Monday, August 29, 2011

Team Peculiar

They were peculiar, all right. Very peculiar. And I loved them that way.

My cross country team had been working hard and this was a chance to get them to loosen up beyond what is done on the floor during warm-ups. Freaky Friday is what we called it. Each kid embraced the challenge of showing up at practice dressed like a looney goon. I had a sight-impaired banana, silly girls with skirts and beads, Bahama Boys looking very, ah...Bahama-ish, teens who clashed, ridiculous hats, dog ears and dreadlocks. Four of the high school girls even made a grand entrance complete with rose petals to lead the lovely bride and groom.

I was actually quite pleased they embraced being different, risking stares and comments from the university crowd through which they passed. They, in essence said, "I don't care what you think." Even when they broke into teams to play our favorite license plate game, they didn't seem to mind. Off they went, running like a bunch of crazies all over Liberty University campus, asking people for signatures and recording as many different plates as possible. Sure, they startled some and possibly scared others. And yet they went, conquered the campus, and returned to brag about it. They were a peculiar lot indeed.

Peculiar? It's not a word we often use. In fact, it's sort of old. The writers of the Old King James version used it in translating Deuteronomy 26. In that context, God's people were called to be "peculiar," a treasured possession who walks in obedience and keeps God's commands.

In that same translation, the word is again used in I Peter 2:9. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;..." The entire chapter tells us that we are God's building stones chosen expressly to be holy, do his work,  speak for him night and day, and that we are now fully accepted, though once rejected. That makes us peculiar; distinctive, special, and perhaps just a little bit odd compared to those around us.

"So, kiddos...I want us to be a very peculiar team this year," I told them. "Though we stand out today for being silly, let's make sure we stand out individually and as a team for being holy. Not the contrived, false-sense-of-piety kind of holy. But the kind of holy that shows up in the way we talk, carry ourselves, look people in the eye, and interact with others. The kind of holy that reflects God's character. The kind of holy that says we are the sons and daughters of the Most High.. ."

I wonder, just how long should it take for other teams and those around us to know that we are obedient, holy, and peculiar Believers? If they don't see it, maybe we ought to work on being more peculiar.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to bowl in a new season

New glasses. New contacts. New fish. New landscaping. New bed. New dresser. New office. New kids. New coaches. New workouts. New schedule. This seems to be the season of new.

Why, then, does it all seem so old? So overwhelming?

Not sure about you guys out in BloggerLand but I'm feeling a little bit like a warmed-up meal on the fifth go-around: hard, dried-out, flavorless and flat.

Ever wonder why "new" is even possible? Well, I think it's because something was old. Take me, for instance. I needed new glasses and contacts because my eyes aren't what they used to be. The "new" bed and dresser are new in name only. I made the bed out of left-over wood and took a whirling sander and a couple layers of paint to a ragged $2.00 dresser bought at auction. I have new kids on my cross country team because some of my old ones moved on to bigger and better college life. And the "new" team office? The old one was swallowed up in a university remodel project. Our "new" office is a windowless closet given a few adaptations to make it habitable.

No mistake about it; new can be good, very good. New can be embraced just as a long awaited walk on a moonlit beach, a gentle breeze carrying the scent of the sea. But new can overwhelm. Just imagine that same walk on the same beach when a tsumani decides to roll on in. Hardly the place to be.

I have to admit it. New projects, a new team, a new book, new online students, and new curriculum are bowling me over. Just as soon as I think things are under control, frame completed, someone else steps into the lane and rolls that big, rock-hard ball right at my scrawny, puny neck. I cringe, knowing how bad the collision of masses will feel. I want to jump out of the way but alas, pins in this game just have to stand there and take it. I close my eyes and brace for the impact.

Ugh. Hit straight on. I catapult into the air, twirling wildly. Then, crash. I experience gravity pulling me back down to the wooden floor. The landing is brutal. I feel sorry for myself as I lay there on my side. I mope, feeling alienated down to the last splinter of my hardened, wooden soul. But not for long.

The pin picker-upper swoops down from above, pushes me out of the way, and then has the audacity to set me up again, this time front and center. I know what's coming when I see a bowler, dastardly smirk contorting her face, reach toward the ball return. "Noooooooo...." I scream.

I don't like this feeling. So many things to do. So little time. My focus is off. It's like I'm wearing glasses with the wrong lens. But just when I need it, a dear friend writes, "It is not practical to think you can stay focused on everything. It is ok. . .You get back to work. Yes-you are human. Your discouragement comes only from within. Lighten the mental load and let a little bit go."

Ok. I get it. Change my perspective.

I see another ball speeding down the lane. But this time, I look around and see nine other pins standing there with me. "Come on. Hit me. Wheeeeeee," I cry in delight, as the ball glances off my right side. I knock into a buddy who, in turn, knocks over his neighbor. Before long, all ten of us are scattered at the end of the lane. "Haha," I exclaim, laughing and out of breath. "We scored big that time. Come on, Pin-Picker. Stand us up and let's do it again."  

Sure. It stings when you get hit... over and over and over again. But accepting the challenge draws others into the fray. It can be fun. It can be rewarding as well as frustrating. Smile. See the big picture. Laugh. Don't get freaked out. Just stay in the game.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Crooked is as crooked does

Some things are meant to be crooked; a branch on a bonsai tree, a garden maze created by a drunken horticulturalist, or a nose impacted repeatedly with a boxing glove. But a perfectly normal, run-of-the mill arm... I don't think so.

It was all going so well. Running along a rocky ridge line with two of my XC team members, the valley's river below and the peaks we had yet to climb drew us further along the trail. It was new territory for them, some of it very technical and rock strewn. The pace was reasonable for the climbing heat and oppressive humidity. Happy chatter filled the spaces between each footfall. Then, approaching our final turn off the mountain, time slowed as I felt my body hurl through the muggy air. I was horizontal. For a nanosecond, I was Superwoman, outstretched and flying. But then, gravity announced itself.

I quickly descended to meet the ground rising up to me at an alarming rate. Prematurely wincing, I braced for the landing. Ahhhhh. This is gonna hurt. I was right. It did. A lot. My full body weight came down on the extended left arm, my forearm shoved up into my elbow. As my Mother says, "it knocked the stuffin's out of me." Breath was hard to catch and upon sitting, the trees started spinning as my stomach churned. The girls weren't sure what to do. Neither was I.

They pulled me to my feet, me grasping my arm. Now covered in dirt and grime with sweat creating tiny mud rivulets on my leg, I was a mess. My arm loudly protested at the assault but at least no bones poked through. So, off we ran, if somewhat tentatively, toward our awaiting car.

It was only later I realized my anatomy had been significantly rearranged. No amount of trying could push my arm straight or bend it further than 90 degrees. I could not touch my face, bring food to my lips, or reach up to deal with my ratted ponytail. What's a girl to do?

Ice. X-rays. Adaptation. The report said no fracture but my arm is still crooked. Torn ligaments, most likely. So for now, crooked is ok because it will make me appreciate straight all the more.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Real Beauty: Just the Girls

What started out as a school project, turned into a full blown event. Faith Perry and Aubrianah Shannen, two teenagers from Lynchburg, VA, decided to use their developing photography skills to highlight what makes women beautiful, far beyond flowing locks and picture-perfect complexions. Their blog,, highlights women of all ages and describes the uniqueness of each one.

Thanks Faith, for photographing me and allowing me to be involved in your project! My profile is the August 3, 2011 post.

Ain't technology grand?

Like something you see on this blog? Now, it's easier than ever to share it with others. Just click the big, bold buttons to the right to automatically upload to FaceBook or Twitter. It's that simple!

(There are also other buttons directly following each post. More sharing is just a click away!)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Run for the memories

"Look at that huge cemetery," Dad exclaimed, trying hard to keep the corners of his mouth from upturning. "I wonder how many people are dead in there?" He had hope eternal of coaxing an answer out of one of us kids as we tooled along in our wood-sided station wagon. But before we could utter a word, his glee could not be contained. "All of them!" he blurted as he threw back his head and laughed at his own wit.

Now I stand in front of my father's grave, a polished granite slab where "Only a sinner saved by grace" is etched. Usually I cry when I visit. But on this run though my hometown, I delight in the memory of Dad's cemetery joke told way more than once. But, that was then. This is now. I clean off some bird poo from the top of the stone, softly utter "I love you," and continue along quiet village streets.

The boroughs of Sellersville and Perkasie, PA are connected by a meandering path along the Lake Lenape creek. I run the familiar ground, crossing concrete dams and wooden bridges, passing ball fields and a turtle family of six sunning themselves on a rock.

Up a steep, rutted, and rooty trail, my steps take me to the fence of Menlo pool, my location of choice during childhood summer months. The pool I knew was large and deep, with one and three meter spring boards and a blue fiberglass slide standing tall along one edge.

Now, a new pool filled with crystal clear water awaits the summer crowd. Gone is the high dive. Two low spring broads offer more bounce for the ounce, a large fabric contraption preventing a spinning, out-of-control diver from colliding with the pool's edge. A large tube slide with wide and safe stairs offers more fun. But that's just the competition pool. A gigantic splash park complete with spiraling waterslide and lazy river replaces the small kiddie pool of yesteryear. A late summer membership sale is in progress. That was then. This is now.

I sight-see through "Old Towne." Seltzers store no longer houses the team swimsuits or the required stretch gym suits, striped, one-piece numbers that made us look like a bunch of inmates. Instead, a nail spa. Leshers Five and Dime, with it's squeaky wooden floor boards and two levels of shopping pleasure no longer stands. A fire consumed it and all of its cut-glass butter dishes, mouse traps, and penny-candies. Saturday morning farmer market stands fill the void. That was then. This is now.

Ah. There stands my elementary school on 7th Street. I'm surprised. Though renamed, it looks the same on the outside except for some construction equipment in the parking area where I chased (and caught) all the boys. At the end of one wing, the classroom windows are open. I pop my head into Mr. Hutchison's 6th grade classroom. I spent a year with that wonderful man. Same closets and layout. The sink was being removed and the blackboards have been replaced by whiteboards. It is being renovated. Still, it seemed very familiar--until I ran around the corner. There, a huge two story wing buried our kickball field. That was then. This is now.

The high school. Where did the high school go? Between the "new" school building under construction in 1975 (my graduation year), and the junior high building, now a middle school, "my" high school building has vanished. Gone is the circular choir room and the old gymnasium. Not a single brick of the old school with it's casement windows propped open to allow a cooling breeze remains. A blacktop parking lot reflects only heat waves. That was then. This is now.

It's getting hot and I'm getting tired but there is more to my self-guided tour. I approach Moods covered bridge, built in 1874 to span Perkiomen Creek and destroyed by arson flames in 2004. The replica retains the same form but only northbound traffic can pass under it's heavy wooden beams. I once traveled through the historic span daily in both directions. But, that was then and this is now.

There sits the Dairy Queen, still the only "fast food" in town. The walk-up stand has been there as long as I can remember. "Any mess-ups?" was the common query when we were kids. If you were lucky, the "Dairy Fairies" would make the wrong kind of sundae right before you pedaled up on your 3-speed bike with coaster brakes. Then, it was yours for the taking; free. Nothing is free anymore. That was then. The not-yet-open serving windows is now.

I cut a corner across a parking lot and into a neighborhood. Neither were here back when. Now, instead of acres and acres of woods that my Dad always wished he would have bought, are many homes with now-matured yards. But around the corner I turn, not even recognizing the corner of Hillcrest and South Main. The only home I knew doesn't look so grand anymore. Instead of sitting atop a small hill in the midst of a well-manicured three-acre lot, a new house stands in the place of three giant pine trees in my front yard. The other front corner, full of weeds and mounds of dirt, sits vacant. The builder, who purchased our sub-divided lot, lets a bulldozer rest and rust. The backyard of our house is fenced and the flower beds sad and barren. Only the green painted shutters give a wink to the past. That was then. This is now.

I cannot fling open the back door, savoring the aroma that filled that kitchen. I cannot shoot baskets through a hoop that is no longer bolted to the garage. I cannot climb the weeping willow whose strong branches used to console me. I can only remember the playtimes in that basement, the wild dashes to the school bus, the smell of freshly grass in the summer, and hoping the snow silhouetted against the street light would earn a day off from school in frigid February. I hear laughter and joy and envision my mother, father, brothers and friends within those stucco walls. But, that was then and this is now.

I turn into the retirement community a mile or so away, entering the carpeted, quiet hallways. Up the elevator to the fourth floor and through door 476. It's not the back door; it's the only door. But my Mother is there and it's okay. That was then. This is now.

Thanks for the memories.

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 ...