Thursday, September 29, 2011

Parenting World Changers - What I'm Learning

If someone asked me, "What's your greatest insecurity?" I wouldn't have to think twice about my answer. "Parenting." The minute I start thinking, “Whew.  I’m getting the hang of this,” someone enters a new phase and I find myself scratching my head and hollering, “Jesus help me!”

There have been times in the past ten years where I have thrown my hands in the air and through tears told the Lord, "I'm not sure you chose the right woman.  I don't know if I can raise these precious kids well.  What if I mess up the one chance I have?"  

These moments of vulnerability and desperation have taught me to cling to Jesus and depend on Him as my source of strength and wisdom.  If this was the only benefit, it would be worth it all.  But He also uses these times to teach and equip me for the job He’s hand-picked me to do.

In our brood of children we have two peacemakers and two world changers. Within these general characterizations, they differ in how they see the world, how they receive instruction, and how they choose to assert their independence.

One of my World Changers has been testing boundaries intensely for the past month for no other reason than that she can.  It has been exhausting to continually correct, discipline and redirect, especially when the fruit of my labor is just more testing and button pushing.

In the past, I have reacted terribly to this testing which only adds to the chaotic mess.  This time around I have been connected to Jesus in such an intimate and beautiful way.  The Holy Spirit has enabled me to respond in love and godliness and it's amazing what a difference it makes. 

I keep being reminded of the Big Picture: two kingdoms, both powerful, warring for my World Changer.  She’s declared allegiance to Jesus Christ and Satan is doing everything to thwart her effectiveness.  Remembering this changes the way I approach discipline and training. 

I made a chart to remember the specifics of how this round of parenting was different to use as a resource the next time I find myself floundering. For those of you with your own World Changers, I hope the lessons I’ve learned (often the hard way) will encourage you on your parenting journey.

What I Normally Do
What the Spirit Has Been Helping Me Do
Allow my buttons to be pushed.
Ignore the button-pushing. (II Timothy 2:23)
Give in to anger.
Slow to anger. (James 1:19-20)
Lash out with my words.
Slow to speak. (James 1:19-20)
Bad mouth my child to make myself feel better.  I’m so ashamed that I’ve done this.
Bring my problems to Jesus.  Tell HIM how I’m feeling and roll my burdens to the foot of the cross. (I Peter 5:7)
Intentionally withhold love because my emotions are screaming everything BUT love.  I don’t feel loving, so I choose not to act in a loving way.
Follow the way of love.  It’s hard to go out of my way to be loving, especially in times of conflict, but I watch my kids soften in the light of Godly love. (I Corinthians 14:1) 
Give in because it’s easier.
Win.  Once the battle line has been drawn and I choose to enter in, I MUST persevere to the end and see it through to victory.  (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Ignore behavior that needs to be corrected because it’s easier.
Be consistent in discipline and training, even when it’s utterly exhausting. (Ephesians 6:4)
Live in defeat because I’m not seeing immediate results.
Embrace the Big Picture.  I’m TRAINING my children and training doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a gradual process of learning and practicing what is being learned. (I Thessalonians 2:11-12)
Deal only with the symptom and ignore the source of the problem.
Listen.  To what’s being said and even more importantly, what’s not being said.  Ask questions.  WHY this behavior?  WHAT is triggering this problem?  Ask God for insight and for wisdom.  Then deal with the underlying problem as I’m addressing the behavior.  (James 1:5)
Try to push through on my own strength and wisdom (or lack thereof).
Pray.  In desperation, seek help from God.   His way is always best, and He promises to give me everything I need for life and godliness.  (II Peter 1:3)
Hole up.  Isolate myself and my struggles.
Rally the troops.  I have a small circle of friends that know each of my kids well and love them in their entirety – good and bad.  When I’m struggling with parenting, I rally the troops and ask them to pray specifically for me and for my child.  It’s amazing how this takes the pressure off everyone.  I can say, “Guess what?  We’re not alone in this.  We have a team of cheerleaders rooting for us and praying for victory for us.  Isn’t that great?” (Hebrews 10:24)
Forget to say “Good job.”
Go out of my way to catch my kiddo succeeding.  When I catch them succeeding, praising their efforts.  (Hebrews 3:13)

So there you have it.  I’m again reminded of how we need each other and Jesus to do life well.  Happy parenting!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Q&A with Grant - Thoughts on "Liking" Someone

My 5th grade son and I were chatting it up recently and the conversation turned to “liking” girls.  His candid comments were so funny and right-on that I ended up doing a Q&A.  He gave me permission to post this on my blog.
Isn't he cute?

Q:  Have you ever “liked” a girl?
A:  (embarrassed smirk, then confident answer):  Well, yeah.  (I could almost hear the “DUH!”)

Q:  What’s that like? 
A:  My heart starts to race a lot if I see her and I get really nervous.

Q:  Do you act different around her?
A:  Maybe.  Like if I saw a girl I liked in a store, I’d want to stare at her but I know you can’t do that.  So I’d pretend to shop where she’s at so I could still stare at her but pretend to be doing something else.  Maybe she’d notice I was staring and maybe not.

This is Grant's goofy face
Q:  Have you ever noticed a girl doing that to you?
A:  Yeah.  Just tonight.  These girls from school, one who likes me, saw us playing football so they brought their scooters over to the basketball court by the grass.  They pretended that their original plan was to scooter on the basketball court, but they were totally staring at us and sticking around the field.  It was really obvious.

Q:  Did you say hi?
A:  Yes and so did they, but that’s all.

Q:  Did it change the way you played football?
A:  Yeah!  I had dropped a bunch of passes before then cause I wasn’t really trying that hard since it was a pickup game.  But when the girls showed up I tried really hard to start catching passes and play good.
First day of 5th grade

Q:  How do you know if a girl likes you?
A:  Easy.  They start acting weird.  They stop talking to you, make strange faces when they see you in the hall, and run away giggling with their friends.  Or they send a Messenger Friend over (someone who doesn’t like you) to tell you that the person likes you.

Q:  Do you like this method?
A:  No.  I wish they’d just act normal like they did before.

Q:  Do you have any advice for my readers?
A:   You have to act normal even though you want to get attention.
So there you have it folks.  Whether you’re ten, twenty or thirty the method people like is the same:  be yourself, put your best foot forward, and don’t act crazy.

Cute Kid Books

This morning I was repairing a favorite picture book and thought, "I love this story so much I should recommend it on my blog."  Not that you asked, but here are my top three children's books at the moment.

favorite books
Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie written and illustrated by Laura Rankin is one of my favorite kids' books.  The story is brilliantly written from start to finish, with details added that only parents or people who like good writing would notice.  The illustrations are darling and the plot line teaches such a great lesson, not just on telling the truth.  I love the way she depicts the parents - lovingly getting to the heart of the issue and encouraging their child to do the right thing, even when it requires great courage.  We bought it at the school book fair and it was worth every penny of the $3.99 that we spent.

Another favorite is Falling for Rapunzel written by Leah Wilcox (a Central Oregon native) and illustrated by Lydia Monks.  Hilariously funny and so cleverly written, it's a great spin on the classic fairy tale.  The illustrations are a really cool mix of different art forms that are a hit with the kids.  I lost track of how many copies of this book we've purchased and given as gifts.

Finally, a new favorite that we also scored at the school book fair is Memoirs of a Goldfish written by Devin Scillian and illustrated by Tim Bowers.  There is no moral or redeeming point of this story.  It's just funny writing and funny pictures and our whole family loves it.

Honorable mention goes to:

  •  If I Built A Car written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.  Any parent of a child who likes to build and imagine will love this story.  
  • All the Skippyjon Jones books written and illustrated by Judy Schachner.  They are annoyingly difficult for parents to read, but the kids flat out love them.  It's one of the first books they pick from the pile.
  • Any of the Bear books written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman.  The first one we bought was Bear Snores On, but all of them have darling stories of friendship with equally darling illustrations.
Happy reading!

Friday, September 16, 2011

It Takes A Village

This year my “back to school” transition has been emotional in a way I didn’t expect.  I’ve been observing my kids’ re-entry into school and my heart hurts that I can’t just reach out and fix the areas they struggle with.  In the process of learning life skills, they’re encountering the bumps and bruises that accompany growing up.  Intellectually I know this is normal but it doesn’t stop the mommy in me from wanting to rescue instead of let them learn on their own. 

It’s easy to feel isolated - like I’m the only mom working through this emotional process and that my kids are the only ones experiencing growing pains.  But this morning at the bus stop I was reminded that parenting is a universal thread that ties all parents together. 

A sweet kindergartner was eagerly waiting for the bus but when it arrived he got stage fright.  He started silently crying and wrapped himself and all four limbs around his mom’s body.  His brave mommy, who had only just stopped grieving the fact he was in kindergarten, prodded, pleaded and lovingly untangled him from her body.  She let go of his tiny fingers last, courageously forcing him to release his grasp as she backed off the bus.  As the doors closed and the bus drove off with her sad little boy, I realized tears were pouring down my face.  We moms circled up, hugged some life back into that Momma, and cried together.

Our kids’ growing pains might have different faces, but each kid has them.  Like it or not, our jobs as moms is to be like the Mommy at the bus - prying their precious little fingers out of ours and gently shoving them forward into the big, bad world.  I’m so glad we don’t have to do it alone!  It truly takes a village…

Monday, September 12, 2011

Get Your Armor On

Oh that dreaded hour on school mornings…  you know what I’m talking about.  The hour between rubbing sleep from eyes to catching the bus and all that has to transpire in between.  Breakfast, shower, get dressed, brush teeth, clean up room, Bible reading, make lunch, put shoes on and get out the door.  All this with a happy heart too?

I give our family a minimum of two weeks to adjust to a new schedule, especially transitioning from laid-back summer to super-structured fall.  There is nothing worse than putting one of my kids on the bus knowing one of us is irritated with the other.  It’s an awful way to start an already full day and it’s more prone to happen in these first two weeks.

This morning stretched my patience.  One of my kids was hyper sensitive, easily angered, and a general pain to be around.  I wanted to whop her upside the head to snap her out of her foul mood but instead offered to make her lunch, a task the kids are typically responsible for.  It didn’t help.  She continued to alternately stomp and mope around the house spreading her bad attitude to everyone and the time was ticking down to head to the bus. 

I was puttering and praying when I remembered the family crest.  DUH!  Last spring, Sarah moved in with us and our family promptly adopted her even though she has a perfectly normal and loving family of her own.  (We may never let her move out.)  One benefit of having Sarah live with us is getting to know her Godly, kind and wise parents, Scott and Nancy.  When they visited recently we confessed our continual failure to implement consistent family devotions and grilled them on how they accomplished this with their kids.  They brought us to Ephesians chapter 6 and suggested we get our armor on.

In Ephesians 6, Paul writes about getting dressed for battle but the war he’s fighting is a spiritual one, not a physical one.  This war is God’s kingdom battling the very real kingdom of darkness led by Satan and his demons.  He says in verse 11, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”  Just as a solider wouldn’t dream of heading into battle without proper gear, so we shouldn’t head out into battle without our proper gear.  In this case, we put on the:
  • Belt of TRUTH
  • Breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS
  • Sandals of PEACE
  • Shield of FAITH
  • Helmet of SALVATION
  • Sword of the Spirit – WORD OF GOD.
Scott is a graphic designer so after our conversation he designed a Stilp Family Crest and mailed it to us.  It incorporated all the pieces of the armor and representation for each of our family members.  We thought it was so cool that we framed it with a picture of our family and put it on our dining room table.
Stilp Family Crest

I grabbed the family crest and called the kids together for a quick family huddle.  I reminded them that we all (me included) needed to get our armor on before heading out into the day.  We took turns reading pieces of the armor and then pretending to put them on.  Even Miss Sourpants got into it and before we were done, she was giggling.  Once we had our armor on, we prayed together.  I made sure to pray specifically for my daughter who was struggling, give her some extra love, and we walked hand in hand to the bus stop.  It was a beautiful transformation.

I hope our family makes this a daily habit. What about you?  Did you get your armor on?   

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lost Creek Camping Trip

A few weekends ago we camped at Lost Creek Campground in the Mt. Hood National Forest.  We were supposed to camp the entire weekend but our plans got sidelined by a series of miscues.

The night before we were scheduled to leave, I was asked to sub on a softball team - my first time playing since before Grant was born.  We turned the garage upside down looking for my softball gear and found it all, except my sliding shorts.  Curt's logical input - "Just don't slide."  I had every intention of following his advice until I got a good hit and decided to stretch it to a double.  I slid safely into second base and tore up a huge chunk of my leg with the biggest road rash/strawberry/raspberry I've ever had in my entire softball career.  (I've spent the last three weeks regretting it.)

sweet, sick baby girl

While I was reliving the glory days, Katie got stung by a bee, which wouldn't be a huge deal if she wasn't allergic to bee stings.  By the next morning her arm was swollen to the size of the state of Kansas, itchy and hot to the touch.  I was investigating Katie's arm when Paige stumbled down the stairs crying.  She had a temperature of 103.5 and spent the next several hours laying listlessly on the couch. We decided to postpone our trip.

Saturday morning we re-evaluated.  Paige's fever was gone, Katie's arm was feeling better, and my bottle of Advil promised to ward off the pain from the road rash.  Armed and dangerous, we loaded the trailer with all our supplies and the van with all our kids (including Sarah) and headed to Lost Creek Campground.  "Situated in the Old Maid Flat Geologic Area on the west side of Mt. Hood National Forest, this is a small campground (only 15 sites) at a 2600 foot elevation."  Our site, B4, was a pack-in site.  We parked in a small lot and hauled our gear about 1/4 of a mile to a huge, remote and private camp site.  Backing to Lost Creek with hiking trails a stone's throw from our tent, it was perfect for our family.  

kitchen, living room and Sarah's tent
 The kids played in the woods while we set up camp: backpacking tent for Sarah and the big tent for our family.    Sarah helped me set up the "kitchen" while Alli designed the "living room" around the camp fire ring.  Once the Stilmot (what we call combined Stilp-Wilmot family outings) temporary home was established, we all explored the creek.  The water was ice-cold and deep in spots.  The crazy kids actually played in the water and the sane adults stayed on the shore and chucked rocks at targets.  The flies were thick and highly annoying making it difficult to stay in one place for long, so we decided to take a hike.  

crazy Stilmot photo by the creek
Our original plan was to take a full day and hike the seven-mile Ramona Falls loop since the trailhead was a mere half-mile from our campground.  Our shortened trip nixed that plan.  We opted instead to go to the Top Spur trailhead.  Located 15 miles further up the Forest Service Road from where we were camping, it's the start of the most impressive hike I've been on since moving to the Pacific Northwest.  My Mom and I hiked the ten-mile route last year for her birthday and I remembered that there were two stunning viewpoints, neither of them too far into the route, that would make for beautiful photos and a perfect before-dinner hike.

The first half-mile of the trail is straight up through thick woods that were swarming with flies.  Nothing about it was pleasant and poor Paige tripped on a tree root and fell smack dab into a thick mud puddle.  She was covered with mud from head to toe, bawling her head off, and wanted nothing to do with finishing the hike.  We coerced her into continuing by promising a very short hike and continued up the narrow trail.  A few minutes later I spotted hikers coming down the trail toward us.  They looked vaguely familiar and I started laughing when I realized it was my Mom and her husband Terry!  None of us knew the other was planning on being hiking and we just happened to choose the same trail at the same time on the same day.  What are the odds of that?!?

family at viewpoint
kiddos at viewpoint
 We said goodbye to Ru and Terry and climbed the last little bit to the first viewpoint.  Mt. Hood was in the foreground with layers of foothills and a river in the canyon below.  Sarah and I thought it was magnificent.  Everyone else didn't care and just wanted to know when we were turning around.  Alli didn't wear socks and her shoes gave her blisters.  Paige was consistently mad about the mud that was now drying on her clothes.  Grant chucked rocks off the edge of the trail to the canyon below, making me jump and shriek on the already dangerously narrow trail.  Katie didn't like the flies and Curt just wanted to get back "home" so we could make dinner.  Sarah (I think) was afraid to have an opinion.  Poor girl!  I wanted to continue on the trail to the next viewpoint (2.5 miles further down the trail) which I inaccurately remembered as being "just around the corner."  When I realized my error, we turned around headed back to the campground.
the hills are alive...

The morning we were leaving, Sarah and the kids discovered two super cool forts in the woods just steps away from where we were camping.  One was finished.  The other needed some help.  While we packed up our gear, the kids completed the second fort.  It kept them contained to a small area and they were so proud of the finished product.

wanna come in the fort?
Like any good family vacation, our trip was a mix of intense fun and irritation.  We made s'mores and put kids in time out.  We laughed and diverted arguing.  We bonded and rolled our eyes.  We worked hard, played hard, and tried to be Godly.  The godliness came in fits and starts for all of us, but the overall experience was good.  Life is rarely smooth sailing.  More often than not, it's a bit bumpy and rough around the edges.  I love that God still allows us to find beauty and fun even in the midst of the bumps and the chaos.  We will definitely be back!

Here's our family on the road trip home.  Fun was definitely had by all!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

They're Off Again

Grant is always surrounded by girls

And they’re off again.  Grant to fifth grade, Katie to fourth grade, and Alli to second grade.  Paige joins them as big kindergartener on Thursday.  This back-to-school cycle continues to amaze me.  It’s a great chance to reflect on how much our kids are growing and changing, and how much we value each of their individual personalities and the depth they bring to our family.  Back to school brings back the joy of a schedule and a fresh appreciation for each of our kids’ teachers who pour themselves into our kids for hours each day.  Back to school is a fresh start, a clean slate.  It’s a changing of the season and I love the nervous anticipation that accompanies it.

we don't have any fun at our house...
love these kids!
 Last night bedtime was filled with intimate conversations as the kids poured out their excitement and concerns for the upcoming year.  The unknowns and general insecurities stirred up nervous butterflies and a few “what if’s.”   We prayed over and for our kids and reminded them of the army of family and friends they have praying for them and cheering them on to victory.

(Alli was nervous about not having enough time to get ready so she wrote Curt this reminder note and put it by the coffee pot.)

They are growing!
 Paige and I escorted the big kids to school, gave them one last squeeze, and then headed to the gym for the first time in so long that I almost forgot my access code.  I got on the bike and started reading the book of First John.  Who knew it was so rich? I was moved by John’s heart for his audience.  He penned this letter late in his life and writes to them as a wise father to his children.  Throughout the book John lovingly addresses this body of believers as “my dear children” and encourages them to know the truth and live it out through obedience to God and love for each other.   As I read, I visualized my own brood of children and prayed these verses over them.  It’s such practical advice to live a victorious and abundant life.  (Any emphasis is mine.)

5th grade
“My dear children – Grant, Katie, Alli, Paige (and Sarah too!) – you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.  See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.  If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.  And this is what he promised us – even eternal life! 

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are! 

2nd grade
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.  The devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 

Dear children, this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (Protect each other for crying out loud!). 

4th grade
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.  And this is God’s command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.  And this is how we know that he lives in us: we know it by the Spirit he gave us. (The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you – so go with confidence that you can live victoriously my sweet kids!) You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world! 

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 

There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear.   (You don’t have to be afraid – perfect love drives out fear!)  We love because he first loved us. 

This is love for God: to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.”

Go get ‘em Stilp kids!  It’s going to be a great year.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Back to School Checklist

When the kids finished school in the middle of June, I had great intentions of doing a "can you believe it - they finished another year of school" post.  But we jumped right into having way too much fun and I never got around to it.

Today is the last day of summer break and all my sweet kiddos start school tomorrow, except Paige who enters the big bad world of kindergarten on Wednesday.  Grant will be king of the school as he enters his last year of elementary school.  How is he in 5th grade already?  Kaitlin is our quiet and sweet 4th grader.  Alli is our fiesty and social 2nd grader.  Her teacher is a new one to our family, but from everything I've heard, will be a great fit for Alli's personality.  And little Paigey is starting Kindergarten - five mornings a week this year.  I feel okay about kindergarten since it's just an extension of pre-school, but am already dreading her being gone all day for first grade.

We've been slowly chipping away at the Back To School List.

  • Meet the teachers.  We arrived at Mabel Rush Elementary School and ran into old friends before we entered the doors.  It felt like a big party as we slowly worked through the crowds of old friends to the kids' classrooms.  Three years ago, this process was terrifying.  Fresh from Chicago we knew no one, felt like the odd man out, and I sobbed the entire day.   I was struck by God's goodness to give our family a community.  I couldn't stop saying, "Thank you Jesus!" (In my head, not out loud, cause that would be weird.)  
  • Drop off school supplies.  I learned my lesson after last year's Target fiasco of standing in the school supply area with four kids simultaneously talking over each other at me and waving potential supplies in my face. This year our school offered the blissful Tool Box - a pre-purchased box of school supplies that meet each teacher's specific standards. The supplies come in an archival box great for storing the year's treasured homework and even have pre-printed, personalized labels.  Oh joy! 
  • Purge out all clothes that are too small.  WOW!  I had no idea my kids were growing like weeds.  The pile of clothes to pass on is a small mountain.  Grant and Katie are wearing adult-sized shoes, but as Grant confidently said, "You can't build a skyscraper on an outhouse foundation."  He later clarified, "It doesn't really make sense since an outhouse doesn't have a foundation, but you get what I mean, right?"
  • Buy new clothes to replace the too-small stuff.  Armed with a list of "you only need these items" and with Curt as reinforcement, our family invaded H&M and walked out an hour and a half later much poorer, but with some very happy and stylish kids.  I picked out a very urban outfit for Paige and made her model it for the entire family.  While we were drooling over how cute she was, she stuck her hands on her hips and said, "I will NOT wear this."  
  • Haircuts times four.  This year, for the sanity of all involved, I divided the back-to-school haircuts into two outings.  Grant has finally won me over with his long hair.  He took a picture of his favorite rock star (and family friend) to the hair dresser and walked away from the salon looking very much like he could own a career in the music industry.  Paige and Katie did nothing drastic - just trims and a few layers.  Alli, impulsive like her mother, decided that she wanted something different.  Several inches and some very specific directions later, she bounced out of the salon with a super fun, Alli-version of a modified A-line bob.  (I'd post pictures but I dropped my camera at the state fair and I've been suffering without one.)
  • Purge bedrooms.  None of my children inherited my penchant for organization.  They hoard everything from broken crayons to crumpled up artwork and old birthday party invitations.  It drives me crazy!  I made each of them purge their toys and "treasures" while we purged clothes.  Katie and I worked intensely on her room for hours yesterday and she dragged out an entire garbage bag of junk to throw away.  I'm so proud of her (and certain her room will stay clean for maybe another hour).
  • Start two million home improvement projects.  What is it about changing seasons that makes me feel like I need to pretend I'm a host on HGTV and redecorate everything in my house?  The loft and toy room are in the process of getting a makeover (and have been for the last two weeks).  I'm hoping to wrap these projects up this week and have a newly organized space for the kids to hang out in when they're not in school or doing homework or playing football or.... 
On that note, I should get off the computer and start finishing projects.  Here are my sweet babies on the last day of school in June.

graduating from pre-school
finishing 4th, 1st, and 3rd grade
And here are my sweet babies (they will be so mad I'm calling them that) at the end of this summer.  Photos courtesy of Sarah and her sweet camera.
Alli - 7 years

Paige- 5 years

Katie - 9 years

Grant - 10 years
Enjoy your last day of summer break everyone!  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Light of the World Hood to Coast Style

Van 1 at 4:30 a.m.

One of the assignments for my Haiti trip is to take two names of God, research them, and write a twenty-minute devotional talk.  I’ve spent the past several weeks studying “Light of the World” so it didn’t surprise me when Jesus revealed Himself as Light of the World all over the Hood to Coast course.

My Hood to Coast team drew a 6:30 a.m. start time and our van driver lives an hour from the start of the race.  When she disclosed this we invited ourselves over for a team sleepover.  We loaded the van on race morning in thick darkness.  As we posed for our first team picture, we all felt raindrops.  Rain wasn’t in the forecast for the weekend, but within minutes it was pelting the windshield in full force.  Thunder rumbled and frequent flashes of lightening lit up the sky in the direction we were heading.  The emergency warning system interrupted the radio station we were listening to and the automated voice on the other end warned of “severe weather, thunder, lightening, heavy rain and possible funnel clouds.  If you are outside, please take cover in a building away from windows.  This is a very dangerous storm.”

Nervous laughter filled the van and we wondered aloud if the race would be delayed.  We continued toward the mountain through the storm and eventually passed the first racer.  The beam of light from her headlight pierced the thick darkness as she raced down the mountain in the eye of the storm.  More runners followed and we knew the race was on.

We drove above the storm and arrived at Timberline Lodge in the warm, peaceful afterglow of the storm.  It was still dark and runners stayed within the confines of the floodlights that bordered the vendor tents and porta-potties.  I knew from past experience that Mt. Hood was so close you could reach out and touch it, but the darkness was too penetrating to actually see it.

at the epic start
the sky was on fire
And then it happened.  The sun began to rub the sleep from its eyes and start the process of waking the world.  The darkness faded to gray and a faint outline of Mt. Hood began to emerge.  It only took minutes for the landscape to change dramatically as the darkness was overcome with the brilliance of new light.  God painted the most beautiful sunrise I have ever witnessed.  Remnants of the storm came to life in amazing cloud formations hovering over the foothills below.  The sky was awash in shades of orange, pink and red, highlighting the whiteness of the clouds and the wetness of the pavement from the torrential downpour.  Mt. Hood slowly came into focus, redefining itself again as a magnificent centerpiece.  I watched in awe and marveled that God does this every, single morning.

starting Leg 2 in the late
afternoon heat
We ran down the mountain through the early morning light and into a hot, clear summer day.  We tagged off to Van 2 and while we rested and showered, they ran through the intense heat of the day.  When our van picked up the course shortly after 4 p.m., it was still hot and bright.  Rules on the course dictate that runners wear a headlamp, reflective vest and two flashers during the time span from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.  We thought the rules seemed excessive when the light from Ally’s headlight dissipated in the brightness of the early evening light but we followed them anyway.  I started my second leg at 7:30 p.m. and had to consciously remind myself to leave my sunglasses in the van.  Decked out in my darkness defying gear, I took the baton from Amy and ran into the evening.

My reflective vest was eighteen sizes too big and the weight of the flashers made it flop all over.  I spent the entire seven miles actively drowning in my vest and constantly adjusting it.  It was too light outside to discern if my flashers were working.  I accidentally put my headlight on upside down, pointing the beam of light toward the sky instead of toward the pavement.  My thoughts alternated between, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength – I thought this was supposed to be easy” and “It sure is a good thing I don’t actually need my lighting gear because I’m certain none of it is working properly.”

Ally with her reflective gear, in
the evening sunlight
And then it happened.  The sun went to bed and the darkness swallowed me whole.  One minute I could see.  The next I was running in the dark.  I started mentally panicking about my gear.  Why was my headlight doing such a terrible job of lighting my way?   Were my flashers (that were attached to my ginormous vest) working and would the fact that they were flopping around somewhere between my armpit and my neck have an impact on my visibility?  Headlights from passing cars blinded me as my eyes jumped back and forth from intense light to pitch darkness.  I ran down the highway alone, scanning the darkness for glimpses of runners in front of me.  They appeared as flashing lights and I ran faster to catch up.

Darkness is dangerous.  Objects in plain view during the day become obstacles in the dark.  Multiple times I almost ran smack dab into mailboxes on the sidewalk, not noticing them until the last second.   I stayed far away from the edge of the road and any possible ditches looming in the darkness, and I had to slow my gait to step carefully off the abnormally elevated sidewalk.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the lights and activity of the transition area flooded my vision and I successfully handed the baton to Carissa.

Carissa waiting for me to finish my second run
We tagged off to Van 2, showered, rested, and picked up where we left off at one in the morning.  The protective gear we scoffed at in the brightness of day became a valuable, can’t-live-without resource during our third and final leg of the race.  We each checked and double-checked to make sure we had our headlamp, flashers and reflective vest before leaving the light and security of the inside of the van.

I had been dreading my third leg from the first time I saw the elevation chart.  It consisted of a three and a half mile climb to the summit of a coastal mountain and then an additional three-mile descent down the other side.  My estimated start time was somewhere around o’dark thirty.  The fact that more than one person warned me to “be careful – a lot of people fall at the exchange” added to my apprehension.

Traffic approaching the exchange areas began backing up the closer we got to the ocean.  Our team stopped lollygagging at the exchange points and instead dropped off our new runner, picked up our sweaty runner, and dashed back to the van.  We got Amy out on the course and headed to the exchange area where she would hand off to me.  A mile before the exchange our van was stopped dead in traffic.  A steady stream of runners ran past the line of parked cars and my palms started sweating as I donned my gear and watched for Amy in the rearview mirror.  When she appeared I jumped out of the van and trailed her for a mile to the exchange area where she tagged off to me and I officially started my leg.  (We call those “bonus miles” and it was just what I didn’t want heading into my last leg.)

Carissa and I in the middle of the night - waiting to run our third leg.
When I got out of the van, I was exhausted, groggy and cold.  I expected to run slowly up the mountain but the cold air invigorated me and I came alive.  I ran - not for speed - but because running is food for my soul.  Me and Jesus on a country road, climbing a mountain in the dark.  Who does that?  I have no idea what got into me but I flew up the mountain, passing 25 people on the climb and 20 people on descent.  What I anticipated to be my toughest leg ended up being my fastest and my favorite.  Even better, I started my run in the thick black of night and watched the sky fade to gray and into the beautiful orange and pink of yet another sunrise.

Our entire team ran together through the sand to the finish line on the beach around lunch time on Saturday - more than thirty hours after we started.  The sun warmed our shoulders and the backs of our necks as we posed for pictures and celebrated our huge accomplishment.

our entire team at the beach in the brilliant sun
It’s hard not to draw the parallels to life.  Darkness and light.  Evil and good.  Sinner and Savior.  Years before Jesus came to earth, Isaiah prophesied about him and said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Jesus); on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)  When Jesus came to earth, He told the people, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

During Hood to Coast, I saw the Great Light dawn two mornings in a row.  I ran in darkness and felt its danger and suffocating power.  The darkness made me crave the Light – the Light that brings life.  Thank you Jesus!