Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thrive Within Your Limitations

If I had to use one word to describe how I feel these days it would be S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D.  I used to pride myself on being flexible, both my muscles and in life.  But one overuse injury and two minor surgeries in twelve weeks have left my muscles stiff and far from limber.  Any flexibility in my life flew out the window somewhere between rejoining the work force after an eight year hiatus and the fourth fall sports schedule to come through my inbox.

My list of Life Inflexibilities is no different than any other mom's but it feels overwhelming to me right now.  Parenting has been a consistent challenge lately.  I'm trying to scrape up an extra ten hours a week to work from home, but time is hard to come by with the kids still home on summer break.  I've been irritable with my husband and time with my friends has been limited.  The house is filthy and unfinished projects taunt me.  Even running, which normally is therapeutic for me, has become something I dread because I'm following a training program loaded with speed work and I don't like speed work.

Things will get easier when school starts, but even that is a huge transition.  Grant is starting middle school, the first of our kids to break us into this milestone.  And Paige, the baby of the family, is transitioning to first grade and full days away school.  She's been my buddy for the past six years and I'm certain my afternoons will be less sunny without her sweet companionship.  I'm grieving the passing of time and the fact that these precious kiddos don't stop growing up.

I've been trying put my finger on the pulse of our new rhythm, but so far I'm nowhere close to finding the tempo.  Last week I had a conversation with a friend of mine.  As a child she faced some intense struggles and battled through some illness and significant challenges.  Now a successful adult, she often reflects on her childhood and the beauty of Jesus carrying her through those tough times.  This time she said something profound and it has been stirring in my brain all week.  "I am still me.  I still process through things differently than my peers.  But I have learned to thrive within my limitations and find joy in spite of them."

This morning I scrapped the track workout on my running schedule and instead shoved off on my favorite 10K route.  It's challenging, but running out of town and into the wide open spaces of the country dotted with vineyards is worth climbing every hill.  I ran without looking at my watch and as I ran, I worshipped and prayed.  By mile two the fog in my brain began to lift and I felt the Lord leading me back to meditation on that phrase - thrive within your limitations.  

I simply can't do it all.  I have no super powers.  I am human, and a flawed one at that.  And it's okay.  There was something freeing about admitting that to myself.  I might not be able to do it all, but I can learn to thrive within my limitations.  I ran down the list of my responsibilities and things taking my time.  And then I weighed each of them on a sliding scale of have to, want to, or modify.

I realized that I need to write at least once a week to process the things I'm learning.  I'm going to modify my running schedule to bring it away from drudgery and back to therapeutic.  I'll carpool more.  Spend less time on Facebook and Instagram.  Get up earlier to make sure time with Jesus is my first appointment of the day.  Schedule my "free" time once the kids are back in school to be work focused so I can reclaim my evenings as time with Curt and the kids.  And if it kills me, I will finish those two projects that are taunting me by the end of the weekend.

By the time I reached my driveway, my mind was peaceful and my soul was filled.  I still possess no super powers.  I still have no idea how my four kids will be at four different practices all at the same time.  I still don't know when I'll finish cleaning my house or what I'll make for dinner tomorrow night.  But I do know this.  With help from my Savior I can learn to thrive within my limitations and find joy in spite of them.  What about you?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Make My Day - Oregon State Fair 2012

Today was my family's fifth consecutive year going to the Oregon State Fair.  It's tradition.  Every year we meet my Dad and Marcy at the milking parlor where my brother used to work when he was in high school.  We explore the animal barns, gorge ourselves on greasy food (then regret it later), and hit every free exhibit that can handle our big and boisterous family.  Several hours later we trudge out to the parking lot with sore feet, bloated bellies, and lots of new memories made.  Today was no exception.

The car ride to Salem was a riot.  I'm constantly saying in my nicest authoritative mom voice, "Kids, do you think you could not yell in the car?  It's a small space for you to be shouting."  But Curt got them all wound up and before I knew it they were chanting in unison, "Greasy food, greasy food, corn dogs, corn dogs, junk food, junk food, state fair, state fair..."  Each family member, Curt included, did their own version of a seated dance while they chanted.

We met my Dad and Marcy at the milking parlor and the kids used Grandma Marcy as a measuring stick for how much they've grown.  I'm guessing by the next visit Grant will be taller than Grandma and Katie is not far behind.  While we were exploring the animal barns I ran into a friend from high school that I haven't seen in twenty years.  Talk about a fun surprise!

The fair food did not disappoint.  This year we found a new food booth called Monster Foods.  Everything they served was so ridiculously over-sized that you could almost watch yourself gain weight when you ordered.  Curt and Paige shared The Dominator - a TWENTY-FOUR INCH (that's two feet people) deep fried and heavily battered corn dog.  Grant and Katie both took down The Make My Day - a SIXTEEN inch version of The Dominator and our entire family shared a monster-sized order of fries.  Alli and I opted for Mexican food (chicken quesadillas and taco salad), while my Dad and Marcy were slightly healthier with BBQ ribs and a stuffed baked potato.  While we filled our faces we watched dancers in big big dresses perform to Latin music.

My Dad loves to watch the horse shows.  After lunch we went to the pavilion and watched teams of six Clydesdale horses work together to drive a wagon in crazy tight circles.  After they finished the miniature horses came in.  We each picked a favorite horse and then made bets on who would win.  Curt was the only one who guessed right and he made a big deal of fist pumping and bowing to let us (and everyone around us) know he supported the winner.

The US Department of Forestry always has the coolest area for kids.  They set up several hands-on, interactive displays that the kids love.  This year our kids were able to dress up in fire fighter gear and use a hose to practice putting out a fake campfire.  They made necklaces out of wood slices, touched a bunch of fur belts, manhandled poor sea creatures in a tide pool exhibit, and got their picture with Smokey the Bear.

We moved from Smokey the Bear to the Reptile Room.  Since Marcy and I are terrified of snakes we skipped that exhibit and looked at caged exotic cats instead.  We got up close and personal with a beautiful Siberian tiger then stood in line to view the exhibits of other smaller cats.  When we got to the black panther's cage we both wondered aloud why there was a Little Tikes playhouse in his cage and where was the cat?  We both died laughing when we realized he was sound asleep on the roof of the playhouse. Nothing like completely missing the obvious.

The kids love the free petting zoo.  Each year the pen and number of animals gets bigger.  They stayed forever loving on all these animals.  Paigey used one of the brushes laying around to "massage the animals when they were eating," and Alli sat right down in the cedar chips to snuggle a baby goat.  It was here that we discovered Curt and my Dad own the EXACT same pair of tennis shoes and they both wore them to the fair today.  What are the odds of that happening?

The Les Schwab Familyville stage had the Cirque Zuma Zuma African Acrobats on it when we happened by.  They were crazy talented and so fun to watch.  They sucked in our entire family and had the full attention of the audience.  They ended their show by coming off the stage and dancing on the grass with their audience to the song This is Africa.  Our kids rushed the stage and Grant showed off his breakdancing moves.  When he got up, one of the acrobats high-fived him before heading back to the stage.  It was my favorite part of the day.

Curt loves the chickens, so he drug us all through the smelly chicken barn and then proceeded to embarrass us by doing his chicken call.  He sounds so much like a chicken that the chickens would cock their heads to the side and look at him curiously like, "He doesn't look like me, but he sounds just like me.  What could he be?"

Dessert was cotton candy and ice cream.  Ellen Whyte and the Reflux Band serenaded us as we ate our dessert.  The girls were completely taken with the music and the performance.  They ran right up to the stage and stood there swaying their hips, eyes glued on the singer.  Eventually they started dancing and doing gymnastics to the music - another highlight.

We looked at old cars, purses, funny signs, and more animals as we trudged our way to the exit.  As expected our feet were tired and our bellies bloated.  But man did we have fun.  In the car on the way to church Grant said, "My corn dog was called Make My Day and guess what?  It made my day."  We're counting the days until next year.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Don't Throw Away Your Confidence - Three Sisters Wilderness Backpacking Adventure

all packed and ready to go
Last summer Curt and I went on our first (of what we hope will be many) backpacking trips.  Our trip was NOTHING that we planned, but EVERYTHING that we needed.  We so enjoyed the relaxed pace of a shorter backpack that this year we let the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme.  Two days before we were scheduled to depart, I asked Curt where we were going.  He shrugged and said, "I should probably figure that out."  He spent that night pouring over his map and digging out our backpacking supplies.  The next day, I ran around with a half-made list buying groceries and throwing anything that looked good in the cart.  We were definitely winging it!

We packed our bags chock full of basic necessities and some splurgy things too.  We each carried an extra pair of shoes, a stool, and a pillow.  I packed shampoo, conditioner, and an outfit for each day (horror of horrors for those minimalist backpackers out there).   After all this was a weekend date and I didn't want to smell bad the ENTIRE time...  We were well supplied and paid for it in the weight of our packs: mine was forty pounds and Curt's was over fifty.  Backpacking is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Curt decided on an out-and-back route through the Three Sisters Wilderness.  Demaris Lake (at 6,300 feet elevation) was our base camp destination and was 5.6 miles into the wilderness from the Pole Creek Trailhead.  Camp Lake, 600 vertical feet further up the mountain pass and an additional three miles, would be our day hike destination.  The trail system is part of a larger fifty-mile loop that goes around all three Sisters Mountains that we hope to hike in the future.  It was good for us to get a flavor for the trails and a taste of the raw beauty that exists a mere three hour drive from our house.

on the trail - first creek crossing

I love the rhythmic pace of backpacking.  Like running, it takes me a while to find my groove.  I usually spend the first mile sweating profusely, breathing heavily, and mentally grumbling about why I thought it would be fun to hike uphill for miles with forty pounds on my back.  But then I find my zone.  My breathing and sweat production regulate and I'm able to fall into a steady rhythm that soothes my soul and quiets my mind.  I soak in the world around me and chat with my studly husband blazing the trail ahead of me.

We laugh.  We talk of the things that stir our souls.  We strategize about the best methods to raise our brood of children.  We share the things that God is teaching us.  We talk about conflicts of faith.  So often when one of us is weak, the other is strong and can build the other up.  We analyze our marriage, offering praise to each other for the things we're doing well and suggestions on how to improve our areas of weakness.  The time on the trail is life-giving to both of us.

Last year's backpack was so incredible, that I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed with this year's destination.  It's hard to top incredible with incredibler.  But when out of nowhere the thick woods opened up onto a serene lake with all three of the Sisters Mountains and Broken Top looming over it and reflecting in the water, we were anything but disappointed.  We stopped dead in our tracks,  looked at each other and laughed with glee.  "We get to camp here?!?!  Are you joking?"  It was so beautiful.

are you kidding me?  We're camping here?

Demaris Lake is one mile off the main trail.  It's smaller and less-known than Camp Lake, a major destination point for backpackers and the end of the maintained trail for that section of the wilderness.  You have to WANT to go to Demaris Lake, which is exactly why we chose it.  We thought our chances of solitude were greater off the beaten path and we were right.  There was not a single living soul at the lake.  We did the happy dance on the shore when we realized we had the lake to ourselves.  With the exception of one group that came for the afternoon and two Forest Rangers that passed through our camp every morning and evening, we owned the lake for the entire weekend.  It was Edenic.

The Ranger told us where to find the best camp site on the lake.  It was at the top of a bluff that overlooked a vast canyon of forest below. We pitched our tent up at the top of the bluff, gathered firewood, and set up our "kitchen."  When the work was done, we took the trail down to the lake.  Bright blue skies reflected off the shallow lake.  The water was inviting and it was hot enough that swimming in the cold water felt so refreshing.  We spent the afternoon at the lake, just relaxing and being together.

After dinner, we sat on our stools by the campfire and watched the sun set over the lake.  When it got dark enough for the stars to start coming out, we laid on our backs on a flat rock and watched and marveled.  The Northern Lights even put on a faint and distant show for us.  We serve such a Mighty Creator!
first night

Our day trip to Camp Lake was equally incredible.  The snow level was at 6,300 feet, so as soon as we started to climb we encountered snow.  It's a bit unnerving to hike over snow meadows without GPS, but we had a compass, a good map, and a few sets of quickly melting footprints to follow.  Somehow we always managed to find the trail again and keep hiking.  We hiked above the tree line and the view of the mountains opened up.  There they were - North, Middle, and South Sister majestic and awe-inspiring - and we were hiking right through them!  The higher we climbed the smaller and more approachable they appeared.
leaving Demaris Lake to head up to Camp Lake

The terrain around us changed quickly.  Thick woods gave way to scrubby vegetation clinging to soil that was rough, rocky, and almost desert-like.  Vast meadows, some still blanketed with deep snow,  mixed with intimidating rock scrambles.  The deeper we immersed ourselves in the wilderness, the more at peace we felt.  It was like the stress of life melted away with each footstep and peace blanketed our souls like the stillness around us.  It was heavenly.
crossing snow fields

Camp Lake was large with panoramic views.  The mountains that seemed so big at Demaris Lake looked like giants at Camp Lake.  The glacial pack was melting and huge chunks of snow were breaking off and dropping with a CRASH into the lake, sending wave after wave of ripples across the water.  We picnicked on the edge of the lake.  As hot as it was, the water was too cold to swim.  One toe dip and a quick dunk under was all we could handle.  After lunch, we napped in the meadow filled with wildflowers and listened to the snow clumps drop into the lake.  It doesn't get any better than that!
snow dropping in the lake

nap in the meadow

Camp Lake

The next morning it was hard to get motivated to hoist those heavy packs up on our shoulders and head back to the car, but we quickly fell into a rhythm.  As we hiked, we reminisced about our journey to Oregon.  God very clearly nudged us out of our comfortable life in Chicago.  He asked us to leave all that was familiar and head into the great-unknown through a new life in Oregon.  We knew beyond a shadow of doubt that this was God's plan for our family, so we obeyed.  But obedience is not always easy.

Curt struggled in this new place so different from where he was born and raised.  Everything was unfamiliar.  The climate.  His job.  The people.  The rain.  The politics and things people valued.  He felt the Promised Land had been dangled but swapped for the Wasteland.

His time in the Wasteland was not short.  There was no quick fix or easy answer.  But it's in the Wasteland that we really KNOW our Savior.  It's here that He molds and shapes, chips away and chisels, bandages and heals, loves and comforts.  In the Wasteland, we are stripped bare and rebuilt into a clearer image of our Savior.  I was eye-witness to this life transformation in my man.

I listened to him complain and be angry.  Saw him fight against sadness and despair.   But day after day after day, he woke early to pour over his Bible, filling journal after journal with the things he was learning.  I saw him live out what God taught him through those early morning meetings. My man obeyed, even when it was tough.  Slowly but surely, he journeyed out of the Wasteland and into the Promised Land.

We both got emotional as we remembered Curt's journey.  Looking back, God's faithful protection and gentle direction through the Wasteland was so clear.  It was a good reminder to not "throw away our confidence" (Hebrews 10:35).  When life is dark and we can't see ahead or behind, we can have confidence that God is faithful.  Not just because He says He is, but because He leaves a track record of faithfulness in our lives.

End of our journey - heading home content

The last few miles on the trail, we praised God specifically for the ways He has been faithful to us.  Then we lifted our Big Concerns that currently weigh heavily on our hearts to our Faithful God.  As we prayed the weight of the burden fell off, much like our packs sliding off our sweaty backs when we finally reached the car.  We drove home content on all levels.  And confident of the hope we have in following Jesus on this great adventure called life.