Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthdays and empty rooms

"It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. They had given me some scopalamine and I was sort of crazy. I started petting Dad's coat, thinking him to be a leopard. Then, outside my window were window cleaners. 'Please close the blinds. I can't give birth with those men out there.' Then, you came and I cried."

That was my mom relating her birthing experience. The baby? Me. That was 54 years ago today. Now, I cry...or at least, sniffle.

Caleb at about 6 years old
My house is empty. Out oldest Caleb, moved out last week. He has a nice one bedroom apartment in town, outfitted with expendable furniture pieces from around the house. He's happy. He's content. He appears to be making fiscally responsible decisions. And, he even seems to have learned to make his bed, hang up his towel and wash his dishes, activities not practiced with much regularity before this.

I am happy for him, so any tears are not really out of sadness. But, I'm not sure they are tears of joy, either. The tears come from the tiny pinpricks in my heart; the heart that holds a child in a tight caress. The pinpricks are not mortal wounds. But something changes as the blood slowly seeps out, awaiting a healing callous. That first born no longer needs me to fold his clothes to fit just-so in his dresser drawers. He no longer needs a reminder to set his alarm or settle his accounts. He is capable of doing all that on his own.

College soccer pic 2006
That fact means that we have been at least somewhat successful in preparing him for independent living. But it also means that my role as a mom has morphed from a doer to an observer. All that pain delivering him, all the school projects and soccer games, all those ups and downs, blessings and admonishments. . .all those things are in the past. Now, I am relegated to watch from the sidelines. It will take some getting used to.

Caleb circa 2009
I just glanced into his now empty room. It's sparkling clean. No dust-bunnies playing hide and seek. No clothes strewn on the floor. The bookshelves are orderly and no mass of wires and cords seeks to tangle and strangle. The curtains are in the wash and the closet organized. It has potential to be so many things: sewing room, guest escape, or quite reading room. But to get there, I have to get comfortable about letting go of the past; the way it was.

 I'll give it a day or two. Then I will embrace the future; Caleb's future.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Silence

Sometimes, I love quiet. No television. No radio. No iPods blaring or Blackberries ringing. Just wonderful, blissful quiet.

Maybe it's a generational thing, but I just don't get why people want to be exposed to noise all the time. As I looked around at the track meet last week, I marveled at how many athletes were plugged into an electronic device. Maybe they were listening to just the right song to inspire a great performance. But, no, that must not be it because they were still listening when they were lounging around between events. Maybe they were getting in the zone for the next round. And yet, even when they were sleeping on the bus, they were tuned in. To what? Lullabies?

I do have an iPod--or rather, did. It went MIA somewhere along the line. Once in a while, I would shove those ear buds in my ears if I had a long road run coming or was midway on a lengthy flight. I even took it to the mountains with me a few times. But, really, I didn't care for it much.

I like quiet because it helps me focus on what I may not have noticed otherwise. Here in the office it's the soothing tick-tock of the wall clock and the rhythmic flapping of the house flag outside my window. From a deer stand, it's the rustle of a chipmunk or the sound a single leaf makes fluttering downward. And on a long run, a momentary pause makes me aware of a far-away chirp, the babble of a gentle brook or the wind rustling through the treetops. In those moments, the world seems simpler.

In our world, there is far too little quiet. We are bombarded with noise of all kind: music, traffic, honking horns, sirens, talking, cheering, screaming, the roar of machinery, TV news and so much more. Sometimes, we seem to embrace the noise, preferring its company to silence. Are we scared to be alone with our thoughts?

Quiet is hard to come by. Even in a sound proof room, one can hear his own faint but steady heartbeat. But quiet should be cherished. For in quiet, our hearts are calmed and thoughts directed.

The Psalmist says, "Be still and know that I am God." (Ps. 46:10) Why? Because it is when we are still before our Father and secure as His child, that we can live boldly in quiet confidence.

So, hush now. Be still. Be quiet. Be renewed.

"...in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength..."
Isaiah  30:15b

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lift up your head

I felt like a runner; smooth, swift, and efficient. With eyes turned down, I glided along the wide shoulder of highway 460. This was a familiar route and one often run. Delighted with this rare freedom to run strong, I looked up long enough to see a car parked off to the side on a long gravel drive. A women, sharply dressed and eyes shaded by fashionable sunglasses, opened the door and got out. I saw her reach up to attach a stuffed pink teddy bear to a road sign, or so I thought. A bit odd, I mused. I wondered what she was doing. I could not have imagined.

As I approached, I noticed that it was a Valentine's bear, holding a little stuffed heart. But instead of putting it up, she was taking it down and moving it to a nearby telephone pole. "Are you waiting for someone special to come home?" I asked, smiling. What a wonderful, thoughtful mom to welcome home a son or a daughter in such a unique way.

I stopped to wait for her happy answer. "Oh, no," the woman softly replied. "I'm afraid not." She reached out to tenderly touch the weathered wooden post. I followed her gaze upwards. I was beginning to understand.

"My daughter was killed in an accident five years ago." She shook her head sadly but bravely smiled. "This is her sign."

The sign read, "Drive safely in memory of Kristy Dawn Overstreet."

My heart skipped a beat as I surveyed her face. She was silent and strong, though I wondered if her sunglasses hid an escaping tear. My own quivering voice gave away the emotional impact of the moment. "Oh, my. I can't imagine losing a child." I felt my own eyes begin to cloud thinking about her child and my two sons. I was glad that I, too, wore sunglasses.

"It's something I can't describe. And, we were the best of friends," she added. She held out a picture of Kristy for me. As she did, her smile was politely forced. The woman's voice was wistful as she recalled happy, blissful days. I had unwittingly interrupted a mother/daughter moment.

What could I say? I offered my condolences again, awkward as it was, before continuing down the road. "You be careful along this highway," she advised. With one last look at the sign, which, incidentally, I had never before noticed, I offered a silent prayer that this woman would be cradled in the loving and gracious arms of the Father.

My mind whirled. That sign, constructed like a cross, is a memorial to the life of a young woman. It serves as a reminder of her youth and vitality. But it also serves a purpose to those who notice: it inspires, memorializes, and encourages.

That sign is not unlike another. The Israelites, under Moses' leadership, wandered about the desert for forty long years. There were good times and bad. Times of honor and dishonor, obedience and disobedience. But as they traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom, they became impatient and discouraged. They got angry at God. So God sent snakes to put things in perspective. The venomous vipers brought death to many. It was only by His grace that God provided an escape. "Moses," God said (and I paraphrase), "Make a bronze serpent and place it on your staff. Lift it high. Whoever raises their head to look upon it shall be saved." Those who looked up by faith, lived.

Several thousand years later, others needed to raise their heads in faith. A cross on a hill. The perfect God-man hanging there. A tragic, painful, unjust death witnessed. But those who looked, lived.

Yet today, that cross still stands. It inspires, it memorializes, it encourages. And yes, it still saves. An empty cross, an empty tomb. The Savior had to die. There was no other way.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
John 3:14,15

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Intentions

Good or bad, we all have intentions.

Sometimes our intentions are good. We desire--intend--to clean out that closet, make a wonderful dinner, run a bunch of miles, cut out sweets or fat in our diet, spend more time with family, or any one of a bazillion other things. But, alas, the best of intentions don't always equate to a "done" check mark on our to-do list.

Then, there are those times when we intend to do something that's not so good. I can remember coming home late from a date. This guy was not a church-going, conservative, clean cut kind of guy. I was in high school. He was not. I'm not sure why I was even allowed to go in the first place. Perhaps my parents understood that a refusal might just drive their daughter into his arms instead of theirs. Anyway, the clock was ticking and tocked itself right past the hour I was to be home. It wasn't by much but I was late. So, I intentionally set my watch back five or ten minutes, figuring I could use an errant timepiece as a valid excuse for my late arrival. Sadly, but not surprisingly, my parents did not buy it. My intention to deceive brought about consequences for me and disappointment for them.

If we are to have direction and purpose in life, we must be intentional. We must determine what is important and set our course, letting nothing deter us. Our intentions must be solid. They must be substantive. But they must not stay intentions. They need to be realized.

We must carefully and consciously intend, plan, and do.

Live as children of light. . .and find out what pleases the Lord. . .Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.
(Ephesians 5:8b,10,15,16a)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Run against--and with--the wind

Yesterday I headed out the door for a run. It was cold. Very cold. To make matters worse, the winds were strong enough to blow me into the next county. But I needed miles.

As I turned west, the full force of the gale hit me head on. My steps slowed and took on a dream-like quality. No, make that a nightmare. You know the kind. You try to run, to escape, to get away. Your arms pump and legs flail but sadly, you go nowhere fast. In fact, it all seems like slow-mo. That's the way I felt. Any desire to continue the fight against the ferocious wind was blown down the road.

I was frustrated. Instead of feeling fit and fabulous, I trudged along hating every step. I was winded (no pun intended), my legs felt like water-logged stumps, and worst of all, I felt old and over the hill. When my route finally made a ninety-degree turn, it got a little better. With all that was within me, I interjected all-out running efforts similar in length to what I would soon ask my track runners to do. Problem was, if anyone saw me, I'm not sure they would describe my running as fast. By the time I got home, I was depressed.

But the sun came up again this morning. Fancy that. A couple of us headed out to mark a race course. I was dropped off, entered the wooded trail and took off, yellow streamers in hand. It was cold again, in the twenties. But this time, the air was still. Soon, I was calculating where to hang the next streamer. I had to make sure it could be easily seen from both directions given that this course was a forward and the reverse loop. I ran swiftly, if you discount having to stop every seventy-five yards to mark the way. I took in the morning crispness, the deer and squirrels scampering about, the stillness of the lake's water. Unlike yesterday, I felt fleet of foot, strong and powerful, runner-like. It was glorious.

I am reminded that a key to persevering in a sport is remembering that things never stay the same. A bad spot, a bad day, even a bad week, does not seal shut the coffin. It simply makes the trip a little more interesting.

Be encouraged. There will be good times and bad. But even a bad patch is good if it means that you didn't have to buy the coffin.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Training in the tropics

I always get excited when my running creates an obvious platform to advance the Kingdom of God. Such is the case now.

Though it's a bit of a long story, I'll give you the shortened version. Jenny Anderson and I will be partnering with Hands of Compassion International (http://hoci.net) to take a group of high school athletes (mostly runners) to Costa Rica. We will be training our hearts, minds, and bodies for His service. We plan on having our own training session each day but will be serving the missionaries and kids by working in a sports camp. Of course, CR is a huge soccer country so it's a good thing that many of my runners are also soccer players. But from the looks of it, there are plenty of goofy camp activities that require little skill; just a sense of adventure.

I am praying for a great group of kids. Interest is high, I am glad to report. A mission trip is such a great experience to put priorities in order and create an urgency to share the Gospel freely. Of course, there will be a necessity for each of us to raise our support for such a trip since none of us have such an expense budgeted. So, be aware that you might be given an opportunity to help support our trip in the near future.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wiley Coyote

The mountainside, blanketed in white and tree boughs bending under the weight of the snow, was a beautiful site. Pristine and shimmering in the sunlight, the forest seemed content and serene. No blustery winds or below zero temperatures. Just a quiet stillness, a blissful rest before the rush of spring blooms and new birth. No visitors had come to this neck of the woods. No footprints interrupted the smooth and cold snowy surface. The mountain was alone in all it's resplendent, magnificent glory.

Alone, that is, until Liz and I arrived.  In the journey up that long, steep slope, we felt like intruders, interrupting a private respite. But still, we trudged on, a necessity if we were to arrive back at our waiting cars a dozen miles hence. Though breathing was labored and progress difficult, it was glorious to look up the trail and see nothing but snow. Feelings of accomplishment welled up at the thought that no other human had made the effort to come to this mountain. In that moment, we were Pike and Long, Fremont and Muir, Lewis and Clark.

Up and up we climbed through the snow piled high. We wondered if the mountain was playing a winter game, moving it's summit further away just to tease. We were not particularly humored by that. But we were humored by the small and consistent trail of divots made in the snow by an animal, perhaps a coyote or a bob cat. Though the snow made it tough to discern the path of the trail, the creature seemed to know. Around every turn and up the rocky way, the animal stayed the course. We needed only follow its footprints to travel the trail.

There were a couple of exceptions. When the trail curved distinctly to the left, the footprints went straight. "Perhaps we should follow Wiley Coyote," I offered. "He seems to know this mountain." But we didn't. Our course swung us wide and around several switch backs. As we finally turned back to the right, there he was again. Wiley took a much shorter path straight up the mountain, now intersecting with us again. Our path followed his until further up the  mountain. Another tight turn for us, a short cut for him. We were impressed. Had we the faith to follow his trail, our efforts could have been minimized.

Sometimes it's hard to discern the right course, to choose whose footprints to follow. Most of the time, it's a good idea to follow those who have gone ahead; those who have learned by experience and logged the miles. Other times, we do well to chart our own course and leave the comfort of the trodden trail. But never should we venture a step without crying out to God, "Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me" (Psalm 119:133)