Monday, August 30, 2010

Triathlon

I had the privilege yesterday of attending my first triathlon. A dear friend, Marni Dodd was competing in Tri to Beat Cancer, a fundraiser to help low-income cancer patients. As a registered nurse Marni has a real heart for the cause, but even more so because her mother fell victim to the disease after a brave struggle of many years. Marni trained for months as one of the Workout Women Boot Camp team, but she knew the triathlon would still be a challenge, because less than a year ago she had a hamstring replaced.

I arrived at around 6:30 a.m. and found the park where the event was held overflowing with people. Over 650 athletes were there as well as their friends and family. The event consisted of 400-yard swim, 16-mile bike ride, and a 5K run.  I stood on the beach in the first light of morning and watched wave after wave of competitors churn up the water on the almost quarter mile swim  and was amazed as they made their way around the course. I was pretty sure if it'd been me out there, the canoe people in the lake would've had to pull me out of the water at buoy one. A strong swimmer I am not.

When Marni came out of the water, her face conveyed exhaustion, but I watched her as she pushed on up the hill to her bike. She seemed to rally a little as she headed out. When she returned from the bike ride in good time, she seemed high in spirits as she put on her running shoes. I followed her with my camera as she headed out for the last part of the event. 5K doesn’t seem that far, unless you’re using someone else’s hamstring and you’ve already swam and biked the distance equal to a quarter of the way around the Atlanta Perimeter. As Marni faded into the distance, I knew this run would present the biggest challenge. When she made the turn for the second lap, she appeared to be suffering, but I was sure that more than anything else she wanted to finish. She wanted to finish for the cancer patients. She wanted to finish for her Mom.

And finish she did. In just a little over two hours she completed the course which was in her words, “the hardest thing I ever did.” I salute her for her perseverance in completing something few would ever attempt.

From Hebrews 12:1-2, “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Some of us may be suffering from a long swim in what may have been choppy water, or a strenuous ride that seemed uphill all the way, or maybe you’re in the home stretch and just don’t know if you have the strength to continue. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Remember why you’re running this race. Look for the joy.

And like Marni, you’ll be so glad you crossed that finish line.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Goodbye



Last night, about twelve hours after I posted “One Old Labrador” below, Freckles died naturally. We’d taken her to the vet yesterday, and would be returning today, but she went very quickly. My daughter was holding her, and right before she died, her tail started wagging—something she hadn’t done in two days. She was probably seeing her old friend Sunshine, a big inviting creek, and a tomato crop ready for harvest. The back yard sure does seem empty.

From Romans 8:19-21 in The Message:
Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Old Labrador

Our lab Freckles is exhibiting the signs that her days with us are growing short. She still wags her tail, though, even if her smiles at the back door aren’t as many as they used to be.

Freckles is thirteen, a big number for a lab. She came to us as a gift when she was a pup (pictured left in my daughter’s doll bed), and she’s had a full life. She and her former associate, Sunshine, a rescue dog from the pound who left us last year, had many adventures together.

Their favorite destination was a creek just below our house. In order to get there they excavated under the fence on many occasions. Even though we had someone checking on them every day when we went on vacation, they escaped and various neighbors carted them back and put them in the fence, only to have them escape again. After we returned one year from a trip, my dear neighbor Margaret said, “Those dogs have ridden in everything but an ambulance and a hearse.”

And indeed, they had. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure whether they really wanted to go to the creek or just get a car ride. In any event, no amount of fence electrification seemed to halt their escapades.

Freckles was trained not to retrieve by a devious minded Jack Russell terrier who wanted all the ball fetching for himself. Later, when my son taught our cat to retrieve a ball, we thought it strange to have a cat that would jump two feet in the air for a ball, and a retriever dog who only yawned at the word “Fetch.”

Whenever the dog comes inside, both cats race to greet her. They rub against her snout, and arch their back against her flanks. Sunshine used to find Freckles tolerance of this behavior disgusting, and she’d whisper something to Freckles like, “Have you no self respect as a dog to hang out with these crazy cats?” which always made Freckles remove herself from the affection. With Sunshine gone now, the lab just lies there and enjoys it.

The down side of having a lab is she’s pretty much destroyed every plant I’ve ever put in the ground. This summer, I tried once more to have tomatoes. I put them in pots, and as they developed the green fruit that would surely turn a bright red, I remained hopeful. That is until I saw a couple of tomatoes lying on the ground and turned to see Freckles stripping the vines of both green and red tomatoes. She even eats the leaves.

But then there’s the upside. Freckles has the cutest face and the sweetest disposition ever. Those adoring brown eyes never cease to bring me joy. She’s comforted me through cancer, the loss of my mother, and countless other heartaches. She’s never mad and doesn’t hold a grudge even when she doesn’t get the last chicken strip.

So, to say we’re going to miss her doesn’t come close. But we have now, and we have a precious few hours or maybe days with her. I think we’ll take her to the creek, buy her some tomatoes (she’s eaten all of mine), and visit the Colonel for her favorite nuggets. So if you see a car streaking by, windows rolled down, with a wet yellow lab hanging out dripping tomato juice. You’ll know it’s us. And you’ll know one old lab is having one last great adventure with the folks who love her very much.

One day as it says in Isaiah 11:6 when the “…wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together…,” I’m wondering if cats and dogs won’t also snuggle together, and I’m thinking right in the middle of them will be a yellow lab named Freckles.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Puzzling

I’m a little behind on blog posts because as my husband would say, “we’ve been up to our eyeballs in alligators.” One of the alligators is pictured at right--my son’s very swollen, bandaged hand. In his second week at the University of Georgia, he fell climbing into his dorm loft bed with wet feet.( I thought that bed was too high) I know what some of you may be thinking, but no, he’d been at our house that evening. After almost a whole day at the emergency room we found he has a hand bone broken in two places and a corneal contusion. His eye is completely swollen shut.

Tomorrow he’s having surgery to have pins inserted to bring the broken bone back into alignment in his hand. Fifteen years of soccer with relatively few injuries and he falls climbing into bed. Puzzling.

Just days ago I wrote about praying the scripture from Psalm 121:8 that God would keep my son from all harm and watch over his life. Now this. Did God nod off?

No, he didn’t nod. He saw this coming long ago. Beth Moore says if God doesn’t give you what you want, he gives you something better. I believe that. And I believe that my son’s injuries could have been so much worse. He could have had a serious head injury. He didn’t. He could have been blinded. He’s not. He could have lost the use of his hand. He didn’t. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I don’t know why God allowed this fall, but I know he will use it. So, I have my eyes set on the something better God is going to bring from all of this.

Meanwhile he’s sleeping on the futon. Maybe permanently.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nell at Ninety


I recently attended my Aunt Nell’s fabulous ninetieth birthday party. (pictured here also with my sister) Nell is of that generation called “Great.” Like others in her demographic she’s lived through the Depression, the Second World War, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, and now the first and second wars in Iraq. In addition to the troubles those world events brought about, my aunt has also suffered many personal difficulties. She began having heart attacks in her forties, and has had multiple open-heart surgeries as well as other health problems. She’s survived the deaths of two grandchildren and her husband. Some might have felt sorry for themselves and given up along the way, but not my Aunt Nell.

At seventy-nine, she acquired her high school equivalency degree, and learned how to use a computer. She discovered a love for writing during her studies and chronicled her family history. All her life she’d wanted to sing, but family obligations kept her from her dream, so in her eighties she began singing in a trio traveling to other churches and singing in her church’s denominational gathering. Up until very recently, she’s mentored young women, sharing how she won her husband to the Lord through prayer.

In one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with her, I asked how she kept up her hope through so many difficulties. She said, “Honey, we can sit around and think about all the bad things. That’s just depressing. I don’t study on the bad things; I study on what’s good.”

I looked up the word “study.” Webster defines it as, “Give careful attention to something.” In my perfectionist way I’ve often been guilty of giving my careful attention to the one bad thing rather than the host of beautiful things. Philippians 4:8 says, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” Sometimes we can’t seem to stop thinking about the bad stuff, but what we can do is make a deliberate effort to substitute those thoughts with ones of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Sometimes I even make a list to help me refocus.

Aunt Nell’s eves have now grown dim with almost complete vision loss, but I watched in amazement at her party as she recognized many she hadn’t seen in years simply by the sound of their voice. As much as everyone who came wanted to give her joy on her birthday, I think we were blessed even more.

I hope I’m getting better in studying on the good things due to my Aunt Nell’s influence. My mother always said I’m just like my aunt, because I have the same nervous energy and can always think of a thousand things to be doing.

I sure hope my mother was right.




Monday, August 16, 2010

Perseverance and Gina


I recently read the poignant debut novel, Crossing Oceans, from gifted writer Gina Holmes. According to her bio, Gina began her journey more than ten years ago. On the way to publication, she and friend Ane Mulligan (pictured center) began the website Novel Journey in 2005 which was so successful that in 2008, Writer’s Digest named it as one of the 100 top websites for writers. This year, the site again made the list.

I see Gina occasionally at conferences, and I wanted to turn a cartwheel when I found she had a book contract. Gina’s story is one of perseverance, for Crossing Oceans wasn’t her first novel, but her fifth. She also worked for years on Novel Journey with no remuneration except for the satisfaction of knowing she helped others along the way. If anyone has paid her dues, it’s Gina.

Though I’ve signed a contract for a screenplay option, novel number three is now languishing on my computer. I’m reminded of Romans 5:4-5. “And we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…” Like it or not, the suffering writers experience through the disappointments of innumerable rejections helps galvanize their will enabling them to persevere. This perseverance helps shape the character which births the perennial hope that is sure to follow. I've seen this verse lived out in Gina’s life, and it brings me great encouragement.

To learn more, visit Novel Journey at www.noveljourney.blogspot.com or her website http://www.ginaholmes.com/.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deer and My Son

I ran into this lady Monday while out walking. She studied me closely for a few minutes as I reached for my cell phone camera. She and several of her relatives peruse the shrubs and flowers in our neighborhood, gnawing them to the ground. It hasn’t made for good will among some, but she can have mine. I’d rather lose the shrubs and keep the deer.

Wildlife sightings have always been big at our house. We just about jump out of the car when a red tail hawk swoops across the road or we spot a bushy fox tail flicking as it runs for cover. Our top two sightings are a rare mountain lion in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and the pièce de résistance-a grizzly in Yellowstone Park.

Both of my children have always taken a strong interest in the animal kingdom. My daughter recently helped raise an orphaned baby squirrel named Freida to adulthood. My son has across the years kept various snakes, lizards, and frogs in the house. Even when he was tiny, in addition to the several cats and dogs romping through the house, he also played with mammal and reptile replicas. I got so used to seeing plastic snakes strewn around, when a real snake got loose in our house, it took me awhile to realize what was going on.

That’s why it’s no surprise he’s packing his bags today and headed for the University of Georgia where he’ll be a freshman majoring in Wildlife Biology at the Warnell School of Forestry. When my husband and I toured the school with him for freshman orientation, we found it so fascinating we both wanted to enroll ourselves.

All this is great. It’s what we want. It’s the fulfillment of his dreams. But it’s also one of the hardest days of my life. Ever since my kids were born, I would drift off to sleep at night thanking God that I knew exactly where they were, and that they were safe. I knew the day would soon come when I would not know exactly where they were, and at that point it would be faith alone in God’s care for my children that would help me close my eyes and rest.

That day is here.

So today by faith I send him out trusting in the only One who loves him more than I do.

My prayer for him is “The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thousand Words, Part Three

Thousand Words, Part Three

Dave Moody, the producer I’m working with on the script, “Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees,” emailed a few days ago and needed a longer synopsis for the script than the one I’d given him earlier. Evidently there’d been some interest from a cable television channel.

I love writing screenplays and novels. Synopses--not so much. This is where writing is really shoulder to the wheel work for me. No matter how much time I invest, I always feel my synopsis reads as dry as a leaf blower operating manual. After working for several days on this particular one, I handed it off to my husband to proof for any typos as I walked away hacking and coughing from the literary dust caught in my throat. A little while later, he handed it back to me with tears in his eyes.

“This story always makes me cry,” he said.

Go figure.

Obviously, I can’t always trust my emotions when it comes to determining the value of my work. One of the best articles I’ve ever read on this was “Inspiration vs. Perspiration” by Mary Demuth in the January 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest. I served as an influencer for one of Mary’s novels, Daisy Chain. She’s an amazing writer and a gifted writing teacher as well. She says under her point, “Don’t Trust your Emotions” that “many writers I surveyed for this article had found that their best, least-edited work came from hard-won, perspiration-filled words. They might’ve felt each sentence lacked luster, but that feeling didn’t jibe with the reality of the final product.” She also says “…it’s the writer’s patient, consistent dedication to the craft in the mundane (perspiration) that fosters moments of brilliance (inspiration)…”

So, about the thousand words a day. I got several thousand words this week writing, rewriting, and rewriting again words I’d already poured over for going on two years now. The words did feel uninspired, but God helped me to persevere, and my husband at least felt differently about them.

So whatever your thousand words are, get them out. Paint the picture, weave the rug, sing the song if you feel like it and sometimes especially if you’re not feeling like it. And don’t be so quick to judge as Mary says the “reality of the final product.”

Hebrews 5:11 says “…consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” If God has called us to this writing journey (or whatever creative journey you’re on) and we persevere whether we feel like it or not, whether it seems the work is great or not, it’s always going to amount to more than we think.

If you’d like to read Mary’s article, Writer’s Digest sells back issues at writersdigest.com or if you’d like to know more about Mary Demuth and her work, you may visit www.marydemuth.com

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More



That’s my sister on the cover of Weight Watcher’s magazine. She’s second from the bottom on the left, and I’m so proud of her. In August of last year she found she’d been selected as one of six winners in Weight Watcher’s Inspiring Stories Contest. I traveled with her to New York in September for interviews and photo shoots, and in January of 2010, she appeared on the cover of Weight Watcher’s Magazine. At that point she lost about 130 pounds in two years. Yes, you read that right. 130 pounds. As she says, “I lost a whole person.”

Since January she’s been interviewed by many reporters about her story including folks like CNN and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Just last week Weight Watchers posted an interview and video of her on their site. The link is http://www.weightwatchers.com/success/art/index.aspx?SuccessStoryId=11251&sc=17. Or you can just type in “Tammy, 2009 inspiring stories” in the Weight Watcher’s Search box.

She’s not only maintained her weight, but also lost an additional 10 pounds beyond her goal weight. But what you read in the magazine and online is not the whole story.

At some point in the year preceding her weight loss, she found herself just trying to cling to what she felt she had left in her life. She’d had a successful career as an educator, having been up for state teacher of the year, but rarely does anyone ever get those kinds of accolades twice. It seemed at that point her career might be winding down. Her only son was headed for college. And then there was the weight issues she’d been plagued with her whole life. Weight issues she could never seem to conquer. She says she was up to that point a "Weight Watchers drop-out." She remembers walking into her house one day praying, “I’m just trying to hold on to what I have.” What she heard next stopped her in her tracks.

“What if I want to give you more?”

If you watch the video of my sister, you’ll immediately recognize her humility, so she’s not the kind of person to walk around asking for more. But more, is exactly what God wanted to give her.

Within a year she began her weight loss journey. About the same time she was recognized for the second time in her career as “Teacher of the Year” for her school and her county which put her in the running once more for state teacher of the year. Though she did not receive the state award, she felt honored to make it that far again. A few months later, her Weight Watcher’s leader asked her to submit her story to Weight Watcher’s Inspiring Stories. Later, out of thousands of entries across the country, she and five others were chosen.

So many have emailed her, contacted her on Facebook, or called to tell her how much her story means to them.

Her story has inspired me as well. When I’m carrying on in my maintenance mode, God is whispering more. More of him, more alignment with his purpose, more of his glory in me, more hope…more.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20

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