Thursday, March 31, 2011

Before and after

Ya gotta love before and afters. They are so telling. . .most of the time.

Take, for instance, all those home shows. A horrible yard turns into a resort-inspired retreat with the help of a professional crew and some willing homeowners. An ugly, grime-encrusted kitchen morphs into a warm, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing hub of the home. 

As of late, I've been enjoying the guilty pleasure of before and afters. My yearning to release some pent-up creativity and rid my home of bland, boring decor has resulted in the application of numerous paint colors in a variety of patterns. The results have generally been well-received. But the highest cudos come from folks who know how yuk the hallways and rooms looked before the creative crash rushed in and took over. They knew the before and can appreciate the after.

But these aren't the only kind of impressive before and afters. Think about all those print ads and TV commercials touting the benefits of some new fang-dangled weight loss program. The before shots show plump, pudgy, and positively unattractive people. But the after shots? Well, the previously fat and frumpy are now bikini-clad, pumped, and primped.

The same goes for the age-correcting serums. I should know about this one. I've been researching the benefits of this lotion and that potion, all in an effort to slow down the skin sag in my face and the orange-peel skin on these 'ol legs. There are some pretty amazing testimonials and wonderful before and after photos. Ahhh...If only they were all true.

The trouble with many before and afters can be found in the small print: "Results may not be typical." In fact, in weight-loss advertisements, 88% of all ads contain those infamous side-by-side comparisons. The first photo is snap-shot quality with poor lighting, horrible posture and a blank and listless expression. In contrast, the after shot is most often studio quality, the model smiling after a hair and makeup session, standing straight and tall and sucking in everything that could look flabby. Plus, a good photographer with photo-altering skills at his disposal doesn't hurt either. Hence, though the ad promises hope of a magnificent before and after, the truth may be disguised.

Oh dear. What if someone took a picture of my spiritual before and after? I wonder if there would be a sharp contrast between images. And, I have to question if the after image is for real. Have I painted on a facade to give an appearance of a polished, mature Christian when, in fact, it is merely a creative illusion?

"What you see is what you get." Is it really? If we are truly a Believer, the before and after should be obvious and verifiable.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 
(2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trotting on Terrapin

Photo by Seth Trittipoe
Yowzah! The muscles in both my calves instantaneously drew up into tight rubber-band balls. It brought me to an abrupt stop, grabbing for a nearby tree. The spasm drew both feet in directions not intended for a natural cadence. Using the tree for support, I stretched out both legs and gingerly proceeded on my way. I had been doing so well. But when I spoke to a young runner who had taken a headlong plunge into the woods, I lost my concentration and caught my toe on a relatively smooth portion of trail. I guess I can't talk and run at the same time. If it hadn't hurt so bad, it might have even been funny. Down the hatch went electrolyte drink and capsules and a handful of pretzels in an effort to save the day. It did. . .just at a little slower pace.

The race was Terrapin Mountain 50K. With somewhere between 7500 and 8500 feet of both gain and descent (reports differ), the race is not for the light-hearted. Quad crushing downhills and relentless climbs make an impression on even well-trained and behaving muscles. I had been doing my share of long runs and was consistent in daily training with my track distance runners. But not all those runs were substantial in mileage even if they were done at quicker paces. I didn't how I would fair in this race. And I sure wasn't confident enough in my training to push to the red line and hold it there. I was afraid it would quickly become the dead line.

Upon waking in the inky pre-race darkness of 4:30 a.m., I felt a peculiar calm. The sense of dread so familiar in previous years was absent. Rather, sipping my coffee on the way to the start, I smiled just a bit as I prepared my mind for the task. I just hoped the body would prove equally prepared.

Run when I can. Walk when I must. Drink often, nibble frequently, get in the electrolytes. Repeat over and over again. That's as simple as it gets. Occasionally, I chatted with those around me. Pleasant enough and a welcome distraction at times. But most often, I liked to be alone on the trail, able to set my own pace and mull over my thoughts. Sometimes I prayed for others. Sometimes I prayed for myself. Sometimes my mind wandered to planning projects on the home front, outlining upcoming speeches, or merely taking in the soothing sound of leaves rustling or gravel crunching beneath my feet.

Before the starting gong rang out it's rich tone, someone asked me what my goal was. Hum. I guess it was to be the first grand masters woman to cross the finish line. The problem was, a friend of mine had just recently slipped into this age group, bringing strong legs and many training miles with her. Early in the race she had pulled away from me. But I knew she was never far ahead. I wanted to catch her and with five and a half miles to go, saw her coming at me on an out-and-back section. My heart quickened and my pace wanted to. Unfortunately, the cramping calves incident had happened just moments prior. Plus, I knew our passing would be all the motivation she needed to keep the lead.

Photo by Seth Trittipoe
Still, hope springs eternal. Arriving at the last aid station, I handed off my pack, downed some fluid, popped a few electrolyte capsules and shoved those pretzels in my mouth, all amidst wiping my runny nose on my sleeve. Yes, quite the picture of beauty and grace. Not. Off I went up the mountain, taking tiny steps so as to not wake and annoy the now quiescent calves. I forced myself to concentrate on my footing, knowing that another lurch forward would bring on more spasm. The cold, rushing water of the last creek crossing was greatly anticipated not because it signaled the remaining two miles, but because it might settle the muscles.

Then, with half a mile to go, my left calf cried out. I stopped dead in my tracks. I could hear the noise from the finish line and the pitter-patter of approaching feet from behind. Gosh. I shook my head, briefly stretched my leg and continued on. What else could I do? I failed to meet my goal, finishing about ten or twelve minutes back from the women four years my junior. It happens.  My tenth place finish for the women was good, not great. But the day? More than acceptable. The temperature was about perfect and the rain held off. I was happy, content, and grateful I could be out there. Conversation was good, old friends seen, and new acquaintances made. No blood or lasting injury for me. Post-race movement is decent and determination for future endeavors is growing.

Couldn't ask for more.

Did you run Terrapin 50K or Half-Marathon? Click here to see 850+ professional pictures taken at the creek crossing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's all in who you know

"Oh my goodness. The first night we were there, they brought a tray full of gourmet cookies and ice-cold milk." She gushed on. "And the next day they brought each of us a huge gift bag with a plush signature bathrobe and all kinds of other goodies. At night, the floor gently lit up as you approached the bed. It was a magnificent suite..."

It seems that my friend, Julie, was the happy recipient of lavish accommodations because she knew the right person. Her sister-in-law is a big-muckety-muck at an exclusive, 5-star hotel in the Orlando area. Because of that connection, Julie and company benefited greatly, enjoying amenities known only by the rich and famous, cost-free, no less. You see, it's all in who you know.

Now, suppose you were the son or daughter of a king. Yes, a prince and princess. Do you think that those titles would open a few doors? I sort of doubt you would be staying in a no-tell hotel eating convenient store food. And, I think you would get a free pass to the front of the line for Space Mountain. Later, dining would only be the finest, the prices offering no barrier to satisfying your appetite. Requests are more like commands because you are royalty.

Now, realize that as a Believer, you are royalty; a son or daughter of the King. That relationship carries benefits that we sometimes ignore. We have the ear of God 24/7/365. No appointment needed. No beckoning required. He has already said " “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7)

Our royal Father empowers, enlightens, loves, and extends blessings so bountiful they can not be numbered. His strength enables and His grace is sufficient. Unfortunately, we don't always act royal nor do we fully take advantage of all that is offered. Bad behavior casts the royal family in an unflattering light. Shame on us.

Take advantage of all that God offers. For it's all about who you know.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To infinity and beyond; Beyond "Pace Yourself,"

FaceBook is both a blessing and a curse. In a digital world, it's just one more opportunity to get sucked into the big black hole that consumes way too much time and energy from already busy lives. FB brings good news and bad, tidbits about everyday events, details so vivid you question the writer's sanity, and an occasional deep thought that makes putting up with all the trivia worthwhile. Last week I was messaged by a friend and it was worth it.

Seems like Jensen, her daughter and a bright fifth-grader, is working on a project and wanted my input as an author. I was flattered, of course. But this project was not a typical grade school diorama or annoying fund-raising project. She was writing a book. Yes, a big, big book. A huge undertaking, to be sure.

We met up for lunch and between bites of our sandwiches, I was impressed with Jensen's work. When "Pace Yourself" came out last year, she and her parents spent each evening reading the day's selection. They enjoyed it while an idea was formulating in the youngster's head. Come January 1, she began to write. And she hasn't stopped yet.

Jensen with her parents, Christine and Brian Schram
As I looked at her hand-written journal, I read stories from her everyday life and spiritual analogies that few adults could easily discover. Her insight was pure and innocent and accompanied by a fitting scripture verse. She has written every day so far and wishes to create her own year-long devotional book. When most fifth-grade girls fret about getting cooties from the boys or wearing the right hair bow, this one is pre-occupied to journal her spiritual pathway for an entire year. When I decided to do the same in 2008, I was scared senseless. Writing everyday is so, so hard. But don't tell Jensen. In this case, ignorance is bliss.

I pray over "Pace Yourself" quite often and have ever since I began writing. I have no idea what God may chose to do with it. I pray the He will expand my borders and use me for His glory. Just the other day, I received a hand-written note in the mail. I didn't know the author of the note but was thrilled when I read her words. ". . .I can't tell you what a blessing it has been to me and how often the day's writing speaks to my heart and gives me just the message that I needed to hear that day. Thank you for all the effort and care that you put into what is obviously God has laid on your heart. I hope that another book will follow..."

I think other books will follow but don't be surprised if one of them belongs to a young girl who is focused on seeing daily God-lessons. Out of the mouth of babes...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sticky fingers

The can clearly said "Handle responsibly. Plan. Prepare. Practice. Wear gloves and protective eyewear."

So, why did I end up with my fingers glued together and stuck to the can?

In retrospect, it's sort of funny now that the dried, expandable foam has been "mechanically removed or allowed to wear off in time." But it wasn't so funny when I was frantically trying to get off the goop that was forming a cast-like enclosure around my fingers. I grabbed all the acetone I had and dunked both hands in the bowl of the fingernail polish, scrubbing hard with cotton balls and kitchen sponges. When that didn't work, I progressed to a blue colored scrubbie. Too bad that it reacted chemically with the acetone. My hands, caked with this awful stuff turned Smurf-like. Oh great. Nothing would remove the blue. Not Clorox, Not Comet. Not nutt'n. And yes, I know that's a double negative. That's how bad it was.

As I have been relentlessly picking and scraping my fingers the last couple of days, I've had time to reflect on the course of events. Could I have found some plastic or gloves before squirting out the first stream of crack filler? Yes. Could I have used something other than a bare finger to push the stuff into tiny cracks or scoop drips off the floor. Yes. Did I know the warnings? Yes. Did I care? Apparently not enough.

How bad could it be? I figured. I would just use one finger to do any necessary smoothing and clean it right away. Too bad it didn't work out that way. One finger became two, three and then four and more. But soon, the mess migrated to my other hand to the point of barely prying my fingers off the can. What a mess. I wish I could have taken a picture of my hands. But alas, Gary would have returned from work to find me, the camera and can united as one. Not a good situation. Had I only followed the directions on that blasted can. . .

But the can's directions are not the only ones I fail to heed. There are everyday, simple directions to follow. For example, speed limits are laws--not mere suggestions. But no, we think its okay to be heavy on the accelerator. Okay, that is, until we see flashing lights in our rear-view mirror.

But speeding pales in the face of other laws we choose to ignore. Let's not be surprised when we have to bear the consequences of ignoring the clearly-written instructions.

Exodus 20
1. “You shall have no other gods before me. . ." 
2. "“You shall not make for yourself an image. . ."
3.“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. . ."
4. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. . ."
5. " Honor your father and your mother,. . ."
6. “You shall not murder. . ."
7. “You shall not commit adultery. . ."
8. “You shall not steal. . ."
9. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. . ."
10.  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. . ."

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

By the time I finish most races, I've figured out at least the first paragraph of my post-race story. This was one of the few where the ...