Osdalia & Alberto

2 04 2013
Osdalia & Alberto

Osdalia & Alberto

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
-Nehemiah 8:10

I’ve read this scripture and sung it in numerous songs hundreds of, always thinking, well . . . that’s nice. I might have smiled at the sound of it, and then promptly continued reading or singing without giving it much more thought.

Osdalia and Alberto changed that. Until I met them, I didn’t know what those eight, sacred words really meant . . . “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

On March 3, 2013, their small home in Progreso, Texas was burglarized. The thief stole everything except an Xbox system belonging to Osdalia’s 14-year-old son, Jason. To cover his tracks, the thief burned their home to the ground. People gathered in her small community and stood around and watched, no one offering help or support. Most silently thinking, “Better her home than mine.” One church provided a dumpster for clean up, but no one from the church actually helped to clean up.

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

charred remnants from their house

charred remnants from their house

At the time of the fire, Alberto, Osdalia’s second husband and not yet a legal US citizen, was still living and working in Mexico. Upon hearing the news that the meager 480 sq. ft. home (smaller than the size of my classroom) which took him seven years to build was destroyed, he smuggled himself across the Mexican-American border in a trip that took eight hours of walking and running and dropping to the ground and hiding whenever he heard a car. This “trip” cost a hefty fee of $600 paid to the Mexican drug cartel.

On March 16, I met Osdalia, Alberto, and Jason. I was chaperoning a group of 15 students on a mission trip organized by Mission Discovery to Harlingen, Texas, to help this family rebuild their home. Little did I realize how this family would change my life in our five days together.

Alberto is one the hardest working men I’ve ever encountered. I like to think that I have a strong work ethic. I work hard and I don’t settle for second best. Alberto, put me to shame. Our group of 18 worked tirelessly for about five hours each day with him before heading back to the mission camp that was our temporary home. Alberto and Jason would continue to work until sundown, another five hours, and would accomplish almost as much as we had during the day.

When we first arrived at their home, Alberto had half the external framing and siding completed , a job we thought we were to tackle. By the time we left less than a week later, we helped Alberto expand their home to around 640 sq. ft. and finish 100% of the framing, siding, and roof—including shingles. We also painted their house as well as a neighbor’s home, and with some extra funds we raised, a small group of girls and I went shopping and were able to leave Osdalia and Alberto with some basic home goods like pots and pans, towels, bed sheets, kitchen and dining ware, school supplies, and an air mattress. Osdalia had been sleeping at her neighbor’s, but Alberto and Jason were sleeping in their van behind their house in order to protect the lumber and building materials from being stolen.

Of all the items we purchased for them, the 5×7 group photo we had framed, was Osdalia’s first prized possession. She held it tight to her chest, breaking the embrace periodically to look at it, and then embracing it again. This reminder of the people who came to help her family is what she clung to.

shopping for Osdalia and Alberto

shopping for Osdalia and Alberto



group photo

group photo

FRA Mission Trip group

FRA Mission Trip group

In the short spurts of time I got to spend with Osdalia and Alberto, I came to witness “the joy of the Lord is your strength” in human form as I’ve never witnessed before. I listened in as Osdalia shared with some of us about the fire and how it changed her family. Most people I know, including myself, would be vacillating between anger and grief, bitterness and self-pity. I know I would very easily succumb to the whole “why me?” mentality.

Osdalia radiated Joy. Peace. Strength. Hope.

She explained to me: before the fire, she and Alberto had been struggling in their marriage. This was Osdalia’s second marriage, and her two children were from her first marriage—Jason and a 17-year-old daughter Ashley. Jason and Ashley had also been estranged from one another in recent months and the fire separated the two siblings even more. Osdalia had not seen her daughter in about three weeks.

Despite the drama between her children, Osdalia and Alberto had grown closer since the fire, Osdalia shared. Their marriage was stronger than it had ever been. At the start of the week, Alberto still struggled with anger at the man who did this—turns out it was a neighbor just a few houses down from them on their street—but Osdalia had forgiven this man 100 times over. She said, “If this is what it takes to turn my family around, he can burn my house down next week, and the week after, and the week after that. He can burn my house down 100 times if this will help our relationships to get better.”

Listening to Osdalia share this, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she meant it. Every word. Her conviction in this Truth was unmovable. She. Meant. It.

In another conversation the next day, Osdalia continued, “I have forgiven this man. I have to. I forgive him over and over. I can’t be angry. God is here. He brought you to help us—strangers from Tennessee. We have hope. I tell Alberto, we have hope. God will provide. And He has.”

All of this coming from a woman who was wearing the same clothes she had been wearing for the past three days because everything else she owned was consumed by fire.

Every encounter with Osdalia over the next few days was much the same. She never stopped smiling. She always greeted each member in our group with a hug and a kiss and made sure to say good bye in similar fashion. (Hellos and goodbyes took a while.) She always asked how she could serve us. She even offered the shirt off her back and the shoes off her feet on several occasions, even though she didn’t have another shirt or pair of shoes to change into. She surprised us with Burger King for lunch one day and sodas and ice cream another.

All of this coming from a lady who had NOTHING—no material possessions, anyway.

What Osdalia did have was something quite extraordinary that most people do not have. True peace. True joy. True hope. True forgiveness. Even now as I write this, I find there are no words to do justice to just how exceptional and uncommon is Osdalia’s happiness.

the cross

the cross

Our final gift to Osdalia and Alberto was a wood cross made from scrap pieces of the burned frame of their original home. Nailed together and then painted, the cross displayed the legacy verse chosen by the 2013 senior class, “We love because He first loved us” from 1 John 4:19. The two seniors on the trip presented this to them along with two Bibles and explained the scripture. Osdalia embraced it, too. Only when she turned it over and saw the burned wood on the back—knowing then that it came from their former home—did she break down. The dinner table, with 26 of us, became still and silent. Osdalia buried her head in the cross and wept quietly. Alberto held her tight.

Osdalia and the cross

Osdalia and the cross

Time seemed to stop as the significance of this little cross took hold of all of us. What began as a seed of hatred and bitterness from a neighbor eventually lead to the horrendous crime against Osdalia and her family. What a neighbor meant for destruction, God used to bring forth goodness and life. Relationships were restored. Hope, peace, and joy found a welcome home in the hearts of Osdalia and Alberto.

Back to Alberto for a moment. In the few days we were with him, I witnessed his smile grow wider. I saw him let go of anger and embrace peace. I observed this transformation and was privileged to be there when he shared with our group he had dedicated his life to following Christ.

As for Jason and Ashley, they still have a ways to go in redeeming their relationship, but they actually stood close enough to one another—just Alberto between the two of them—for a family photo while they were praying. After this prayer, Ashley commented that was the first time she had prayed with her eyes closed, meaning she prayed and she meant what she had prayed.

praying together

praying together

This family left a deep imprint on my heart and on my attitude. I witnessed eternity being changed with Alberto’s public declaration to follow Christ, and I saw “the joy of the Lord is your strength” move from the printed pages of scripture to living, breathing entities . . . named Osdalia and Alberto.

The joy of the Lord is OUR strength. This is God’s promise to us. We just need to claim it.


Hiking Volcan Concepcion

24 07 2012

This is the second of three posts about my recent travels to Nicaragua.  The first was about visiting a child we sponsor through Compassion International:  Open My Eyes.

Volcan Concepcion (1 mile high)

Volcan Concepcion (1 mile high)

I have run three half-marathons, two Ragnar Relays, done four triathlons, hiked the Grand Canyon in one day and the Inca Trail, and have given birth twice without drugs.  “Hiking” Volcan Concepcion on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua was by far the most grueling and physically challenging activity I’ve even done.  It was actually referred to as a “tour” in the printed literature from our travel agent.  Tour is much too gentle a word to describe what we did.  So is hike.  I enjoy hiking, but I did not enjoy this.The hike/tour, or as I like to call it, the ascent to Hell, began at 6:00 a.m. and consisted of a 3.5 mile trail with a 1 mile vertical ascent.  We had two tour guides, and two other American med school students, Angelica and Chase, joined us.  The normal completion time is 10 hours—five up and five down.

It began easy enough traveling on a dirt road through a plantain plantation, but that lasted all of .10 miles before it started getting hard.  After about ½ hour on the trail, our little group paused for a break.  We were all sweating and breathing hard, and us Americans were commenting on how difficult it was already.  Our main guide, Naphtali, chuckled quietly before telling us that the difficult part had not begun yet.

The deceptively easy part of the trail.  It lasted all of 10 minutes.

The deceptively easy part of the trail. It lasted all of 10 minutes.

Another ½ hour later, Angelica was cussing to herself and her boyfriend, and I silently agreed with everything she said.  At this point I overhead her tell her boyfriend that this was way more difficult than the Tough Mudder. 

Sidenote:  The Tough Mudder is a race I was recently introduced to and one that I want to attempt in May 2013 in Nashville.  It consists of a 12-14 mile trail run with 20-25 obstacles interspersed.  Obstacles include cargo net climbs, balance beam challenges, rock wall climbing, jumping off small cliffs, and crawling across a mud pit with live electric wires hanging down and shocking you as go.  And people spray water on the wires to give you even more bang for your buck.  I’m not sure that is legal, but the Tough Mudder series has been around for a while.  Anyway, I thought the Tough Mudder would be the apogee of my physical training.  But according to Angelica who had recently completed a Tough Mudder, the Tough Mudder was easier than what we were currently doing.  Nice.  It actually made me feel better about the Tough Mudder, but not about the climb we were currently doing.

Sorry for the butt shot, but this shows the steepness of the trail.

Sorry for the butt shot, but this shows the steepness of the trail.

All the way up, I was worrying about the way down.  Hiking implies you stay upright and use your feet to get you from point A to point B.  In most regular hiking, going down is easier than going up.  Neither was the case.  This was the most technical hike/climb/ascent to Hell I’ve ever done.  A good percentage of the time we were using our hands to climb up rocks—the kind of climbing where you have to pause and feel around to where your finger and foot holds will be to get you up that next six inches.At one point we climbed through a lava canal.  This was the route lava flowed down the volcano during the last eruption in March 2010.  So how was climbing over volcanic rock, you ask?  I can’t repeat what was going through my head, but to put it mildly, it was not fun.  At all.  I wanted to die.  Or at least turn around.  But I am not a quitter so onward we trudged. 

This area of the trail, the lava canal, was over loose lava rocks.  The slope was over a 45 degree angle.

This area of the trail, the lava canal, was over loose lava rocks. The slope was over a 45 degree angle.

And we weren’t even to the half-way point yet.  So, so depressing was that thought.

We climbed through a cloud forest for a good deal of the hike.  If you’ve never been in the middle of a cloud, it’s very damp.  And dark.  And windy.  And chilly.  That combination as I traversed wet, slippery rocks at a 45+ degree angle brought out a lot of prayers.

A typical prayer went like this:  I cussed first, but that was followed immediately with, “Dear Lord.  I’m sorry.  I don’t want to use those words.  I also don’t want to die.  Please help me not die.”  I was completely serious.  I also prayed over and over for our safety and health.  I prayed there would be no injuries.  I prayed I wouldn’t start or be in an avalanche.  I prayed for my strength and energy to hold out till I could collapse—on my bed and not on a large boulder of lava that would impale me.  I think my favorite prayer was asking God to give me feet steady and sure like those of a deer on the side of a mountain.  However, no deer would be stupid enough to try to climb this thing.

This shows the angle of our climb at the top.  Notice how all the rock is loose and unstable.

This shows the angle of our climb at the top. Notice how all the rock is loose and unstable.

Nearing the summit, the wind and moisture became ridiculous.  The big boulders that offered some stability were long gone and were replaced with loose lava rocks ranging in size from gravel to watermelon.  Did I mention it was all loose?  And wet due to the fact that we were in the middle of a cloud.  Volcan Concepcion is an active volcano so add in sulphur smoke fumaroles to the mix for a delicious atmosphere and breathing experience.  Notice I did not say “breathtaking” experience.We finally made it to the top, and the view was . . . stunning?  Gorgeous?  Amazing?  Nope, nope, and nope.  There was no view except cloud and rock.  We couldn’t see more than 20’ in any direction.  I guess being on the literal edge of an active volcano was cool, but it would have been nice to have an amazing view to go along with all of our hard work.  Or at least half of our hard work.  We still had to get down.

Did you notice the spectacular view from the summit?  Neither did we.

Did you notice the spectacular view from the summit? Neither did we.

Everything was completely soaked, and the wind was incredible.  I remember thinking about movies of people who climb Mt. Everest.  At Base Camp, they always show people in the tents and the wind is roaring outside.  That’s how it felt.  We were all scared to stand and even our guide—who is the king of the mountain and my new hero—didn’t recommend it.  This, of course, meant that my dear husband was off and walking around peering over the edge.  I had to close my eyes to him and pray.

Our guide told us that Catholic priests from the 1800’s who came to colonize the island believed that a volcano was the gateway to hell.  Before the island became predominantly Catholic, the natives would offer sacrifices to the volcano.  Both Chase and I offered ourselves as sacrifices at the top.  Sadly for us, this volcano only accepted thin, young, virgin girls as sacrifices.

My gimpy hand.  Thank God for duct tape!

My gimpy hand. Thank God for duct tape!

We only stayed at the crater for a few minutes.  We were all eager to get back to flat terrain.  About four feet from the top—remember it was all loose lava rocks—I slipped and started a mini-avalanche.  Reaching out for anything to slow my descent, I grabbed a larger rock.  Said rock, too, was loose so I let go.  My hand slipped below me, and said rock came crashing down on the palm of my left hand leaving a deep gash.  The blood started flowing, but there was nothing that could be done until we got to more stable ground.  Yay me!  I would have to make my descent with one good hand.  Going up with two working hands was hard enough.  Going down with one was going to (insert unrepeatable words here) stink.  Once we made it down to an area we could stand on safely, we put a tissue on my gash, and our guide wrapped it with duct tape. Now I have to share about the awesomeness that is Naphtali, our guide.  He is 38, likes to run, and does this volcano trek 1-3 times each week.  His fastest time was two hours up, two-and-a-half down.  He is a trained EMT and has carried people down this volcano.  Let me repeat:  He carried another person.  On his back.  Down this trail.  I couldn’t carry myself up and down it very well, but Napthali can do it with another human on his back.  He was going to compete in a salsa dance completion that same night before heading out for another trek the next day.

Naphtali - pure awesomeness in another human I have not seen.

Naphtali – pure awesomeness in another human I have not seen.

At a rest stop, we asked, foolishly, what the most common dangers were of this trek.  I was thinking it was twisted ankles or even a broken leg.  Only two weeks prior, Naphtali shared, he fell asleep at the same place we were currently resting.  He woke up to a coral snake (poisonous) attached to his arm.  What do you do when you are two hours from the nearest medical help?  Naphtali had to go old-school with his treatment:  he made a tourniquet, sliced his arm around the bite, and sucked out the blood.  His only other option was to die, which he also shared happened to a German tourist not too long ago.  “Ten minutes, and he was dead,” said Naphtali.  I should add that there is no way a horse or donkey could do this trail to transport people.  Severe injuries require a helicopter drop; there is nowhere safe a helicopter can land anywhere on the volcano.

Due to my gimp hand and having no energy, I butt-scooted most of the way down.  It was slow, but steady.   I asked Naphtali to duct tape my other hand to offer a little more protection against the jagged rocks.  At least twice on the descent I averted mental breakdown despite my rapidly increasing physical breakdown.  Those two times when I felt the tears coming on and my throat tightening, I was able to pray and do some mental cheerleading to get out of the funk. 

Smiling for the camera, a little over half-way down.

Smiling for the camera, a little over half-way down.  I’m only smiling on the outside.

Half-way down the clouds started to clear and finally gave us an amazing view.  However, the thought that we were only half-way down was really, really overwhelming.

Half-way down the clouds started to clear and finally gave us an amazing view. However, the thought that we were only half-way down was really, really overwhelming.  The other volcano was smaller than the one we were on.

The third time was the charm, so the saying goes.  I sat down on one big boulder about 3 feet high, strategically placed my hands to lower myself down, and then I made my mistake.  I looked up.  I looked ahead, and what I saw did me in.  I couldn’t handle what I saw—more of the same big rocks, loose rocks, sharp and jagged rocks—and I lost what little emotional stability I had left.  The tears flowed, and I just sat there.  I couldn’t even tell you what was going through my mind at that point.  I just cried.

I only smiled on the outside.  This is how I really felt.  (But isn't the view incredible?)

I only smiled on the outside. This is how I really felt. (But isn’t the view incredible?)  This was actually before my final breakdown.

I’m not sure how long I sat there as I was the last in line.  At some point, Matthew must have noticed my absence, and I heard him walking back to me.  This is where I get to tell you what an incredible husband I have.  Very gently he said, “You can do this.  Let me help you.  You can lean on me as much as you need to.”  I thought Jesus himself had spoken those words.  They were the energy I needed to continue.

I wasn’t in pain, as you might have thought.  (That came the next day.)  I simply had no energy left.  Each step I took made my legs wobble and my knees buckle.  I didn’t trust that I could take another step without collapsing.  If you’ve ever seen a baby taking his first rickety steps on legs with barely enough muscle to hold up his weight, that’s how I felt.  And I still had 2-3 hours to go before reaching the end.

Back to my incredible soul mate.  Matthew was perfect.  With each step down, he would hold out his arm and let me lean on him with as much force as I needed.  He would tell me in advance where each rock was, where there was tree trunk or branch I could use for extra support.  He even put up with my quiet cusses and negative comments without any kind of reprimand.  I’m not proud of what came out of my mouth at times, but Matthew handled me with grace and tenderness.

Almost 12 hours from when we began, we finally made it to the end.  Our host at the plantain farm we were staying at met us with his truck.  I got the coveted middle seat in the front while everyone else who was not a physical gimp sat in the open bed of the truck.  It was pleasant inside the truck, but once we got out at the plantation, I immediately began shivering violently, and then it hit me why I had been so miserable for most of this trek.  I didn’t not have enough calories (energy) for my body to work properly.  The night before I had chicken and vegetable soup, but barely ate half of it as I just wasn’t hungry.  Breakfast that morning was maybe 300 calories, and while on the trail for 12 hours of difficult climbing, we had been given only some granola and a sandwich for lunch.  We also had two small candybars we consumed, but all in all, I had not nearly enough calories to see me through the day.  Afterwards, I didn’t have enough energy in my body to keep myself warm.  Despite my feelings of being really hungry, I couldn’t keep food down for the next 48 hours.

On the ferry back to the mainland the day after the "hike."  How much fun can one person have?

On the ferry back to the mainland the day after the “hike.” How much fun can one person have?

When all was said and done and I’ve had some time to think back on this experience, this was one of those things I wish I had never done.  I can’t think of any other physical challenge where that is the case, but this volcano beat me to a pulp.  There are only two things for which I am thankful:   1) living through it, and 2) experiencing the sweetness that is my husband.


22 02 2012

According to Wikipedia, “Lent (Latin: Quadragesima, “fortieth”) is the Christian observance of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.  The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.”

Having grown up Catholic, Lent was a major part of our religious year.  I always understood it to be the 40 days before Easter.  I also knew we had to “give something up” during Lent, like meat on Fridays.  However, we could eat fish.  I never got that.  Isn’t fish a meat?  I despise seafood of any kind.  Every year I argued with my mom, “Jesus and his disciples ate a lot of fish.  Wouldn’t it be more of a sacrifice to give up fish and eat hamburger?”  My mom couldn’t stand this annual squabble, but I digress.

I also understood Lent was to be a time of personal sacrifice, a time to remember the ultimate sacrifice Jesus offered us:  His death so that we may have life.

I’ve never taken Lent very seriously, though.  Not until this year.  While Lent is just beginning, I feel a longing in my soul to treat this year’s Lent very differently—to consider it earnestly and do something meaningful.  I’ve been reflecting on just what for about a week now, and I’ve come up with some ideas.

  1. As a family, we are going to give up TV and reading during dinner.  This has been a struggle of ours for years.  I know well the importance of family meals, but we always have the TV on, usually tuned in to such wholesome family shows as The Simpsons or King of the Hill.  I almost always have a magazine in front of me while eating.  To say the least, this really will be a sacrifice and a challenge for all of us, but I look forward to having more meaningful conversations with my family.
  2. Along with #1, as a family, we are going to read one chapter from the Bible each night after dinner.  We’ll probably start with one of the gospels.
  3. Caleb has decided to give up playing any electronic game—either on the computer or his DS—on Saturdays throughout Lent.  We already make him earn game time through reading or running, but the kid loves his DS.  I’m curious and excited to see how this goes for Caleb, this being his first official Lenten sacrifice.
  4. On Jason’s behalf, since he is only three-almost-four, I have come up with his sacrifices.  He will give up tantrums and being disobedient.  He will obey immediately with a cheerful “yes ma’am” the first I ask him to do something.  We shall see how this goes.
  5. Matthew will spend time in prayer every morning.  I like that.  Short and sweet, yet the blessings of this simple act are infinite.
  6. I have thought of many things I could do:  give up sweets, journal about the ways I have been forgiven, or fast a second day each week.Giving up sweets completely will not work.  I’ve tried this one in the past, and I won’t make it past day one.  I am incredibly disciplined in many areas of my life, but sugar, chocolate, and baked goods are not some of them.  I then thought about giving up multiple sweets and limiting myself to just one dessert each day.  That sacrifice might last two days.

    As for adding a second day each week to fast, I just don’t think it’s practical at this time in my life.  I’ve got four triathlons on my calendar this year, the first on April 1.  Another day of fasting each week would make my training really difficult.

    Initially, I didn’t think much of the journaling idea.  I didn’t think it would be enough of a sacrifice or challenge for me.  Thinking about this more, I realize this is just the thing I need to do.  Each day, for the next 40 days, whether I spend two minutes or two hours, I’m going to journal about the ways I have been forgiven over the years by God and by man.  I’m eager to see what God reveals to me through this experience.

How are you going to celebrate Lent this year?  What personal indulgence are you going to surrender?  What new discipline will you take on?  How will you choose to remember the sacrifice Christ made for you?

Run Kelly Run (part 2)

10 01 2012

(A continuation from Run Kelly Run (part 1))

“So, why do you run?” 

I’ve been thinking about this question for several years now.  It was most recently posited to me by a friend after hearing me tell of how much I disliked running.  (Okay, I used the phrase “I hate running.”)

I have been a “serious” runner for about seven years now.  Though I’m not sure what exactly constitutes being a “serious” runner, that is how many friends and family describe me.  I run 2-3 times per week, 3-4 miles per time.  I’ve participated in three ½ marathons, two Ragnar Relays, and numerous 5/10/15 Ks over the past three years.  I currently have 13 races/triathlons on my calendar for 2012 and am looking for a few more.

Yet despite my discipline and sacrifice, I still don’t really enjoy running.  I never have, and I keep waiting for the day when I get really excited about going for a run.  Before most runs, it is a huge mental challenge to ready myself to run.  I often wait to the last minute to change into my running clothes.  Then I’ll stand on the treadmill staring at the Start button thinking, “Just push the button.  Push the —– button!  All you have to do is push the button.  Push the button, already!”  And on it goes in my mind till, minutes later, I muster a bit of resolve and push the button.

So, then, why do I continue to partake of this activity several times a week?

Simply stated, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

The health benefits, in particular, are numerous.

  1. My asthma is well-controlled.  The fact that I can even finish a ½ marathon with just a preventative puff of my inhaler before it starts is an amazing accomplishment in itself.  (I was the kid who couldn’t run one lap in PE without ending up in the nurse’s office.)  I remember having a series of pulmonary breathing tests done a few years ago by my allergist.  I had been running just a few years at that point.  My doctor was astonished by the increase in all the different results.  She commented that anyone looking at just those test numbers would have no idea I had asthma.
  2. My weight is a non-issue.  I don’t know too many women who can claim that they are just fine with their weight, but I really am.  I am not trying to lose weight.  I’m in maintenance mode.  In fact, if I were to lose only five more pounds, my BMI would drop to an unhealthy level.
  3. Endorphin boost!
  4. I sleep really, really well.  Even though I run at night most of the time, usually ending within an hour of bedtime, I have no problems falling asleep.
  5. My body is more tone and fit.  There is more muscle definition in my legs, arms, and abs.  I look better, and I feel better.  Or do I feel better because I look better?
  6. Running helps me clear my mind and focus in ways other activities can’t.  I often have some of my best prayer times while running, and I can often hear God’s voice much easier on my runs.
  7. Every year I get a comprehensive wellness exam consisting of a blood panel, EKG, ultrasound of my heart and other major organs, chest x-ray, and a few other tests.  My cholesterol is lower, and my risk of developing heart disease is lower than it was before I started running.  How many people do you know can claim to be in better physical health with each passing year as they age?

The ROI (Return on Investment, to borrow a finance term) is also great.  For the time it takes and the amount of energy exerted, I burn twice as many calories running for 30 minutes than biking and about four times as many calories as I would swimming.

I can’t leave out the practical nature of running either.  This is a sport I can literally do anywhere in the world, at any time of day, in almost any kind of weather without much hassle or cost.  I run at home.  I run on vacation.  I run in the rain.  I run when it’s 95° outside, and I run when it is 30° outside.  I run with friends.  I run alone.  I run on the treadmill at home.  I run in my neighborhood.  I run at the state park that is two miles from my house.  I run at dawn.  I run when the stars are out.

I don’t have to drive to a gym to run.  I don’t have to wait till the park opens or be done before the gym closes.  I am not limited to a certain time on a certain day.  I don’t have to rely on a partner or team.  I don’t have to tote around a huge gym bag full of clothing or a van-full of equipment.  I don’t have to memorize a play book or adhere to a set of game rules.  I am not judged, nor do I have to worry about a referee.

I just have to place one foot in front of the other.

Running has helped me to develop discipline in how I treat my body.  Running has helped me learn to sacrifice for the greater good.  Running has taught me to push the darn button to do something that I know will bless me in the end, despite how I feel at the start.

So no, I do not need to find another form of exercise as my friend suggested.  I will continue to run, and I will continue to be blessed by it.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Hebrews 12:1 

Physical v. Spiritual Discipline

18 11 2011

I’ve been thinking about discipline for a while.  Not the punishment kind of discipline, but the “training to bring about control and order” discipline.  And I’ve been specifically thinking about physical discipline versus spiritual discipline.  Actually, the idea first struck me when I read Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes in April 2010.  It’s a fascinating true story of the author and his adventures running ultramarathons and other crazy races that test the limits of human endurance.  Coming off of the Ragnar Relay, this thought has come back to the forefront of my mind.

What would happen if we trained and disciplined ourselves spiritually as we do physically?

I know so many people, myself included, who are willing to undertake crazy, diligent, borderline-insane physical discipline to accomplish physical goals.  Whether we are trying to lose weight, finish a triathlon, qualify for the Boston marathon, or decrease the odds of developing diabetes, cancer, or other diseases, we can exhibit tremendous discipline and determination.

But when it comes to spiritual discipline in our lives, we are generally quite lazy.  Why is that?

Pride is a huge part of our spiritual laziness.  If we are always right, always the best, always the most knowledgeable, there’s never any reason to change.  We know it all, can do it all, have it all . . . so there!

The bigger issue for me is comfort.  I’m comfortable with who I am, where I am in life, what I do, etc.  Comfort is not a bad thing.  However, it is detrimental when it keeps me from growing and maturing.  I’ve realized that comfort is the antithesis of change and discipline.

Even in those times of great struggle in my life, I could cope.  I could block the negativity from my mind while I carried on with life.  I knew how to function successfully under turmoil.  In these times, I knew I needed to change.  I didn’t always know what changes to make, but I knew something had to change. 

But change required effort.  Change required discipline.  Change required being intentional in my thoughts and my actions.  Change required more than I wanted to give.  It required me to step out of my comfort zone, and I don’t like being uncomfortable.

I also didn’t see the full benefits of becoming spiritually disciplined.  Why should I bother becoming spiritually disciplined if I’m “fine” the way I am?  (Of course, that’s a lie, but it’s a lie I believe for many years.)  I couldn’t answer that question for years, but now it seems so simple.  It’s difficult to live out, but simple in theory.  

The fruit of the Spirit is:
(Galatians 5:22-23)

I want each of those nouns to describe me, but few currently do.  That is why I need to change and focus on spiritual discipline.

Becoming more spiritually disciplined is the reason I began fasting in February, and my prayer life has been taken to a new level.  It is the reason I now seek accountability among my friends, and I am slowly making progress in overcoming some lifelong struggles.  It is the reason I share devotionals about what God has been teaching me with the entire upper school student body where I teach—which is definitely way outside of my comfort zone.

The question now becomes, how do we become spiritually disciplined?

  • Pray until you’ve prayed for everyone in your little corner of the world.  EVERYONE goes beyond your immediate family and close friends.  Pray for the homeless man you pass on your way to work every day.  Pray for the co-worker who gets on every one’s nerves.  Pray for the cashier at Target.  Pray for our political leaders, even the ones you don’t agree with.  Pray for everyone you see–stranger or not, pray for evey name you read on Facebook or Twitter–friend or not, pray for everyone you talk to or email.  Try this for one day, and see what happens.
  • Give and serve to the point of sacrifice.  Stop giving based on what’s left over at the end of the month, and give generously to God from the “first fruits” of your paycheck.  Give more than you think you can give.  I promise you, God will not let you starve if you are honoring him with your financial resources.
  • Read and study God’s word unceasingly.  Read the Bible every day, even when you don’t feel like it.  If your heart is receptive, God will speak to you.
  • Forgive to the extreme.  Forgive every wrong, every time you think about it.  You may have to do this 100s of times each day.
  • Be accountable with a group of people you trust to lead you on the right path.  You must be honest, authentic, and transparent about your struggles or this will never work.
  • Live humbly and righteously no matter what the world thinks.

This is definitely all easier said than done.  However, I’ve decided that it is more dangerous for me to live a comfortable life than to live one that requires great discipline.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love
and of self-discipline.” -2 Timothy 1:7

Ragnar Relay 2011

10 11 2011
196.1, 196.4 miles from Chattanooga to Nashville + 10 runners + temps in the 30s = 30:15:27 hours of 1 crazy, insane, awesome race.  Welcome to the Ragnar Relay.

This marked my second year doing this relay race and my first as team captain.  (Read about my experience on the 2010 Ragnar Relay.)  For those of you unfamiliar with this insanity, let me explain.  A group of 6-12 runners split into two vans which leap-frog each other along the course, run from Chattanooga to Nashville along backroads, middle of nowhere Tennessee.

Ragnar Relay 2011

Ragnar Relay 2011

Our team started at 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) and finished shortly after 4:15 p.m. (Central).  Someone on our team was running non-stop during those 30 hours.  Each runner ran three times throughout the race, anywhere from 1.6 to 8.9 miles.  The average total mileage per runner was just over 16 miles.  We had two runners, however, who ran an “ultra”—meaning they ran two legs, back-to-back, three times.  Their total mileage was over 30 miles.

Besides being team captain, which I thoroughly enjoyed due to my borderline-OCD organizational tendencies, the other big difference was I was runner 6 in Van 1.  Last year, I was runner 11 in Van 2.  I saw the other half of the course that I did not experience in 2010. 

Van 1 Pros
  • Seeing both sides of the course was neat.
  • I ran two of my three legs in daylight. (In 2010, only my third run was in daylight.)
  • The timing of my three runs was more natural for me.
  • Amazing teammates!

Van 1 Cons

  • I got less sleep in Van 1 than I did in Van 2.  (One hour—maybe—of sleep this year compared to about three hours last year.)
  • The finish line was a little anti-climactic for me, having finished my last run almost six hours prior to crossing the official finish line.
  • I missed being with the rest of my amazing teammates.
Van 1 decor

Van 1 decor

Van 1 Runners: Brian, Lee (ultra), Joey, Jennifer, Kelly

Van 1 Runners: Brian, Lee (ultra), Joey, Jennifer, Kelly

First leg:  #6, 3:00 p.m., 4.6 miles through Jasper, TN

I started out too fast, around 9:00 minute mile, as I was trying to keep up with a gentleman who started at the same time.  It didn’t take long before I had to slow down so my lungs wouldn’t explode.  I did pass one lady, my one and only “road kill” during this leg, so that cheered me up. 

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 6

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 6

I kept waiting to see the “One Mile to Go” sign, but it never appeared.  That was a little disconcerting.  A little later with the exchange line finally in site, I mustered up a tiny bit of extra speed, smiled, and slapped the bracelet on a teammate who would begin the nastiest hill of them all on leg 7—a 5-mile uphill with an elevation gain over 1,300 feet.  (Jim, you are a BEAST!)

My husband recorded video of me running into the exchange, and as I watched it, I thought, “What’s wrong with me?  I look like I’m injured.”  Those thoughts were followed by, “I hope I don’t always look like that when I run.”  Followed by, “I really need some help fixing my technique if I look like that.”  Seriously, I wonder how much more efficient and how much faster I could be with some formal training.  Thankfully, I am surrounded by amazing running coaches where I teach, and I know they will gladly offer their expertise to help me out.

Second leg:  #12, 12:00 a.m., 1.6 miles through Lynchburg, TN

This was the shortest and easiest stretch of the entire race. It was uphill most of the way, but the elevation change barely registered on the map.  The temperature was quickly heading down into the 30s for the night, and I barely warmed up before my run was over.  I’ve always enjoyed night running.  I love being alone with my thoughts, but my mind kept playing nasty little tricks on me this time around.  I kept hearing (or thought I heard) footsteps and doors opening/closing.  I saw no other runner, or any other person for that matter, on this short stretch.

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 18

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 18

We, in Van 1, tried to get some sleep after finishing our second legs.  Some of my teammates managed to get a few hours of decent sleep.  I was not so fortunate.  Being in a van with several other sweaty runners, unable to stretch out, is not conducive to rest.  If I got an hour’s worth of actual sleep, I was lucky.

Third leg:  #30, 9:00 a.m., 4.5 miles heading into Franklin, TN

By the time I began this run, I had been awake for over 26 hours.  This run was a test of my mental endurance as much as physical.  The “gentle rolling hills” were not so gentle at this point.  I used every ounce of any remaining mental focus and energy to finish this stretch.  

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 30

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 30

The following thoughts flooded my mind over that 45 minute run.

 “You can do it.” 

 “One more step.”

 “Each step brings you one step closer to the finish.”

 “Seriously?  Another —– hill?!?”  (Not all my thoughts were positive.)

 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 “We are more than conquerors.”

 “Where is the —– finish line?!?”

 “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Reminders and Lessons Learned the Second Time Around

Our physical endurance is often limited only by our mental endurance.

Teammates matter.  Thank you to my awesome teammates who would drive ahead, cheer me on, drive ahead some more, cheer me on some more, and repeat several times.  Those short bouts of whoops and claps gave me a physical and mental boost every single time!

A tiny bit of encouragement goes a long, long way. Thank you to the two strangers sitting on the corner of Oxford Glen and Chester Stevens Road who asked me my name as I approached and cheered me on by name as I ran ahead.  You have no idea how that lifted my spirit and almost made me cry.  (I kept myself from actually crying, though, as crying while running is very difficult.)

The simplest action can have a profound impact.  Thank you to the father who saw me running and encouraged your son to cheer for me as I ran past your house.  You didn’t have to stop what you were doing to uplift a stranger for a few seconds, but I will not forget it.

I will never, ever take for granted that my Creator gave me a healthy, able, capable body.

What would happen if we trained and disciplined ourselves spiritually as we do physically?  (More on this one next week .)

On Sunday night after the race, a friend asked me, “Was it worth it?”  I didn’t actually answer his question with a yes or no.  Instead, I excitedly began talking about the next one I want to do with my extended family up in Wisconsin in June 2012 from Madison to Chicago.

So, YES!  It was worth it.  It was worth the months of training when I’d rather be sleeping or eating cupcakes.  It was worth the three-a-day sessions in the final month.  It was worth the sore muscles as my body adjusted to shorter recovery periods.  It was worth the sleep deprivation.  It was worth the interesting odors that enveloped our van throughout the race.

As insane as it was, I can’t wait for the next challenge!

Irrational Fears (and other things that just freak me out)

25 10 2011

Besides my more typical fears of drowning, being in a serious car accident, something horrible happening to my children, my house burning down, etc., I have a few really unusual, weird, and downright inane fears.  You will either relate, or you will chuckle to yourself at my irrationality.

clown from "Poltergeist"

clown from "Poltergeist"

  1. The clown under the bed.  If you’ve seen the first Poltergeist movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I first saw this movie almost 30 years ago, but I still sometimes wonder if that freaky little clown is hiding under my bed waiting to attack me.
  2. Fish biting me while I’m swimming in a lake, river, ocean or any body of water.
  3. Sharks attacking me while wading in the ocean.  I freak out if I go out so far that the water is above my knees.
  4. Snorkeling.  I hyperventilate when attempting to breathe under water even while using a snorkeling tube.
  5. Scuba diving.  See numbers 2-4.
  6. Swimming with my head under the water, even in a pool void of fish and sharks.  (At this point, you may wonder how on earth I ever completed a triathlon that requires swimming.  Very, very slowly and inefficiently as I do not swim with my head under the water.  I prefer the side stroke and back stroke—strokes that do not require head submersion.)
  7. The squirrels at Long Hunter State Park, especially when I’m running there.  (Don’t ask.)
  8. Giving guests food poisoning with anything I cook or bake.  (This has never happened, but I always wonder if this next banana bread/casserole/soup/ will be the one.)
  9. A burglar hiding in my closet or shower.
  10. Centipedes.  I can handle spiders, cockroaches, and other such bugs.  Centipedes are another story.

Share with me what’s on your list.