how things have been going.  And if I’m being honest, I didn’t want you to forget about your old pal RRG.

Last time I wrote, I was kicking off my second semester of nursing school and continuing a course to help me write my book.  Well, second semester proved to be a little more than I was ready for, so after a couple weeks, I decided to take a hiatus from the book and just focus on getting through school and keeping the kids alive.  It was the right choice.  The book will happen, just not right now. As Nancy, the book professor, agreed, any of my non-school time right now has to be devoted to my kids.

It was a busy summer since I was in school 4 days a week and the kids were home, but we managed to carve out some quality time at the pool and go on some outings. Some days that consisted of the boys dragging the kayaks down to the lake while I sat nearby with my nose in a book, or a computer.  Or on rainy days, the three of them would set up a board game at the dining room table and I was just a few steps away at my desk.  But I think everyone was pretty happy with how the summer played out.  And I really couldn’t be more proud of how my kiddos handled it.  A couple days a week I would have to go off to school while they were still sleeping, so I would leave a list of daily chores and without fail, the chores were done when I got home and everyone was ready to play.

We were all rewarded at the end of the summer with a few days at a cabin in the woods near Table Rock Lake.  Brian and I took all 4 kids to the cabin we stayed at in January, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Thank you for bringing us here!”  They loved it.  We enjoyed endless ping-pong, swam in the lake, hunted for buried treasure, made s’mores, laid on a blanket gazing at meteors, played board games, went sight-seeing, made good use of the hot tub despite a heat index of 100 the first day or so, belly laughed, snuggled and fought like family.  I can think of no better way to celebrate coming through second semester on the Dean’s List.  My 4.0 is no longer intact due to an A- in Pharmacology, but I am learning to accept that sometimes survival trumps perfection, because sometimes perfection is found elsewhere.

As of last Wednesday, we are all back in school.  It was a staggered start with Ally on the 16th beginning 8th grade at a new (her first ever public) school, me on the 22nd and the boys on the 31st.  This was the first time in several years that I got to see them all off to their first day of school.  You may remember how much it tore me up the last couple of years to not pack their lunches and prep their backpacks and take pictures before driving them off to school since they were with their dad.  So, to say that I was happy that everything aligned for that this year would be an understatement.

With my clinicals really kicking off this semester, it’s been a little stressful the way all of our schedules overlap, but as has been the case time and time again, I have great people in my life who step up to help where it’s needed and ease the burden.  For that, I am grateful.

So, here we are at the end of week two of third semester.  2 weeks.  10 days.  And I have already gone from the high of making the Dean’s List a few weeks ago, to seriously doubting how anyone ever allowed me into nursing school.  Third semester is kicking my butt.  I know, I know, I said that last semester too.  There is absolutely a learning curve that comes along with the beginning of a new semester, new classes, new instructors, new methods of teaching and testing.  So, I should probably go easy on myself for the fact that my first few test scores haven’t been as high as I would like.  Yes, I still passed, but let’s keep in mind that in nursing school anything less than 80% is failing.  I think we all know by now I am not a fan of falling short of the mark.

By midweek last week, I had hit a wall.  By Thursday night, when I really blew it on an online charting assignment and had to email my program director, hoping and praying that she would reset it, I ended up falling asleep after many tears wondering if I should just quit.  Give up.  Find something else to do.  I have never wanted to quit something so bad in my entire life as I did Thursday night.  After the countless miles I have run, learning how to swim to become a triathlete, completing an Ironman, nothing has ever driven me to the point of wanting to totally throw in the towel like nursing school did.  I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, completely defeated.  I tried to convince myself that if I could just get through the first few weeks of this semester, it would get better.  It had to.  But even after getting some sleep, I woke up for Friday morning clinicals still doubting this path I have chosen.

I was fighting back tears as I arrived at the nursing home Friday morning.  Friday actually went better than expected.  I am gaining confidence in the field, completing my assessments, building a rapport with some of my patients, bonding with my classmates.  This is my niche, this part I’ve got.  But my head is still swimming with the what if’s…What if I drop the ball on an assignment?  What if I fail this Med Surg  test on Tuesday?  What if I can’t get past this semester?  Should I just stop now, before it hurts even more? Before it gets even harder?

After clinicals, a few of us went to Todd’s Canteen right down the road from our facility.  We talked and ate and shared our struggles.  I felt better by the time I left, but the doubts in my head were still holding on.  I got home to see Ally step off the bus, and then headed over to pick the boys up from school.  It was an absolutely perfect September afternoon so the boys were asking to go to the park where several of their friends were going.  Despite my desire to go home and bury my head under a pillow, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to let them play.  So off to the park we went.  I did my best to be social with the other moms even though I didn’t really have the mental or emotional energy to.  My battery was low.  I knew I needed to recharge.  I wasn’t entirely sure that getting up to run 19 miles with the training team on Saturday morning would do it, but I knew I needed to give it a shot.

I was asleep Friday night before the kids were, but I knew they were all at least quiet and settled.  I crashed.  And I was up and out the door before the sun came up, hoping that a good long run would be the therapy my soul was seeking.

As a few hundred of us, clad in reflective gear and high tech watches and hydration items, gathered in the parking lot on the river front listening to coach Brandi give us a pre-run pep talk, she said, “Eventually you’re going to hit the dark place.  It’s probably going to happen between miles 11-18, but be sure, it WILL happen.  And you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do to bring yourself through it.  For some, it may be thinking about family, or the finish line, or…” and she listed off several other ideas.  All I could think is that my whole life feels like a dark place right now.  Nursing school-kicking my butt.  As much as anything else in my life ever has.  And we all know I’ve taken a lot of butt kicking.

But I know that I run because it reminds me that I can fight through the hard stuff.  I DON’T stop at the pain.  It’s not in my nature.  We did a short warm up, took a group pic and off we went, down the Katy trail.  As I ran with the group, I talked with friends, learning that several others hadn’t been able to make it to many of the group runs lately either and had not put in the miles they should.  That made me feel better about my own situation.  My last and longest run lately was a 15 mile march of torture a few weeks ago during the summer of endless humidity that had me walking as much as running during the back half of those long, painful miles.  So, I relaxed knowing that I was just going to do the best I could.  I actually felt pretty good for most of it.  At one point, around mile 8, I even reached what we call the runner’s high.  My endorphins were on fire and I felt like I could run forever.  I knew it wouldn’t hold out for the entire run, so I rode the wave of adrenaline while it lasted.  It was brief.  By mile 11.5 I was starting to drag.  By mile 13, I was really looking forward to the 14 mile finish line of the first loop and being back at the red Fleet Feet tent to eat some sports beans and take a quick break before heading out for the last 5 miles.  My body was tired, but my mind was already convinced (mostly) that I could do the whole 19 if I needed to.  I was running with Joan and I had one earbud in listening to my ipod when Eminem came on and I heard the same words I’ve heard a thousand times.  But for some reason, they stood out to me this time.  He said, “Yeah, it’s been a ride.  I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one.  Now some of you might still be in that place.  If you’re trying to get out, just follow me.  I’ll get you there.”

And that’s what did it.  I did have to go to “that place to get to this one”.  But I’m not stuck there anymore.  Yes the voices in my head still pop back in for a visit sometimes, but they don’t get to stay.  I had temporarily forgotten that I am a leader and I know my way out, but a big thanks to Marshall Mathers for reminding me.  At 14 miles when we got back to the tent, a couple people from our group were debating going out for the last 5.  I could have topped off my mileage at 19 yesterday, but I decided to call it at 14.  I recently decided to drop to the half marathon in October since its not my A-race and it’s the day after my birthday when I have a wedding to go to.  So, just…why?  I really don’t need my mileage to be up at 19 yet since my marathon isn’t until December 3, when I go to Memphis for St. Judes.  I know I could have gutted it out and made 19 miles happen, but I also knew if I had, it would have been me trying to prove something.  And I don’t have anything to prove.  At least not to anyone other than myself. I opted for making a good decision for me.  I’d gotten my 14 miles in, it felt good, and then I went home to spend the day with my people.

Between Friday and Saturday, I didn’t get nearly as much studying done as I had hoped, but I have Sunday, and in this case the Monday holiday, to get prepped for Med Surg.

Last night we went off to church and you can ask Ally or Brian who were sitting on either side of me, but I’m pretty certain my face lit up when Pastor Rob announced that our guest speaker was David Hawkins, a tall skinny dude from East St Louis who has spoken at our church before.  I absolutely love listening to him.  His message was about trials, and it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.  “Don’t stop at pain,” he said and I felt like an arrow pierced right through my heart.  Yeah, that’s exactly what I was doing, I was stopping at pain.

David spoke about a basketball player named Tim Duncan who grew up on St. Croix as an Olympic hopeful in swimming, but when Hurricane Hugo destroyed the facility he trained at, he was forced to find a new sport.  With his 6’11” frame, someone suggested basketball, which turned out to be the right call.  Tim went on to be a force in the NBA.  You should go look him up on Wikipedia, I’ll still be here…

(Insert elevator music here)

He’s pretty amazing, right?  Well, the point David made was that “the storm lead him to his destiny.”  The STORM lead him to his DESTINY.  Just think, if I hadn’t been through the storm of the last several years, would I be where I am right now?  This is my destiny.  Being a nurse is my destiny.  And God has never let me go, not through any of it, and he won’t let me go now.

The other thing David said about pain, is that when you try to escape it, or try to push down pain, you also push down your hope, your faith, your dreams.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve done enough of that already.  I won’t let the pain stand in the way of what I’m doing.  I’ve never been one to quit because of pain before, so I’m sure not going to start now.  Don’t stop at pain.  Ride the highs, don’t stop at the pain. I can’t say it enough.  In fact, I might just go write that on a post it and slap it on every one of my nursing books.  And in my car.  And on my mirror.  Persevere, Lindsey, and Don’t stop at pain!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, Med Surg is calling.

Fleet Feet Training Team...Ready, Set, Go!

Fleet Feet Training Team…Ready, Set, Go!

When Opportunity Knocks

Is it just me, or does it seem like Opportunity always waits until the most inconvenient time to start knocking? I swear every time I am just getting out of the shower, or I’m sitting on the toilet, I hear ‘knock, knock, knock’ and then the door goes flying open…Oh, wait, that’s usually my kids.

But seriously, when I think back to when Opportunity came calling in regards to Ironman, I could not have been less prepared for his arrival. I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t have a bike and I was just newly a single mom, working a retail schedule wondering how in the world I was going to make this happen. But, like I usually do, I took a leap of faith in the hopes that the details would work themselves out. And I have been ever since grateful that I did.

Well, once again, Opportunity has picked an interesting time to show up on my doorstep. A few months ago, I started a program with a book coach. It has been a long time dream of mine to write a book. If you come here often, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that I love doing this. So, when I was introduced to Nancy last fall and she proposed the timing of her group coaching for Module 1 to lay the foundation of writing my book, I thought, “Yeah, I’ll be flying pretty easy through the end of my MA externship, through the holidays and into my first semester of nursing.” To clarify, I have a light class schedule right now due to transferred credits and at the time I had no idea the first few months of this year would be so emotionally taxing.

A couple weeks ago, Nancy and I met via Skype to go over everything I had accomplished in our first 16 weeks of working together in preparation to write my book. She was thrilled with the work I had done and was excited for me to press on to the next part of the course where I will actually write my book. I hesitated. I was like, “Yeah, well, ya know, I’m about to start my second semester of nursing school, we’re rounding the corner into summer when my kids will be home and I just don’t have a clue how I’m going to do this…” I promised I would pick back up the next time this part of the course came around. Nancy responded in terms that I understood, “Lindsey, stopping now would be like doing a triathlon and taking a nap after the swim. You won’t start back up again. I’ve seen this too many times and I would hate for you to lose this momentum.” I knew she was right, but I just couldn’t see how any of this was going to work. She agreed to let me think about it and we would reconvene in a few days to discuss.

I pulled out my school handbook and looked at the heavy course load I’ll be starting in May. I looked at the calendar that hangs in the laundry room for the kids to have a quick easy view of the custody schedule (I’ve blocked off mom days in red and dad days in blue, so they always know where they’ll be…and lets be real here, it’s helpful for me to have that information at a glance, too). I considered how daunting a task it is to WRITE AN ENTIRE BOOK. It’s a little different than sitting down for an hour every once in a while to write about whatever went through my head during a 45-minute run. Especially now that I use run time as study time. Yesterday I went out for an 8 mile run and spent most of it trying to recall the 12 pairs of Cranial Nerves and their functions. I’m pretty sure you’d all be really bored reading about Trochlear and Glossopharyngeal. (If not, let me know so we can start running together as study partners)

Anyway, yes, it’s daunting. And scary. And the fact that I am even considering it makes me quite nuts. But as I sit here looking at my Ironman Finisher coffee mug, that contains the sweet nectar that gets me through each day, I remember how I had no idea how I would tackle that dream at that specific time in my life. But I did it. And I can’t imagine if I hadn’t. Even better that I did it under the circumstances that I did. Since when do I not accept a challenge?

This morning I went off to the gym, Ironman backpack slung over my shoulder, containing my swimsuit, towel, swim cap and goggles. It has been months since I have been in the pool. Seriously, my last swim was the NEMO tri in September and I haven’t been in the water since. But for some reason I felt a draw to get in the pool today. After doing a workout on the elliptical, I didn’t end up with a whole lot of time, but I wanted to at least get wet and make sure I even remember how to swim. I couldn’t find a pool schedule posted anywhere so when I saw another woman, a little older than me, sitting on the edge of the pool putting on her swim cap, I asked if she knew the schedule. Typically, I have the entire pool all to myself, so the fact that anyone else was there was surprising. I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any classes that needed the lanes. She thought we were fine. And then we started chatting. My swim time was dwindling by the minute, but I was really enjoying our conversation. She was also a runner turned swimmer, due to loss of cartilage in her knees. She too loved the marathon like nothing else. But she said, “When you can’t run, you figure out what you can do, and do that.” She ran her first marathon in Chicago in ’86 and qualified for Boston. She didn’t realize at the time how special that was and since she had a young baby and life circumstances, she let the opportunity pass. I don’t recall her saying the word “regret” but I could feel it hanging there in the humidity.

As I swam my brief 600 meters, her words followed me like the blue line on the bottom of the pool. I couldn’t shake them. Anyone who knows me, knows that Boston is another of my dreams. I’ve been so close to a BQ, but it’s still just out of reach. Given the opportunity, we all know I would seize that one. I can’t fathom letting it slip from my grasp.

And that brings us back to the other dream in front of me. My book. How in the world am I going to undertake writing a book while I’m in the meat of nursing school? Well, how do I ever do anything? One thing, one day, one step at a time.

When Nancy and I reconvened last week, I had already made my decision. I said, “I was trying to decide if I was scared of how I would do this with my class schedule or if I was just scared of actually doing this at all.” I explained that my fear was more about tackling the dream of writing my book. There is a huge risk involved. What if I fail? What if I get stuck? What if I get behind and I can’t catch up? If I had let any of those things stop me with triathlon, I wouldn’t be able to call myself an Ironman.

So now, here I am, on the brink of another dream. And even though it’s scary, I’m ready to jump off that cliff and take a leap of faith that somehow it’s all going to work out. You probably won’t hear much from me around here for a while, but at the end of it, you might have a book to read.

Last week while I was in the middle of a workout, I pulled out my phone and went to my Evernote app. The following words just kind of came out of me:

Triathlons are hard. Ironmans are hard. Ya know what else is hard? Life.
The trials and turbulences of life take strength to endure. And if you don’t train up properly it can sometimes feel overwhelming, like you’re drowning. But if you push through, you’ll eventually find yourself back on solid ground, albeit sometimes shaky. You are likely to crash and burn once in a while, in between the moments when you think you are finding your rhythm. But perseverance is key. Ultimately through the mess that is life you will start to find your joy and even look back on the obstacles behind you with fondness and gratitude, for they brought you to where you are. There is beauty in the struggle and satisfaction at the finish when you hear the words, “You Are An Ironman.”

If that was on the back cover of a book, you’d buy it, right? (The correct answer is: Yes)

I may have only gotten in 600 meters in the pool today, but I got so much more by taking that step back out of my comfort zone and making the effort. Thanks to my new swim friend, I was reminded of something much more important.

I was reminded that Opportunity doesn’t always come back if you don’t answer the door. I don’t want to spend so long looking through the peep hole in the door trying to decide whether to invite Opportunity in or not. When Opportunity knocks, I won’t let fear stop me from answering. I will fling the door wide open! Even if I did just get out of the shower, and I’m only wearing a towel.  😉

Growing Pains

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.



What the Heart Needs

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.

Learning to Navigate the Weird

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.

Expectation vs. Hope

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.

A New Kind of Strength

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

RRG’s Grateful List

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


Rambling Runner Girl Rant

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 and you can purchase Living Water gift cards, or donate directly.  You can also still donate on my Living Water page.


Making Lemonade

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