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New Year Thoughts

I usually end the year with two posts: Favorite Things, and Joy of the Month Club.  You’ll understand a little about what my year has been like if you look back and see that the posts I wrote a year ago are my last entries.  It has been a year.

I’ve been feeling a little lost this week as the New Year approaches.  I usually look back, evaluate, and give thanks then look forward, anticipate with joy, and make goals.  This year I don’t really want to look back or evaluate.  I survived and that’s enough.  I do find myself full of thankfulness, however.  God is good, my family is precious and wonderful, my friends are faithful and supportive, and my life is full.  So many people have ministered to us so well and I am grateful.  Looking forward is obviously not the same either. I feel all cattywampus. My goal-setting abilities seem to be asleep. I’ve considered all kinds of things I’d like to do, but as I pray about them, I only sense God telling me to be still.  I think 2019 is a year to heal.  After all of the changes of 2018, I think that’s probably best.

I knew change was coming as I packed away the Christmas decorations last year.  The feeling was growing in my soul.  I am not trying to say that I am psychic or anything like that.  I just think that God knows when we need preparing, and sometimes he does that for us as a part of his great grace.  This year he is telling me to breathe, to learn to live this new life, to let him lead the way–one day at a time.

I was looking through my commonplace book and came upon this quote from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  I think it’s a good one to take into 2019.  “The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to the world.”

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Joy of the Month Club, 2017

Everybody has problems.  Life is hard.  The older I get the more I realize that everyone is carrying some kind of burden in this very broken world.  One of the things we’re here on earth to do is to lighten the load of other human beings.  Amazingly, when we help someone else to shoulder their hard stuff, our own troubles become easier to bear.

Another thing that helps us along the way is having an attitude of gratitude.  This is not easy for me.  I’m an Eeyore.  I have a tendency to see the dark, down, and dirty side of everything, so I really have to practice the discipline of positivity.  Several years ago I began the tradition of looking back over my year and choosing just one major joyful event from each month lived.  I call it my Joy of the Month Club.  It’s gotten easier and easier to see the joy.  Sometimes  I even “cheat” a little and mention two things in one month because life is just that good!  Here we go for 2017:

January:  In 2016 I discovered yoga.  I liked it a lot so I began my year with a thirty-one day yoga challenge.  Yoga with Adriene is on You Tube and easily accessible for home practice.  It is perfect for me since I like to do my yoga at 4:30 am.  Doing yoga consistently for a whole month with practices that build on and compliment one another was just what I needed to make me a yoga lover for life.  I still can’t “crow,” but I’m getting closer, and I can “tree” like nobody’s business.  I repeated the challenge several other months during the year and Adriene has other challenges to try as well.  The new one for this year is called “True” and it starts tomorrow.  You should check it out!

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February:  Since January of 2014 I have had “Do something about my hair” on my list of goals for the year.  When my hair came back after chemo, it was so different.  No one warned me about this. There was only about a third of what I had before.  It was a blondie-gray with light auburn streaks, and limp.  It just wasn’t my hair and I had no idea what to do with it.  I got it cut a few times, but no one I went to seemed to have any good ideas.  One stylist even sort of gasped and asked me if I’d seen what was going on on the back of my head.  I hadn’t and I didn’t really care to.  This year, however, I decided to be brave and face the issue.  My daughter has a stylist she loves and I asked her to make an appointment for me when she got her hair done in February.  I’m so glad I did!  I’m still not super comfortable with my hair like I was before cancer.  I’m still growing out the bangs I’d been chopping off every month myself, but we’re getting somewhere.  Amazingly, ten years after chemo, some of my thin places are starting to fill back in.  I get a trim every eight weeks and I even got some low lights!  I’m very thankful and I get to spend a girlie night with my eldest every eight weeks!  Win/win!

March: In March I ran the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon with my son-in-law.  That was awesome.  It was fun to travel somewhere just to run and finishing a half is very satisfying.  We had a fun family girls night in March as well.  We went to a nice dinner at Macaroni Grill and then we all went to see the new version of Beauty and the Beast.  It was a really fun night full of laughter and tears of the best kind.

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April:  April 3rd is my youngest son’s birthday.  This year it was one of the most tense, nerve wracking, wonderful, awesome, horrible, and happy days of my year.  It’s really difficult to explain, and if you are not a basketball or other sports fan, you probably won’t understand.  I’m not sure I understand it fully.  My son and I share a tremendous, deep, and abiding love for the North Carolina Tar Heels.  Last April we watched our team struggle through March Madness only to lose in a terrible, awful, very bad way that none of us has fully recovered from even yet.  We loved those boys.  I’ve written about it before.  Amazingly, I have not written about this year, about the win, about my son’s best birthday present ever.  It’s just that special.  Very few weeks have gone by since then that I have not gone to You Tube and watched the last few seconds of the win and/or the highlight video for the year.  I cry EVERY time.  I know it’s just a game, but watching those boys determine to go back and then do it, fighting for every single win along the way was, and continues to be, inspiring. It’s a story of determination, redemption, and team work, and it’s a good one.  I feel sorry for anyone who is not a Tar Heel fan.  Oh, how I love my boys in blue!

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May:  One day in the spring, I left school and went to nearby park to run.  When I got out of the car, I felt a twinge in my hip, but I thought that if I ran a bit, it would go away.  Being a stubborn old woman, I continued to believe this for five and a half miles.  When I tried to get out of the car at home, I could hardly walk.  I was a mess.  For a while I really thought my running days were over, but then I went to the chiropractor.  She worked on me from late April through May and gradually, I was able to return to normal running, though I really feel like I’m just getting completely back to normal now.  May is a crazy month for all teachers.  At my school, in my department, it has a tendency to be even crazier.  I needed to run.  I am very thankful for my chiropractor and her help to get me back out there.  I highly recommend getting chiropractic help if you have a running injury!

June:  Every other year our oldest son and his family come home from China for six weeks and this was the year!  We enjoyed family meals together, pool time, reading  Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, drawing with sidewalk chalk, bubbles, long talks, and lots and lots of Chick-fil-a!  His youngest son had never been to the States, so it was fun to have him here and watch him adjust to all of our very noisy family.  My parents even came up from Atlanta and we all enjoyed a meal together.  One night all of the adults got together at a nice restaurant and laughed and talked together without the constant interruptions of the kids.  These are very special memories. God is good!

 

July:  I’m only writing about the positive things from 2017, but sometimes things are even better when enjoyed in light of the bad stuff that came before.  I had been looking forward to the North Carolina Blackberry Festival in Lenoir, N.C. since January.  Somehow it was a glowing light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for me.  My son-in-law works for the Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce and they were helping to put on the festival.  Two of my girls were going to have a space from which to sell their art work and I was going to run the 5K on the opening night of the festival.  Actually, I thought we were ALL going to run the 5K together.  It didn’t turn out that way.  My son-in-law’s brother and I were the only ones who actually ran.  It was hot and humid and hilly, but I won my first age group medal, so it was awesome.  The next day I helped the girls with their booth.  It was hot, but so much fun!  We met lots of nice people and had a great time together sipping LaCroix and making memories.  Later that month I got to go back to Lenoir and spend a few days.  One day we went for a hike and had some great adventures.

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August:  At the end of July into August my husband and I traveled to Michigan to visit with family.  All of my husband’s three sisters live in “the mitten” and so does Matt and his new bride.  We had a blast.  It was not a long trip, but we got to spend quality time with family and we also enjoyed seeing some sights.  We traveled to Frankenmuth, visited Bronner’s, bought fudge and ate delicious chicken.  I got to run on lovely flat sidewalks in 80 degree temperatures with low humidity–ahhhhhhh!  We walked around Greenfield Village and took lots of pictures for my husbands U.S. History class.  Matt helped us drive home because he had a pre-wedding event to attend for one of his friends, so that was an added bonus.  On the way home I found out that our school year was starting a week late due to construction.  That meant I had an extra week so I used it to paint my living room.  This has been hanging over my head for several summers.  I painted it a lovely light shade of gray chosen for me by my eldest daughter who bought her own house this year, painted every inch of the inside of it, and became our resident painting expert.  It was lovely to begin the school year with a fresh-looking living space.

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September:  I opted out of the Italy trip this year and went to Gettysburg and Philadelphia with the juniors instead.  I love Gettysburg.  Killer Angels is one of my favorite books and standing on that battle field is inspiring.  I grew up in Philadelphia, so going there is like going home.  I ate a wonderful cheese-steak, attended a Phillies game and thoroughly enjoyed some Federal Donuts.  I took a carriage ride through Society Hill with some great students and bought a Philadelphia t-shirt to commemorate the trip.  The kids were good and the trip was lovely.

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October:  Through the fall I was often responsible for getting my granddaughter to and from cross-country practice.  We ran together a few times at the beginning of the season.  At the beginning I had to urge her on; by the end she was passing me by and running me off my feet.  Amy had an opportunity through her work for us to run the Women’s Only 5k and so we decided to do that together.  When I say together, I mean we drove there together.  She ran with her team and finished ahead of me.  Still, my time was even better than my July race, so I wasn’t discouraged.  I am very, very thankful to be able to run at all and to get to do something like this with a grandchild is a blessing I do not take for granted.

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November:  I love fall.  It seemed late to arrive this year since it was very warm well into October.  November was cooler and before I knew what was happening, Thanksgiving was upon us.  My parents were able to come up for the holiday this year and all three girls and their families were in attendance.  We used a special liturgy for a feast that made the meal extra special and then we went around as always to share what each of us is thankful for this year.  This is always a blessed and teary time for me, but this year Christy shared that she is thankful for the new baby coming in June!  Well, that was a surprise!  Not even her children knew about it.  Grand baby number twelve is on the way.  My cup overflows.

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December:  December has not been easy, but in amongst the hard things God has sprinkled blessing after blessing.  First, there was an early snow fall that was beautiful and peaceful and made a great backdrop for all of the Christmas decorations going up all over town.  One of my students and her family gave me a pair of tickets to see Andrew Peterson in concert on the 17th.  I’ve been excited about this since August.  George went into the hospital on the Friday night before the concert and I was unsure about whether I should go.  He really wanted me to go, however, and so I took our music-loving granddaughter and went.  We stopped for dinner at Salsaritas on the way and listened to our Tar Heels finish off Tennessee.  As I sat there and listened to the message of Behold the Lamb of God, Christmas arrived in my heart.  Then, to top it all off, Matt and Adrionna got to come home for a few days over Christmas when we had thought all along that they wouldn’t be able to make it.  Matt and our oldest grandson finished off the deck project that David began last summer and all of that was a great way to close out the year.  We enjoyed a lovely three days of celebration because of the way the holiday fell this year.  It was a tremendous blessing.

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I was seriously considering NOT doing this post this year, but I’m glad I did.  Taking the time to look back and remember all the blessings, joys, and victories of the previous year makes it feel more than possible to tackle to new one.  I have no idea what’s coming.  I think about that every year as I pack up all the decorations.  I consider each special ornament as I wrap them in paper towels and put them in the boxes.  I wonder what will happen, what life will bring, what I will learn, and who I will be by the time I unwrap them next December.  That’s the adventure of life, and it’s good, just like the God Who is writing all of our stories.

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Top Ten Discoveries 2017

Time for my annual Top Ten Discoveries post!  Every year I write about the ten things that made my life easier, tastier, safer, more efficient, or just plain better.  This year it was difficult to choose because there are some very important candidates that came along right at the end of the year.  I have decided to reserve those for next year because knowledge and experience will make me much better able to write about them next year.  Here we go:

10.  Midsomer Murders:  We’ll begin in the area of entertainment.  I am learning that sometimes I just need to relax.  Netflix helps me to do that.  I didn’t quite reach my goal of reading forty books this year, but I returned to knitting and crochet whilst watching some very good television.  I think I am better off for the experience.  My favorite is Midsomer Murders.  It’s British, which I find delightful.  I have been an Agatha Christie fan for almost as long as I can remember and while these mysteries are not necessarily Dame Agatha worthy, they are entertaining.  I see this as a British version of our CSI.  The are many, many seasons which is nice.  George and I treat ourselves to three or so episodes a week.  It’s a wonderful way to wind down–if, of course, violence in picturesque English villages is relaxing to you. The shows are a bit long, about 90 minutes per episode, but that gives the story plenty of time to unfold.  We always try to figure out as early as possible who done it.  Sometimes we are right, and most times we are wrong at least about our first guess.  We’re getting better as we go along, though.  I heard about the series from my parents who are big fans.  It is pretty gory at times and not very family friendly, so don’t try it for Friday Family Movie Night!  Yikes!

9.  Duncan Hines “Perfect Size for 1”:  You make these little desserts in a mug in the microwave.  All you do is add water.  The ingredients are real with no preservatives and they are yummy.  I like them because they provide me with a warm, fresh treat with very little work, mess, or time invested and they don’t leave left overs.  With the kids gone, left overs are a problem.  Neither George nor I need the temptation, so I very rarely bake anymore.  Every once in a while, though, everybody needs a little treat.  These are perfect.  The Decadent Brownie is my favorite.

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8.  Running Skorts:  I actually bought one of these last year, but I didn’t wear it very much.  This year my treadmill broke and so I had to run outside more than usual.  Running outside in North Carolina summers requires proper clothing.  This grandma is just not comfortable in shorts, so what to do?  Running skorts work well for me.  They have nice shorts under a cute little skirt and come in pretty patterns from Costco for under $20.  Paired with a tank top, my skorts helped me to survive the high temperatures and horrible humidity of a southern summer while accomplishing my running goals–and they’re quite girly!  I’m a big fan.

 

7. Rooibus Tea:  (pronounced Roy-boss)  One Saturday in September I met a friend at Vida pour Tea House on State Street.  It’s a great little shop.  I had been looking for a tea to enjoy in the evenings.  I like a cup of something warm after dinner, but have gotten to the age where I cannot have caffeine after about 2:00pm and expect to sleep. I can’t do green tea.  I drank way too much of it when I was on chemo and it repulses me. What to do?  That Saturday I discovered Rooibus.  It’s a dark tea with a pleasant flavor.  It’s super good for you: high in antioxidants, cancer fighting, weight loss friendly, and lots more.  Look it up.  I got the organic apple pic flavor.  It’s lovely. I also bought some fillable tea bags called t-sacs there.  These are great.  I find dealing with loose tea to be very difficult.  These make it a lot easier.

6. Motts Medleys fruit snacks: I love gummies.  I have always loved gummies, but I don’t eat them very often.  I was at my parents’ house for Fathers Day and my dad got a little bag of treats at church which included a couple of bags of these yummy fruit snacks.  I bought a big box of them at Costco when I got home and I’ve been using them for fuel on my long runs.  The packs fit perfectly in the little pocket of my running tights. They were also great for grandchildren at the pool this summer.  I keep them in my cookie jar and the kids know they are always there.  I feel good about them because they are naturally flavored with fruit juice.  They’re super soft and delicious.

5. Alexa:  Matt was the first in our family to join the Alexa world.  After David came home from China and spent a few days with him, both of our boys were Alexa lovers.  I remained unconvinced…until we visited Matt and his wife ourselves in August and spent a fun evening asking Alexa to play all of the songs we could remember from our teenage years.  It’s addicting.  We came home and bought an Echo.  Now there’s a Dot in the kitchen and another Echo upstairs in the study.  It’s worth it for the music alone.  The music made painting my living room a joy instead of a chore and, now that we have access all over the house, I use it when I do my regular cleaning.  Alexa also plays radio stations, so we use her to listen to my Tar Heel boys play basketball.  George enjoys playing jeopardy with her and you can even make phone calls to other people who have Alexa.  She’s nice for a quick weather check and she’s usually better than Siri at finding important information, like when the next basketball game will be played.  Alexa times my cooking and can tell me how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon.  She also has lots of recipes to share, but as a visual learner, this feature is hard for me to use.  I know you can use Alexa to order things from Amazon, and I became quite fond of Amazon this Christmas season, but I have not ordered using Alexa yet.  There’s always room for growth.  If you have not seen the SNL skit about Alexa for the older generation, you should google “SNL Alexa skit.”  I tried to put in a link, but it won’t work.  You should watch it, really.

4. Organic Milk:  My sister in law always uses organic milk.  Whenever Matt would come home from long stays at her house, he would talk about how much he missed the milk in Michigan.  I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about until this summer when we visited and I had organic milk on my cereal.  It’s so much yummier.  I was commenting on this and Matt explained why.  (He did the research because that’s what marketing people do.) Organic milk is not produced by as many local farmers as regular milk.  Therefore, when it is processed the pasteurization process is longer.  The milk is actually toasted as a result.  This does two things.  It gives it a lovely flavor and it means that the expiration date is MUCH further in the future.  It was this last fact that drew me in.  Another problem with not having kids around is that I do not use as much milk.  I have had to throw milk out because I was not able to use it up by the date.  That never happens with organic milk, so even though it is more expensive I actually save money in the long run.  The Aldi brand is good and Walmart has several different less expensive brands as well.  If you want the full impact of the flavor, you need to use at least 2%.  You won’t notice it so much with skim.

3. LaCroix:  I know, I know, I am really late getting on this train.  I drink a lot of water.  I like water, but there was something deep inside me that missed the fizziness of soda.  I stopped drinking diet soda two years ago and almost never drink regular, but I just could never feel like the pizza experience was quite the same.  I had tried LaCroix before, but not been very impressed.  The only kind I really liked was the more expensive Cherry Lime in the fancy skinny can.  Last summer, though, I bought a case at Costco and fell in love with lime.  I mixed it with the cranberry black cherry juice from Aldi and, well, let’s just say you should try it.  Anyway, now I like it all by itself and I like just about any flavor.  It is absolutely guiltless and adds a little fizz to my life.  Who doesn’t need a little fizz?

2. Nox Gear Tracer 360:  I run a lot in the early morning when it is very dark.  As I said before, my home treadmill finally gave up the ghost and our neighborhood workout room doesn’t open until 5:30 am, so I have to run outside.  My Nox Gear Tracer 360 wraps me in glowing light without adding weight, heat, or layers.  I love it.  It will flash, change colors, or stay one color the whole run depending on what you choose.  I like pink, but I would probably choose flashing if I ran in more high-traffic areas.  There’s not a whole lot of traffic in my neighborhood at 4:30 am, but we do have a newspaper delivery man who drives like a crazy person.  I feel safer in my vest.  It does use a lot of batteries.  I need to get some rechargeable ones, but for now the safety is worth the extra expenditure.

 

  1. Apple Watch:  In June I bought an Apple Watch.  It is the best thing I bought all year.  I was sad to move on from my Fitbit.  Fitbit taught me to run.  It changed my life.  I am and always will be grateful.  However, I needed to move up from the Fitbit One that I had had for going on four years.  The thing was indestructible.  I washed it in the washing machine three times and it still worked.  What it did not do was tell me when to stand, map my runs, or receive text messages.  I did the research and decided on Apple Watch.  I LOVE it!  It is easy to use and I keep finding new things it will do.  I love it most for exercise, but it is also really nice when paired with Siri for finding my way to new places.  When it is time to turn, it taps me on the wrist and gives me a big directional arrow on the watch face to show me which was to go.  It’s water proof, so I don’t have to take it off in the pool with the kids or when I do dishes or wash the dog and I don’t have to worry if it starts raining when I’m running.  There are all kinds of fun incentives and achievement awards to work for.  I am just the tiniest bit obsessive about closing my rings.  Also, the band is very sturdy.  I love and appreciate Fitbit, but almost everyone I know has had trouble with the bands breaking on models worn on the wrist.  There are lots of different workouts available on Apple Watch.  I use it for yoga, cycling, walking and I would use it if I absolutely had to get on the elliptical (shudder).  There’s even a handy “other” setting if you find it necessary to jog in place or around the living room because your basketball team is driving you insane, not that I would know….

 

 

 

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Head to Heart

One day this week I came into my room to find one of my students sitting on the swiveling stool that I keep in front of my room.  I was in the middle of running some errands and was just stopping by to pick something up.  The young lady looked rather guilty and jumped from the chair.  “You’re fine,” I said.  “There’s still a good amount of time before class begins.”  “I just wanted to see what it was like,” she replied.  I smiled, picked up what I had come for and headed out.  As I crossed the threshold into the hall, I heard another student say, “I just can’t figure out how she teaches us without any notes at all.  I know I would be afraid that I’d mess up.”  Little do they know….I don’t use notes mostly because notes require the putting on and taking off of reading glasses and that’s just annoying.  I go over my notes before class and the power point outline is enough to remind me of what I need to teach.  I’ve been teaching for a very long time, after all.

That incident has come back to my mind several times since it took place.  I’ve been chewing on this whole idea of memory.  What makes things memorable to us?  Why do we hold on to some things and totally forget about others?  These are questions I’ve been thinking about periodically for several years.  It seems each year my students have a harder and harder time remembering things.  It’s not just the facts I teach in class.  They can’t remember the more practical details either–things like due dates and assignment expectations–even if I give them handouts with all of those things listed, and even if I post those same handouts on my website.  It’s frustrating for me, for them, and for their parents, and so I keep pondering.

One thing I know.  In order to remember something you have to care about it.  I’ve been saying this to my students for several years now.  “You’ve got to let these ideas through from your head into your heart.  If they only stay in your head, they will get chased away by all of the other things that have to come through there on a daily basis.”  That sounds weird–and a little cheesy–and they usually look at me as though I have three heads when I’m saying it, because really…what does that mean and how do you do it?  Then this morning I was reading my devotional from A Closer Walk New Testament and I read these words by John Henry Jowett: “A thought is never secure until it has passed from the mind into the heart, and has become a desire, an aspiration, a passion.”  He was speaking specifically about scripture and the idea that allowing scripture to penetrate into our hearts is the thing that will eventually change our desires.  Scripture gives us the “want-to” when we let it into our hearts.  I felt confirmed in my assertions to my students when I read those words, but then I read on: “When God’s law is taken into the heart, it is no longer merely remembered: it is loved.  The strength of the heart is wrapped about it, and no passing bother can carry it away.”

Wow.  The things I allow into my heart I will love–what a beautiful word picture! That’s why I can teach now without notes.  Over the years I have come not just to know my material but also to love it.  It’s why I’ve come to passionately love  Dante, Lewis and Sayers.  I let them into my heart and now the strength of my heart is wrapped around them.  How much more important it is, then, to let God’s Word into my heart, to become so intimately familiar with the words of scripture that they live surrounded by the strength of my heart and aren’t just getting blown around in my head. I need to work on that.

The last few words in that quote stood out to me as well, “and no passing bother can carry it away.”  Today there are so very many, “passing bothers.”  Because of technology students today contend with “passing bothers” from the time they open their eyes in the morning until the time close them again in the evening.  Getting thoughts to move from the head to the heart is harder for them than it ever has been before, but it still needs to be done.  Our world needs the pure “desire, aspiration and passion” that come from hiding God’s Word and other lovely and beautiful thoughts in their hearts.  I’m not sure how to help them do this, but I want to figure it out.  God help us teachers all.

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Training

My daily scripture reading recently led me to I Timothy 4:7.  Five little words leapt off the page and smacked me right in the face: “…train yourself to be godly.”  Training is a thing with which I have become very familiar over the last four years.  When you learn to run in your late fifties the casual approach does not work.  I’ve had to be serious and intentional.  What hit me about this scripture was the idea that godliness requires nothing less; I must TRAIN myself to be godly.  Why do I seem to think that godliness is something I can catch on the fly, something that will just kind of settle into me or onto me as I move through life and church and through the little bit of scripture I get to read every day?  The more I think about this, the more convicted I become, and the conviction is intensified by the next verse, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

When I first read this, I felt guilty.  Guilt stinks.  It also does us no good if we simply wallow in it.  Guilt, like pain, is only good if we recognize it as a signal that something needs to be fixed.  It’s only good if it leads us to repentance.  In this case, I can repent with some confidence because my running has taught me what training looks like.  I’ve been working through the parallels for a few days now.

The first thing I learned about being successful with physical training is that I needed some kind of accountability.  For me, at first, the fact that my Fitbit numbers were showing up on line for all the world to see provided the accountability I needed.  I also blogged about my progress and the encouragement I received from that kept me going.  The problem with godliness is that it doesn’t seem so easily measurable.  Miles are easier to record than character changes.  I’m still thinking this one through–but I’m taking a baby step with this post.

The second thing I learned from running is that goals motivate me.  I need to be signed up for a race or working on a streak.  II Corinthians 5:9 says, “So we make it our goal to please him…”  The goal is to get to heaven and hear, “Well done…”  Running has already helped me to picture life as a race.  I need to meditate on this some more.  I also need to become more and more familiar with the things that please God.  That’s going to require more time in the scripture and a lot more prayer.

Another lesson from running is that training only really works if I am being consistent.  Running for 600 days in a row made me a runner.  Those days made running a part of who I am.  Have I ever, in my whole Christian life spent time in the Word and time in prayer consistently for 600 days?  I don’t know, but I think I’d better make sure I do from here on out.  This will require the fifth thing I learned is necessary when training for a race:  a plan and a record.  Each week I plan my training runs.  I look ahead at the weather and my schedule and I pencil in the miles and the workouts I need to do for the week.  When they are complete, I put them in ink.  Sometimes I have to move things around a bit.   I might get a cold or have a family emergency of some kind, but because I have a plan, I can always shift my training.  Training is a priority.  Training in godliness should be, too.  I think I’ll add a column to my notebook page.

I learned early that in my running experience that I have a tendency to plan too much.  I trained too hard and I ended up with injuries.  I made adjustments.  I learned that I need compression gear, walk breaks, yoga, and pilates to make my training work.  I know that I’ll learn things along the way in this new training as well.  Training is a process.  Some things work; other things don’t. I’ll be prepared to make adjustments because I’ve learned to do so in my running.

I also expect it to be difficult.  I have sweated more in the last four years that in my entire 56 previous trips around the sun.  Running is hard work.  I expect becoming godly is going to be difficult as well.  Because it’s hard, I must remember the last lesson I have learned from running: I can’t do it.  My theme song throughout this journey to physical fitness has been the song, Never Once, by Matt Redman.  I know that I could not have done any of this without God’s constant help and care.  I have run and He has been with me every step of the way.  This new training will be the same.  I came across this quote from John Calvin.  It fits in so well with what God is clearly asking me to do. “It is clear beyond contradiction that we are called to holiness.  But the calling and duty of Christians is one thing, and it is another to have the power to make it happen. Therefore, we should beseech the Lord to purge us rather that vainly attempt such a matter in our own strength without his aid.”

So, I’m beseeching, and planning, and being serious and intentional.  I’m training right now to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon in March.  I’m also training for godliness, which has more value. Let’s do this!

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Lesson in the Gutter

It finally happened.  I have a running injury.  I think the problem is my piriformis muscle (bet you didn’t know you had one of those), but I have a weekend appointment to find out.  It’s hard to slow down, but it’s in the slowing and the contemplating, and even in the pain, that lessons are best learned.  You’d think I’d have learned that before this.

The other evening, because of my injury, I took a long walk instead of a run.  I’ve written before about how much fun it has been to get to know my neighborhood throughout the seasons.  One of my favorite parts of regular exercise is getting outside.  I’ve learned to crave it.  I didn’t take any music along this time.  I wanted to think, to soak in the evening, to watch the sun sink and the clouds turn pink and orange.  I was looking at all of the flowering trees and thinking how lovely they are when I noticed leaves crunching under my feet.  I began to notice as I walked along that there were black, and crunchy leaves all along the side of the road and piled in the gutter.  It felt strange.  Crunchy leaves are for fallish walks.

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I looked up into the tree branches and began to understand.  We had a very early and prolonged spring thaw.  In February we had enough days in the 70s to allow the pear trees to bloom and leaf out.  It was so surprising, so pleasant, so joyful to find spring in the middle of winter!  It seemed like an unexpected gift.  Then, when March came on, it got cold again.  A few nights saw temps drop into the teens.  The fresh green leaves on the pear trees didn’t make it.  The night before my walk we’d had some rain.  The storm blew and beat many of the dead leaves from the branches and piled them up in the gutter.  They never even had a chance to turn red–just black–and dead, and now they were crunching beneath my feet.

I gasped a little as I stared up into the branches and the light began to dawn.  I am, currently, just like the pear trees.  I’m tired.  I hurt.  I’m a teacher and it’s still too long until spring break.  I’m a mother and a grandmother and my children and grandchildren are grieving, so I grieve, too.  Places I thought were safe and homey feel dangerous and hostile.  I’m sad.  I’m stressed. I feel frozen, dead, and crunchy.

I began this year with such joy, such hope, such amazement at all God had done.  I was living in Ephesians 3:20,  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”  God had blessed until my cup was over-flowing.  Like the spring weather we had in February, it was all a total surprise.  I hadn’t planned it; I didn’t do anything to make it happen, God just put it all in place.  I would never have even thought to ask for it.  God’s gifts are often like that–out of the blue complete surprises, as sweet as 70 degrees in February.  Then, it all fell apart.  The dream turned into a nightmare.  My freshly borne leaves turned black, fell, and are now crunching beneath the feet of passers-by.

As I continued to look up into every pear tree I walked under, I noticed something else.  It was only the outside leaves that were gone.

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On the inside branches of the trees were fresh green leaves, and they were gently blowing in the breeze.  Then I remembered II Corinthians 4:16-18,   “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light  momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things which are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are not seen are eternal.”

As I continued my walk, the breeze picked up and caught the now blooming cherry blossoms.  It looked like pink snow was falling.  I rounded a corner and came upon another pile of dead, black, crunchy leaves, but on top of this pile pink blossoms were accumulating.  Fresh, pink beauty mixing with old, black pain. I gasped again.

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There’s a song we sang often when our children were all at home.  George and I would harmonize and the five of them would sing along, most of the time when we on a road trip.  Its message explains the lesson I learned from the leaves and the cherry blossom petals.  God knows just how to get my attention.  I’m thankful.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what He deems best,

Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure

is a charge that on Himself he laid;

“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure.”

This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,

So to trust thy promises, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,

Offered me within Thy Holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a Father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till we reach the promised land.

–Lina Sandell

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Dream Come True

Nine years ago I attended the Myrtle Beach Marathon to cheer for a student who was running for me.  He ran to raise money for my cancer treatment and I was about a month out from my last chemo treatment.  I traveled with the administrative assistant of our school and her daughter.  I had no hair, no eyelashes, and no eyebrows.  I wore a special Carolina Blue cap to bed at night because that was the only way to keep my head warm.  We cheered for Stephen when he ran past our hotel.  I had a lawn chair to sit in as I waited for him to come by.  Then we drove to the finish line.  I remember being unsure that I could make it from where we had to park to the area where the runners came in.  We went slowly and when I got there I leaned hard on the barrier that formed the chute.

I was very emotional as I watched the runner finish the race.  I could only imagine all the hard work that went into an accomplishment like that and I was moved by the looks on their faces as they crossed the line.  I thought about the fact that it would be fun to do something like that and I thought that maybe someday, if I stayed cancer free, I might do a 5K.  It was so exciting to be surrounded by the running community.  Everyone was cheering for everyone else.  I loved it.

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Several times over the next few years I started to run.  I’d get a few weeks in, I’d get shin splints, and I’d give up.  Then I got a Fitbit.  The magic those little numbers worked on me cannot really be explained.  I started slowly.  I walked first and gradually, little by little, added in some running.  I signed up for a 5K and ran it with my daughter.

I promised my husband when I began running that I would never try to run a marathon.  He’s read too many stories about people dying that way.  I mean, we both teach history; we know what happened to Pheidippides.  My limit was 13.1.  When I found out that the Myrtle Beach Marathon includes a Half Marathon event, that became my goal.  I wanted to go back and run down the chute I once leaned against.

I ran a half last May in my home town, just to see if I could do it.  I was telling my son-in-law how much I wanted to run the half in Myrtle Beach and he said he’d train and run it with me.  We registered.  Once the money has been paid, I always feel more motivated.  However, I found it much harder to train for this race than the one in May.  I had three different really bad viruses between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.  The cold weather made my weekend long runs hard to do sometimes, and the early sunset makes running after school difficult.  I was really afraid I was not going to be able to do as well as I did last time and my goal was 2:30.  That was almost 11 minutes less than my time in May.  I realize now, that this was a little crazy. My last few training runs were tough and I was a little discouraged.

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It was fun running away from home.  Next time I will take the day before the race off so that I can arrive much earlier.  I felt a little rushed as I laid out my clothes for the morning.  I got up at 4:00, dressed, and went to the breakfast our hotel offered for runners.  It was cold and dark as I caught the shuttle to the start line.  It was fun talking to other runners.  We huddled together for warmth and shared our stories.  The running community is full of wonderful people.  I met my son-in-law and we found our place at the start.  We were freezing, but the sun came up, the National Anthem played, and we got going.

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The first nine miles were pretty easy and lots of fun.  The last four were challenging,  but doable.  My son-in-law is a great encourager! As we approached the turn to the finish I started to tear up.  My leg muscles were tight and screaming, but all the memories flooded back and I marveled at how far God has brought me.  We ran through the chute, I cried the whole way, and that last quarter mile or so was nothing but fun.  I am so very thankful.  I’m thankful for Stephen who started my dream, I’m thankful for so many who have encouraged me along the way.  I’m thankful for health and strength, my Fitbit, and my awesome family.  Oh, and we finished in 2:32:33.  I’ve still got work to do, but I’ll take it!  Now I just need to figure out what’s next!

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Overwhelmed by Thankfulness

It’s been a difficult school year.  Being a teacher was never for the faint of heart.  Now it’s for the just plain crazy, or the definitely called.  Honestly, sometimes I’m not sure which is true of me.  In any case, I don’t want to write about school tonight.  I just want to be thankful.

Our youngest son got married in October.  HIs wedding was a bright, bright spot in my year.  The weather was gorgeous, the setting, decorations, and festivities were lovely, everyone looked beautiful and handsome. As I looked through the wedding pictures when I saw them for the first time last weekend, though, I was struck more than anything by the goodness of God.  He is faithful.  I scrolled through the pictures taken by my oldest daughter’s college bestie and let the tears flow.  God is good.

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First, I’m thankful for my new daughter-in-law.  It’s so much fun to meet the person you have been praying for since you knew your child was on the way.  She’s perfect for my baby boy.  I’m blessed.

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I’m also thankful for the way and the place where they met.  They both served as interns at a church in Greenville, S.C.  There they were surrounded by people who spoke grace and truth into their lives.  They couldn’t have gotten a better start.

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Another thing I thought about as I scrolled through the pictures was how many wonderful friends God has sent into my son’s life.  First, there’s his big brother who prayed night after night, ” Please let Mama’s baby be a boy.”  My boys are six years apart, but they are close and I am thankful.

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Then there are all of his high school friends, boys I taught and watched play basketball.  Some of them have been his buddies since third grade, others joined the group later, but they are all special to me and I am overwhelmed by God’s blessing.  He met more great guys in college, and they with one of his brothers-in-law rounded out his group of crazy groomsmen.  They’re rather handsome, too.

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One of them even walked me down the aisle and back!

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I’m so glad there’s a picture of these men praying over my son just before the wedding.  While I was up in the balcony of the church, they were praying over my boy. It doesn’t really get any better than that.

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At the reception we laughed, ate barbecue, and danced, because that’s what Southerners do at weddings, and we managed to get a picture of the whole group of Caldwell kids that were there.  I don’t want to write about teaching tonight, but I do want to remind myself, that teaching, while difficult, has some pretty awesome blessings.  These are ALL my kids.  I love every one.  Teaching gave me that.  I am thankful and blessed.

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Fool Me Twice…

I’ve heard a lot lately about Lucy and Charlie Brown and the annual football incident that we Boomers remember so well from good old Charles Schultz.  Every year Lucy would talk Charlie Brown into letting her hold the football while he kicked it, and every year, no matter how much we hoped it wouldn’t happen, she pulled it away at the last minute and Charlie ended up on his back, the wind knocked out of him, staring at the clouds and feeling stupid.  That scenario is a metaphor for so many of the things we experience in life, from politics to business to personal relationships.  It’s a broken world.  It seems like there’s always a Lucy out there trying to lure us into trust.  We are all very wary.

I’ve been beating myself up lately with the old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  It comes to me in the night and beats against my soul like relentless waves on the beach.  Like the dinosaur in Toy Story, “Now I have guilt.” Or I did.  Then this morning I read the first part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Our church is doing an “89 Day Scripture Challenge” in the weeks between New Years and Easter.  We’re reading the entire New Testament together.  Today, according to the plan, I read Matthew 5.  Years ago we memorized Matthew 5-7 as a family, so the verses are familiar.  I’m reading the ESV now, though, so the subtle difference in wording made the concepts stand out and they were like salve to my aching soul.  First I read through the beatitudes.  I read slowly.  I re-read and considered.  Then I came to the famous words, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also….”  Sometimes words are so familiar that they move beyond meaning and become only shapes and sounds.  Today, though, these words pierced like a laser straight to my heart.  There’s no shame in being twice fooled.  I’m supposed to let you take your best shot.  I’m supposed to believe that this time you’ll do better. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use wisdom and caution or that we should be totally naive.  It does mean that when Lucy came to Charlie Brown and asked him to kick the ball, it was an act of grace and love on his part that he believed her.  The shame was not Charlie Brown.  The shame belonged to Lucy.  Still, year after year, he forgave.  Year after year he trusted, loved, extended grace, and year after year he ended up, breathless, staring at the clouds.  But hey, he was looking up, and that’s what I’m going to do, too. Jesus can deal with the Lucy van Pelts of this world. I’d rather be a Charlie Brown.IMG_1235

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