Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Montana Extravaganza








Almost four weeks ago (how does the time fly like that?) we road tripped to Great Falls, Montana to spend five fun-filled days with my brother Shane, his wife Quenby, and my three awesome nieces: Kayla, Maggie, and Sydney. I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about our adventures with them, but better late than never, right?

According to google maps, it's 736 miles from our driveway to theirs and takes a minimum of 12 hours (without stops) to traverse that distance. We cut two hours off our trip on the front end by meeting them at a campground near Seeley Lake, Montana (a mere 622 miles from our house). The kids traveled well. If only the same could be said for their parents who both had adult temper tantrums along the way.

We picked Spokane, Washington as our stopping point for lunch and planned to spend an hour at Riverfront Park where, according to my brother, there were play structures and a spray park if it was hot. We watched the temperature outside climb to over 100F and approached signs for Spokane at 12:15 p.m. on a business day. We followed the interstate signs for Riverfront Park, not realizing until we exited the freeway that Riverfront Park is in the heart of downtown Spokane. The kids were adamant that they must have Sonic and nothing else for lunch, but getting to the Sonic involved crossing multiple lanes of traffic and navigating one-way roads. Curt was crabby before we even got there and about blew a gasket when he saw every pull-in spot full and the line for the drive-thru wrapped around the building and almost spilling out into the street. He muttered, "I'm not sitting in that," drove around the building and out of the parking lot which instigated much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the children. We eventually circled back to Sonic and by the time we re-entered the parking lot, we'd wasted 30 minutes. A sweaty manager was running around the parking lot directing traffic and looking frazzled. When he found out we were first-timers, he decided to give us the royal treatment. He had us park in a non-parking spot and promised to hand-make all our food which took an additional 15 minutes of waiting in the hot car with four hungry kids and two crabby adults.

We snatched our piping hot, deep fried food and headed back toward Riverfront Park which was teeming with half of Spokane's population. Street parking was nowhere to be found and in our haste to find something close, we TWICE turned too soon and had to re-circle the entire downtown shopping area. We spotted a parking ramp and decided to go that route, but as we pulled under the yellow height limit bumper we heard a massive crash and thud. Oops. Forgot about Grant's bike strapped to the top of our mini-van (some day we'll get a bike rack). We eventually did find some parking and ate on wet grass, our now cold and greasy food. The entire fiasco wasted a hour and a half of our day and only 15 minutes of it was spent in the park.

We repeated a similar fiasco hours later in Missoula when we drove through the entire town, parts of it twice, looking for the elusive Target store to purchase stuff that was on my "to pack" list and didn't make it in the van. While I was checking out, my brother called to tell me the campground was full and they were driving down the road to start touring campgrounds to try to find a spot. He'd call or text when they found a site which may or may not be when we had cell coverage. For now, we could just follow the original driving directions and hope to stumble upon his massive truck at a campground!

One thing Curt and I learned, as we groused at each other and were finally able to laugh about it and reconnect, was maybe we aren't as cut out to be Amazing Race participants as we thought. We certainly would have given the producers some good buffoonery coverage with our temper tantrums that day.

We eventually make it to a campground and found my brother and his family. We camped at Alva Lake located in the heart of the majestic Rocky Mountains. It was breath-taking beauty and so different from the Pacific Northwest. I wasn't anticipating Montana to be so arid, but good parts of it are very desert-like with scrubby brush and who knows how many rattlesnakes (shiver). Each night right around bedtime for the kids, we were treated to a mountain thunderstorm complete with lightening, thunder, downpour and hail. While the storms were an awesome display of God's power, they were not so great for the kids sleeping on the dry, dirt ground of Shane's hunting wall tents. Water flooded in under the edges and we giggled as we crammed six Stilp's onto two camping cots and waited for the flood to die down so we could wing it with sleeping arrangements that didn't involve water or mud.

One day we drove to Holland Lake and hiked up and in about 2 miles to a hidden waterfall in the heart of one of the mountains hemming in the lake. Paige was insistent on wearing her hot pink light-up cowgirl boots to hike and on maintaining a grouchy attitude for hiking. She pouted the entire way up the mountain, but fortunately for everyone on the trail, decided to have fun on the way back down. The waterfall was powerful and frigid with a swimming pool at its base. Shane tried to convince the kids to come under the falls with him but they refused to venture out on their own. Eventually he picked each of them up, wrapped his strong arms around their shaking shoulders, and carried them into the heart of the furious waterfall. Sheltered in his arms, they experienced the storm in the confines of the safety of his embrace. I took a bazillion pictures and I still can't look at them without being moved to tears. It's such a beautiful picture to me of all the times God has scooped me up in His arms, sheltered me from the storms of life, and endowed me with enough courage to endure them.

We headed back to Great Falls after two days of camping and FINALLY got to see all the things we've heard Shane, Quenby and the girls talk about all these years. We toured their home and got to see how beautifully all their renovation projects have turned out. Shane took Curt and Grant to the fire house where he works and enlisted Grant's help to roll up some hoses. Quenby and I snuck away for a girls afternoon and she gave me a tour of all her favorite places in town. We went to the tea store, the consignment store and a darling little boutique where we both scored cute sundresses. The boys spent an afternoon at the shooting range sighting in Curt's gun and doing man stuff. The kids played together non-stop and needed very little parental intervention to get along. Shane drug me out of bed at 5:30 in the morning to take me on a sunrise run on his favorite running trail. He hasn't run in two years so it was really cool to be with him for his inaugural run without pain. We ran three miles out and walked back, giving us time to talk and catch up. It was a highlight for me.

Sunday morning was the much-anticipated kids triathlon. Grant, Kayla, Maggie and Sydney all participated while Katie, Alli (somewhat begrudgingly because they wanted to compete too) and Paige cheered them on. It was a legitimate tri complete with body marking, timing chips, bib numbers and transition areas. Grant was visibly nervous and I fought back nervous mom tears. Even though I just swam a mile in a lake, I find everything about swimming to be unnatural. Breathing underwater and purposely subjecting yourself to a swim or drown environment is enough to makes me a mass of hot nerves. Kayla and Maggie had to swim a complete lap while Grant and Syndey (since they're younger) just had to swim one length of the outdoor pool. I screamed myself silly cheering them on and breathed a sigh of relief when all four of them made it safely out of the water. Syd beat Grant out of the water and while they were transitioning to the bike she confidently said to Grant, "I smoked you on the swim." Grant was determined to beat her and was heard shouting, "C'mon Dad. Get me on my bike. Can I do it barefoot?" In spite of Syd's athleticism and her best effort, Grant came in just ahead of her on the 2-mile bike and 1-mile run. All the kids did great and it was so fun to cheer them on as they raced.

We got to worship with them in their church home. We met their friends and stayed up late playing dominos. We sat around in our jammies drinking coffee and talking. We laughed a lot. Played a lot. Ate a lot. It was wonderful. I think the best part for me is how our relationship with Shane and Quenby has developed into intimate friendship. It warms my soul.

The drive home was much less eventful than on the way out. We traversed 4 states and one time zone over 14 + hours and I've had trips to the grocery store that were more stressful. We all got a little slap-happy around lunch time and had a blast introducing the kids to Perkins, an old college haunt from back in the day. It was a great cap to a wonderful vacation. Thanks Shane, Quenby and girls for your hospitality and for a wonderful time. We can hardly wait for next year.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

God. Family. Friends.








Yesterday we returned from a camping trip with our good friends Bucky and Britta Buchstaber and their three (and a half) children. Bucky and Britta went down early on Wednesday to set up our camp site and they stumbled upon the best camp site in southern Oregon. Located in Farewell Bend Campground, it was right on the Rogue River which would normally be scary since the Rogue is so mighty, powerful and deep. However our site backed to an area of the Rogue that slowed down because of a massive log jam. The log jam was so incredible that it forced the river to disappear under the logs and come out on the other side. A small section of the river diverted toward our camp site and tumbled gently over the logs to form two small waterfalls that fell into crystal clear pools of ice cold water. The pools were surrounded by rock ledges and boulders carved out and softened by the water. It was a little taste of paradise and we definitely took advantage of our private backyard retreat. The kids and husbands were brave enough to get in the water, but I couldn't get my feet to adjust to the frigid water. I did wash my hair under the waterfall and that was enough to chill me on a hot summer day.

Britta and I took our chairs to the water's edge and set up shop. We spent the afternoon talking and watching our children play while Griffin slept in the play pen that we situated in the shade on the rock ledge above us. The big boys went fishing and Curt caught his first fish using a fly rod. Bucky, his faithful instructor, was proud of his student and we grilled that fish within an hour of catching it. It was SO good.

Chipmunks invaded our campsite and stole the food we left out on the table so the kids made it their mission to hunt chipmunks the rest of the weekend. They fashioned a stick into an arrow for Crosby's bow and tried shooting them. They tried trapping them with a box, a stick, some string and some snacks. From the shrieks of excitement and the tall tales, they were VERY close to success.

Griffin amused us with his alpha baby attitude. He thinks he's a big kid and he walked around camp getting filthy, enjoying the attention from the big kids, and making his opinions known. The girls spent hours on the beach behind our camp site playing in the sand, talking, trading clothes and being silly. The boys stuck together like glue and spent their free time exploring the woods, island and beach by the river.

The first afternoon we headed to nearby Union Creek and viewed the natural bridge. The "natural bridge" is a just that - a chunk of forest that crosses over the Rogue River. The river disappears into a lava tube and flows underground for 200 feet before emerging out the other side. It was pretty cool to see this mass of rushing, powerful water forced into such a small opening. We also lucked out and got to stand on a bridge and watch two kayakers launch themselves off a cliff and into the powerful river below. Talk about an adrenaline rush.

Our second day in camp, we took a morning trip to Crater Lake. The drive up Mount Mazama was scenic and curvy (surprise, surprise) and when we arrived at the top, the temperature had dropped ten degrees. It was not quite 50 degrees and we weren't exactly properly attired. We got out our cameras and started taking turns snapping family photos. Every ten steps was another PERFECT view and we'd start the process all over again. We made quite a scene with our seven, blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids and our look-alike husbands. The more photos we took, the goofier we got. We capped off our photo shoot by mixing up our families for two "what's wrong with this picture" family shots. Even the kids thought it was hilarious.

Crater Lake really is something to behold. I was expecting it to be beautiful and it was, but I wasn't expecting it to be as big as it was. It's 6 miles across the lake and the circumference around the rim is 33 miles. At it's deepest point, it's almost 2,000 feet deep. The rim is located at 7,000 feet elevation and the lake is 1,000 vertical feet below the rim. A narrow and dangerous hiking trail follows the rim around the lake. We explored the trail for maybe a half mile, but I was convinced one of our children (or husbands) would disappear off the edge, so we turned back fairly quickly into our hike. Shortly before our turn-around, Bucky unearthed a huge boulder from some loose dirt. It was so heavy that he and Curt had to roll it to the rim's edge. They shoved the boulder off the top of the rim and then hooped and hollered as it collided and crashed down the steep embankment, breaking into a million pieces and creating a mini avalanche in it's wake. Boys. They never grow up.

Each night we fell asleep to the sound of the rushing river as our white noise. Each morning we woke up chilled by the cold air and huddled around the fire drinking coffee and warming up before starting the process of cooking breakfast for 11 hungry campers. We ate and laughed. Talked and got filthy dirty (I know that was Britta's favorite part - NOT!). There's something about camping that strips you down to the basics, eliminating distractions and insignificant things and narrowing the focus to what really matters. God. Family. Friends. I may have been dying for a shower by the time we got home, but I can guarantee we'll do it again next year and I'm already looking forward to it.

It Really is Too Big Too Miss






The Oregon state fair's slogan is "Too Big To Miss" which Grant earnestly pointed out to us the first summer we moved here. We take that slogan seriously and have made a visit to the fair a yearly tradition. It is a highlight for the kids and a great way to cap off the summer. The past two years my Dad and his wife Marcy have driven over from Bend to share the day at the fair with us, which makes it even more fun.

This year was an exercise in practicing patience. I think everyone in a five-state region descended on the fair at the precise time we arrived. I've been to the fair multiple times over the course of my life and have never seen it so crowded. It took us 50 minutes from the time we entered the parking lot to actually get through the entrance gate. We waited to park. To buy tickets for the fair. To buy tickets for the rides. To buy the over-priced and greasy food. To use the bathroom. It was so ridiculous that it became funny. No one lost their patience, including the kids. I was so proud of how we all just rolled with the punches and made it fun in spite of all the people and all the waiting.

My Dad and Marcy treated the kids to their first ride on a ferris wheel. Paige wasn't quite tall enough so she rode the carousel instead. All four kids were convinced their ride was the most amazing ride on the face of the earth. We blew through our designated wad of cash buying greasy food for lunch which also makes me laugh. I mean really - who pays $3.75 for a fried corn dog that is exactly the same as the box of 24 sitting in their freezer at home? I do. Times four. While we ate our corn dogs and onion rings, we watched dancers and all three girls couldn't take their eyes off the stage.

Alli brought her spending money (all $1.00 of it) and treated her siblings to a "tickling feet ride." She proudly bossed them into the seat with the vibrating foot stool, put the quarter in, and pushed the start button. It was adorable to see her so tickled to be generous.

A group of musicians from Peru playing pan flutes lured us into their beautiful music. We stood for a long time listening to them perform while Alli danced along to the music and periodically dug pennies out of her coin purse and tipped them. They seemed to really appreciate Alli's enthusiasm for their music and we even bought one of their CD's (which I'm listening to as I write this blog).

Katie's flip flop broke about one hour into our four hour journey so we walked around the entire state fair with one flip-flopped foot and one bare foot. She even walked through all the animal barns, darting around the manure, in her bare feet, with Grandma Marcy on poop spotting patrol. I tried to not think about all the germs she accumulated on her foot.

I stood in line for 20 minutes to buy ice cream. My Dad ordered a sundae with three toppings not knowing that the three toppings came on three huge mounds of ice cream. We laughed at how ginormous his sundae was.

To top off our great day, some old friends of mine from Scio drove up to the fair to meet the kids. When I was in high school and needed money, they'd hire me to do odd jobs around their house and in their company. We hung out at the exit, hugged and reminisced about old days. It was so great to see Johnny and Sherry again after all this time and to introduce my family to them.

We drove home and took turns sharing about our favorite parts. It may take my stomach a day or two to recover from our "meal" but I can't wait until next year!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Obedience

I've had the blessing of having some quiet time in the car without kids over the past week on a couple different occasions and have used that time to pray. In that prayer time, God kept bringing me back to a theme of obedience. As I evaluate my life, I've been asking myself the question, "Am I obeying God in the same way that I expect from my kids?"

When I was growing up, my parents defined obedience as "doing what you're told, when you're told, with a happy heart," and they made it clear that if we didn't obey on all three levels then it didn't count for true obedience.

In my assigned Bible reading, I stumbled upon Proverbs 19:16a - "He who obeys instruction guards his life..." I had written in the margin of my Bible, "Obedience brings protection." When we obey, we guard our life by stepping into the shelter of God's blessing and protection. I like to think of God holding an umbrella in a downpour. He invites us to come under and enjoy shelter from the storms of life, but His invitation isn't all inclusive. While He loves the disobedient, He offers protection and blessing to those who choose to obey.

As I mulled this over I read I John 5:3 - "This is love for God; to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome...." When I obey, I show God how much I love Him. And I love Him a lot, but do my actions show that? Am I honoring Him as His daughter in my day-to-day obedience? My heart resonated with the additional point that God's commands are not burdensome. He has a reason WHY He asks us to conform to His will and the reasons why are not to burden us, but to bless us.

I didn't have to think hard to find an area of disobedience in my life. I know God has been asking me to intentionally interact with my kids more instead of co-exist with them. Lately every time I choose to do my thing instead of obey, the Holy Spirit has been all over me bringing conviction, asking for repentance and leaving me with that awkward shame of knowing I made the wrong choice. I find myself repenting and acknowledging that I screwed up, but putting action to my repentance is harder. Obedience requires me to set aside my agenda and enter my kids' world whatever that looks like at the time. When I've chosen to obey, the rewards have been immediate. I've been blessed by hanging, giggling, crafting and talking with my kids. When I disobey, whatever it was that luring me with it's immediacy feels really insignificant and really unsatisfying.

So what about you? What is God asking you to do? Are you obeying or are you being a disobedient little kid?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Euphoria of the Magical






Yesterday was THE BEST DAY E-V-E-R!!!!! My mom and I spent the entire day together, just the two of us, something we haven't done since we moved back to Oregon from Chicago over two years ago. I picked her up at 7 a.m. and we headed to the Original Pancake House. Over the years it became our favorite place to go for breakfast when I'd come to visit. It holds a legacy of memories for us and we just had to start our day off there.

After breakfast, we headed out for a hike on Mt. Hood. Mom and her husband Terry hike every weekend so I asked her to choose a hike that was challenging enough that Curt and I couldn't do it with the kids. She chose McNeil Point on Mt. Hood. The author of my hiking book described this hike as a "strenuous 9.2 mile, out-and-back, 5.5 hour hike through old-growth forest, meadows and rugged mountainside." He was more than accurate on all accounts.

We stopped at the ranger station in the little town of Zig Zag to pick up a map to the trail head then headed down LoLo Pass Road (aren't these names so cute?) to Top Spur, our starting trail destination. After loading our day packs with various layers of clothes, water bottles, snacks and my handy hiking book, we took off through the woods.

We didn't hike long before the trail meandered out of the woods and onto a narrow ledge with a cliff on one side and steep hillside on the other. We skirted around the hillside and BAM! Out of nowhere, Mt. Hood. The beauty took my breath away. Panoramic mountain views from every side, glacial run-offs carving waterfalls down the slopes and one huge majestic mountain standing guard over it all. We commented that the place where the trees drop off and the snow cover starts looked like a patchwork quilt. Little did I know we'd hike up into the base of that snow cover or how amazing the journey would be to get there.

We walked and talked and took a bazillion pictures (thank you self-timer and Sam for loaning me your camera). At every turn, there was a new view more stunning than the next. The trail was narrow, rutted and steep. We hiked through deep woods, over rocky ledges and through mountain meadows littered with wild flowers in full bloom. We dined on wild huckleberries and snacked by a mountain pond. We picked our way across wet rocks of an unnamed waterfall that cascaded over the trail. We stood in a field of flowers with a rocky shale cliff behind us and breathed in the view from the other side of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier commanding an army of smaller mountain ranges.

My favorite part of the hike was also the most difficult. We came out of thick woods and were surprised to see what was left of Mt. Hood. The snow cover patchwork quilt was a mere 1,000 vertical feet (give or take) ahead of us. I couldn't believe how much ground we'd covered in just a few short miles. The trail took us out onto a windswept ridge and the temperature immediately dropped at least ten degrees. To the left, the Sandy River crashed and rumbled hundreds of feet below us. On the right, a rock slide and patches of yet unmelted snow even though it's the end of August. The magnitude of the overwhelming panoramic beauty stopped me in my tracks. It was almost too much to take in.

We burst into singing "The hills are alive with the sounds of music" complete with the background "oohs," dissolved into giggles and then mustered the strength to gain the last 1,000 vertical feet to our destination point. The trail took us across the rock slide which was a little harrowing, especially for Mom who hikes with poles to help with her balance. I felt responsible for her safety and could tell she was petrified, but step by careful step, she crossed that rock slide and safely reached the other side. I was so proud of her for not letting fear stop her a mere 1/2 mile from her goal. A few minutes later we reached the 1930's era shelter called McNeil Point. Built on the edge of steep ridge at the base of the snow cover, it's one of the highest points you can hike to on Mt. Hood without tying in and being a real mountain climber. It felt like we were on top of the world.

At one photo op early into our hike, we ran into three men (Dave, Steve and Jim) who were giggling like a bunch of girls. Old college friends, they have a tradition of reuniting for a week every year to hike in the mountains. Their laughter and goofiness was infectious and we utilized them to take pictures for us. Throughout the rest of day, we ran into them at various points on the trail and we joked about who would reach McNeil Point first. Turns out, they beat us to the top and decided to picnic behind the shelter.

We approached the shelter and Mom left to investigate the view. She came back seconds later with an alarmed look on her face and whispered, "There's someone taking a dump behind the shelter." She proceeded to tell me that as she rounded the corner a male voice said what she interpreted to be, "Don't come back here." She caught a glimpse of white legs and someone in a squatting position and assumed the man was relieving himself. She got frazzled while we waited for him to finish his business and mused out loud about what kind of person would dump in plain view of all the hikers on the trail. We stood around twiddling our thumbs for a good five minutes wondering what on earth could be taking so long when Dave poked his head around the shelter and said, "We were just kidding. You can come over here."

Peals of laughter echoed across the mountain as we unraveled the story. He had joked, "Don't come back here. We've reserved this area for the next hour," and the squatting Mom thought she saw was him sitting on the ground eating his lunch. I haven't seen men laugh that hard in months when they found out we thought they were relieving themselves. Being experienced hikers, they actually had a roll of toilet paper with them so they took a picture of Dave squatting and grunting by the shelter holding the TP.

The three stooges pointed to the edge of the ridge and said, "That's the way we're going back." I thought they were joking but they were serious. Jim, who has hiked this trail many times, proceeded to tell us that it's a steeper, more direct route that cuts two miles off the return trip. I could tell Mom was dreading crossing back over the rock slide so I decided to check it out. It looked steep but conquerable and a definite trail was visible through the rocks and brush. I checked my hiking book and read out loud, "You may hear or see reports of another, more direct trail between NcNeil Point and the Timberline Trail, connecting with the latter at a point west of the ponds. The word from many hikers, including this one, is to avoid that trail. It's steep, rocky, brutal and unnecessary." The Stooges laughed about the "brutal and unnecessary" description, invited us to follow them down the trail, and guaranteed our safety.

After much deliberation, Mom chose to go for it and we started down the trail. About 200 feet into our descent, we realized why the author described this trail as "brutal." It was dangerously scary. The men carried Mom's hiking poles and at each point gave her specific instructions on navigating the steep terrain. We grasped trees and rocks, scooted on our butts, and pirouetted backward to get down the rock scramble safely without plummeting to our deaths (okay - slight exaggeration here about the plummeting part for the sake of a good story). At one break, Jim pointed across the mountains to a meadow way in the distance and quipped, "And that Ladies, is where we first met." When we reached the real trail, my legs were shaking from adrenaline and my heart was full of love and pride for my amazingly brave and strong Mom. She came down the face of mountain at 59 years old and did it with finesse.

When we finally made it back to the Top Spur parking lot, it was 5:45 p.m. We'd been walking and talking, singing, conquering fears and worshipping our amazing Creator for 7 hours together. We were hungry, thirsty, tired, achy muscled and overflowing with love for each other. I mean really - who gets to climb mountains with their mom? And think that it's fun?

The euphoria of the magical kept me awake long into the night. My dreams were filled with mountains, cliffs, steep drop offs and wild flowers. Twelve hours later, the euphoria lingers on. I can't pinpoint what about our day was so magical but it felt like the adventure of a lifetime, one I'd pay thousands of dollars for but got to do with a $5 parking pass and the cost of two meals. The combination of the awe-inspiring beauty and the journey of doing it with the most remarkable and influential woman in my life cemented this day in my mind as unforgettable.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Football is Impressive


My son Grant is naturally athletic and not even remotely interested in team sports. When asked if he wanted to play baseball he answered, "There's nothing about baseball that I find impressive." He likes running races and just completed his first triathlon, but spends most of his time playing guitar, skateboarding or building with Legos. That is until two weeks ago when he started football. Apparently football is impressive to Grant because he was stoked to be old enough to play. And this is the real deal - helmets, pads, drills, coaches barking orders and players screaming back.

Football camp preceded the start of the season and covered a wide age range from 3rd through 8th grade. When we arrived at the field on Monday morning, it was dotted with boys in various shapes and sizes. Footballs whizzed past our head and Grant nervously took it all in. When the coach blew the whistle, I slapped Grant on the butt and told him to hustle to join his teammates. As he jogged off, long blonde hair bouncing with each step, I felt a lump start gathering in the back of my throat.

The girls played in the dirt of the baseball field while I lingered and eaves-dropped on my son's first experience with organized sports. The coach started laying the ground work and it sounded a bit like this: "When a coach gives you an order, you say 'Yes Sir.' Got it?"

A crowd of 200 boys barked back, "Yes Sir!"

Coach continued, "You do what we ask, when we ask. No complaining. No talking back or you'll be running lines. And I don't want to hear anyone talking trash. None of that 'Ha ha! You missed that ball. You're such an idiot' or any of that kind of stuff. If I catch you talking trash, you'll be running lines. We only encourage out here. If someone misses a pass, you say, 'That's okay man. You'll get the next one.' Am I clear?"

A crowd of 200 boys barked back, "Yes Sir."

Oh goodness. The lump was turning to tears that threatened to spill past my sunglasses and down my cheeks. "Please God," I prayed, "help me not be the mom who dissolves into a pile of tears on the sideline. For my sake and for Grant's." I opted to ditch before I became a blubbering fool and as the girls and I walked slowly away, I heard that crowd of boys chanting, "1-2-3-4" as they did jumping jacks and burpees.

We arrived a little early to pick Grant up from camp. The boys were huddled up while Coach revisited the events of the day and told them what to expect for the next day. He cleared the huddle with one last exercise - running to the fence way in the distance and back. 200 boys took off running as fast as they could. Grant arrived huffing and puffing back to Coach somewhere in the middle of the pack and I couldn't have been prouder.

As Coach called the group in for one last team chant, he noticed a straggler. Young, overweight and not athletic, the poor boy was just reaching the fence and hadn't even started heading back yet. His face dejected, he looked like he was about to quit and my heart sank for him. How do you live that down? Being the last player to finish by boatloads on the first day? He looked like he may not come back for day two.

What happened next was not what I expected. Coach called out, "Hey. We've got one last guy who's still out. Let's bring him in guys." All 200 of those boys turned and saw their wounded teammate. Instead of heckling him, they all started cheering for him. Shouts of "C'mon man. You got it. You can do it" echoed across the field.

Tears streamed down my face as I watched this kid transform before my eyes. He lifted his dejected face and his eyes lit up. His head held high, shoulders squared, he ran back to his teammates as fast as his chubby legs would carry him. Across the field he ran and into the huddle where he got pounded on the back and praised for his good hustle.

Without his teammates, he never would have known just how capable he was. Of being a finisher, even when it hurts. What could have crippled his football career before it even got started became a defining moment for this kid. I witnessed the power of encouragement in this boy's life and I gotta agree with Grant. Football is impressive.

Suffering


Many of my friends are walking through dark times in their lives and being forced to wrestle with big, ugly stuff. I find it ironic, in a God-is-so-cool way, that in my assigned Bible reading the topic of pain and suffering keeps coming up.

What do I say to my friend whose husband cheated? To the mother holding her very sick child and watching a team of doctors grasping at straws to find a diagnosis? To my loved one fighting valiantly against unrelenting disease? And as I pray for ways to minister to them, what do I do with the junk I'm finding in my own life?

The Old Testament reading assignment is the book of Job. Talk about a dude who knows suffering. In one day he lost his wealth, his riches, and his children. Shortly after that his wife cursed him and his body was riddled with disease. And yet he says in Job 1:20b-21, “Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’” Wow! I can’t say confidently that I would praise God if my family was taken from me, but it gives me something to aspire to.

I’ve always loved King David because he wears his emotions on his sleeves. Most of the Psalms are laments and prayers from the deepest recesses of his soul. Listen to these verses from Psalm 72 and 73. BOLD emphasis is mine

“In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” (72:1-3) – I have a Rescuer, a place of refuge. And I can always run to him no matter my mental or physical state.

“…You are my strong refuge.” (72:7b) – When I am weak, my Rescuer is strong.

“…Who, O God, is like you? Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” (72:19-21) – There is hope. A bigger picture. Restoration around the corner. This season of suffering is just that, a season.

“When my thoughts were bitter and my feelings were hurt, I was stupid as an animal. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:21-26) – Bitterness makes me stupid, so I have to choose to forgive even when all I want to do is hate. And what a beautiful image of God holding my hand.

My New Testament reading was in I Peter. Listen to what Peter says about suffering.

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1:3-9)

When Jesus was on earth, He gave His followers instructions on what to do WHEN suffering came. Not IF suffering came. I love that God is merciful and that He gave us a “living hope” through Jesus. No matter what I’m going through, I have hope because Jesus conquered death and I know that life on earth is temporary. Eternal life in God’s kingdom is forever. Keeping a kingdom perspective helps me see suffering through a new lens. Do I “rejoice” when my faith is being refined and proved genuine? Or do I curl up in a ball and wallow in self-pity?

Jesus would You forgive me for the times when I wallow in self-pity? And will give me the endurance to persevere through times of refinement and suffering so that in the end, my faith will be proven genuine and my life will result in bringing you praise and honor? Fill me with an inexpressible and glorious joy and thank You for saving my soul.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Happy Ending

Curt and I in the transition area
A little over a year ago, I took swimming lessons for the first time since I was a little girl. Five minutes into my first lesson I realized why I always dog paddled from point A to point B. I have an intense fear of being under the water, particularly in water that’s over my head. The more time I spent in the pool, the more I realized the depth and breadth of that fear and it’s incapacitating hold on me.

I knew I would never conquer my fear of being under the water without a goal, so I set an Olympic-sized one - to finish an Olympic-distance triathlon. It meant swimming a mile in open water. Later that week, I watched my husband compete in an Olympic tri and I saw one mile marked out in a lake. It was daunting and just watching him swim made me nervous.

I kept plugging away in the pool. Twice a week trying to figure out this thing called swimming, forcing myself to look fear in the face and learn to deal with panic. Through it all, I felt God’s comforting presence and each time I would feel fear begin to grip my mind, I would quote 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And for good measure I’d tell myself, “Just keep swimming.”

Fast forward to this weekend. Curt and I both registered to compete in the Mid-Summer Triathlon at Blue Lake Regional Park. It has been on our radar screen since I watched (with sweaty palms) Curt swim it last year. Three weeks ago when I fell and hurt my wrist we weren’t certain the race would materialize for us. With my wrist in a splint and a possible hairline fracture, my hopes were hanging in the balance of what the x-ray revealed. Fortunately I came away with the diagnosis of a bad sprain and the race was back on. Earlier this week I timed myself swimming a mile in the pool and it took me fifty minutes, a time that pretty much guaranteed me a spot as the final swimmer out of the lake.

On Saturday night, Curt started making piles on our bedroom floor. A seasoned triathlete, he more than took care of all the details for both of us, and his knowledge and leadership brought such comfort to me. I watched and listened as he explained what gear we needed for race day and what we left at home. He packed everything into two bags for each us, tinkered with our bikes, and got everything ready for our 5:40 a.m. departure time the next day.

on the water front - pretty sure I was going to puke
Sunday morning we roused the kids from their bed and delivered their sleepy bedheads to my Mom and Terry’s house by 6:15. As we left their house, I felt the nerves settle in. To kill time and distract us both, I pulled my Bible from my purse and spent the commute reading God’s Word out loud. We both felt our spirits settle and enjoyed the quiet ride to the lake.

Mr. Professional knew just where to drive, where to park, how to get into the transition area, where to go for body markings, and how to set up our stuff in our designated transition row. The transition area was crammed with muscley, beautiful athletes who all looked like they knew exactly what they were doing.  I felt like such a fraud. The lakefront was a sea of wetsuits, colorful swim caps, and spectators. As soon as I saw the pre-race organized chaos, I thought I might puke.

Curt and I decided earlier in the week that our multi-purpose intent for this race was to finish, have fun, and stay together from start to finish. Curt marked the back of my swim cap with a symbol he could see from behind me and promised to swim the entire mile directly behind me and to my left. Knowing he’d be with me in the water helped me feel more peace to do the swim.

Can you see the panic in my face?
The woman in charge of the swim announced through the bullhorn that our wave needed to advance to the start corral. It was in that moment I realized I was really doing this. I was walking into a dirty, murky lake that was over my head and I was committing to swim one mile in this lake. The first (of many) buoys was so far down the lake I could barely see it. The shrill blare of the starting horn rang across the lake and I couldn’t move. I heard myself asking Curt, “Where are we swimming to again?” and heard him say, “Come on baby. The race started. We have to swim.”

I took about ten strokes in the murky water and a paralyzing fear came over me. I yanked my head out of the water and wave after wave of sheer terror washed over me. All I could think about was getting out of the water. I couldn’t quote Scripture. I couldn’t pray. I didn’t even have the sense to look around for a life boat. In that moment, I considered the unthinkable – quitting before I even started. I looked at Curt and said, “I’m not doing good. I’m completely freaking out.” His kind response was, “It’s okay. You can do it. We’re in no hurry. Just take your time.”

Coming out of the water alive!
There was just enough logic in his answer that it broke through to my frozen brain. I stuck my face back in the water and swam a little farther. Came up for air, told myself I could do this, and stuck my face back in the water again. As I swam, I ran down my list of options: swim to a rescue boat and quit, drown, or finish what I started. I opted to finish what I started and slowly but surely over the next ten minutes, the panic faded away. By the time I reached that first buoy way in the distance the fear was gone. Praise the Lord!

I came down the back stretch of the lake feeling awesome and actually enjoying the challenge of finding a buoy, swimming to it and throwing myself a mental party for my great achievement. When I rounded the final buoy and saw the Red Bull Finish arch as my final destination, the reality of what I was doing began to sink in. I was actually swimming a mile, in open water, in an Olympic triathlon. And I wasn’t drowning. I was swimming! 

running to our family
I fought back tears as I swam toward the finish where my Mom and Terry and our four kids waited on the shore. The closer I got to the beach, the more I could hear their cheers. When I started getting tangled in seaweed I knew I was close and the moment my feet hit the lake bottom, I started bawling. Curt and I came out of the water together and my mom and I had a crying fest on the finish mat, 42 minutes after my terrifying start. I wasn’t the last person out of the lake – just the 6th from the last out of almost 200 participants!
God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind!  Thank you Jesus!

The rest of the triathlon was amazingly fun. The 24-mile bike was somewhat boring but we took turns leading and heckling each other. We finished the bike portion about 15 seconds faster than Curt did it on his own last year and headed out on the run.

almost to the finish line
By the time we hit the run, I was going on pure adrenalin and felt like I could conquer the world. My poor husband, who breast stroked the majority of the swim since I was so slow, was tired from firing up muscles that aren’t used to taking such a beating. Since running is what I’m comfortable doing, I was able to return the favor and encourage him through his most difficult leg. I set a pace I knew he could maintain and just kept encouraging him to keep going. I chattered non-stop about anything and everything to keep his mind occupied on our conversation and not on how tired he was. The miles ticked away as we ran. One, two, three. Before we knew it we were hitting the 6-mile marker and only had .2 to go. Our cheering section met us on the lakefront just shy of the finish and we high-fived and hooped and hollered. As we entered the finish shoot, we grabbed hands and crossed the finish line holding hands. It was so romantic, in a sweaty kind of way.

Thank you Jesus - we did it!
Every good story has a happy ending. I’m so grateful to God, to Curt and to all of you who prayed for me for the role you played in making this a happy ending for us. I can hardly wait for the next tri.