Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stealin' and Four-Wheelin'

I am not a risk taker.

And so, every year I turn down the opportunity to go four-wheeling in the woods surrounding my college roommate's central Pennsylvania cabin.  My husband usually goes out and I did go with him once.  I didn't dare drive.  I rode behind hugging him tight and clamoring through clenched teeth, "I don't like it.  I don't like it."

But this year, I was motivated to go again by jealousy and a beautiful day.  See, I completely trust my husband and while he is far from an experienced four-wheeler, I didn't hesitate to let him take our daughter out for a little ride. When they returned they excitedly showed me the view from the top of the hill behind the house and I knew I wanted to see it, too.

The view I just had to see for myself.
And so I went.  Camera strapped tight to my back and helmet strapped tight to my head, the hubs and I made our way through the trees that glowed golden in the fresh autumn air.  At the top, we stopped to take pictures and relax a bit, finally on vacation from our kids and our cares.  

City girl four-wheelin' in the country.
Enthused by reaching the summit and comfortable with our girls safe at the cabin with our friends, I actually asked for more.  We headed off back down the mountain and found a large corn field to explore.  After awhile we stopped again to get artsy fartsy with our camera because that's what you're supposed to do when you go four-wheeling, right?

Artsy fartsy feed corn.
And then, before I really even knew it, I plucked this and another ear of corn as a souvenir.  We don't grow much corn in Baltimore and I ignorantly believed taking two ears of feed corn was akin to picking two dandelions out of the cracks of someone's driveway.

It is not.

Within seconds of hopping back on the four-wheeler, a red sedan screeched off the road and approached us on the trail.

"Who are you?" the woman demanded as she emerged from her car.

"Uh, uh," my husband stammered, "We are friends of the..."

"Kellers!" I offered, remembering my friend's parent's name first.  I pointed back in what I thought was the general direction of the cabin.

"Eh heh." The woman grunted.  "I see.  I also see you have helped yourself to some corn.  Eh."

I clutched the ears, a bit buttered with guilt.

Chivalry is not dead and my husband came to my defense.  "Oh.  Well, we just thought they would be nice for decorating."

We did?

"Heh.  Fine."  Flashing us one more threatening hairy eyeball, she left.

It is unclear where she came from, but she certainly ended our fun.  And I am not sure whether she taught me to take even fewer risks or to take a few more.  But I do know that our door looks smashing this season.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Community and My First 5K

It was a beautiful morning to run.  The air was crisp and cool.  My ankles felt strong.  I had on my new Ravens t-shirt.  And best of all, I was surrounded by friends.  Friends who, like me, were eager to get moving and excited to be able to follow through on what we had been pledged to do: run 3.1 miles in order to raise money for a family seeking asylum in the United States.

The family was there to cheer us on.  Our families were there, too.  Some of us had been running for years and others, like me, had just started.  But we all felt confident we would finish strong and we all did.
Everyone crossed the finish line in under 30 minutes.

I loved running in a group.  The motivation and morale can not be beat.  Yes, time alone is therapeutic and not to be denied, but I know I ran my best today.  We chatted about the route and compared gaits.  We waved to the cars that let our little posse pass and decided it was because we looked so official in our donated numbers.  We encouraged each other on the hills and sprinted side by side when the end was near.

The run was fun.

The run was successful.

The run raised nearly $2000 and will provide an amazing, faithful family the relief they need as they wait through a lengthy process.  A process during which they can not work.  This family fled their homeland out of fear and basically with only what was on their backs.  The least we could do was run a few blocks and raise a few bucks.

And how did we do it?  By combining our skills and resources.  By tapping our networks.  By fully embracing community at its best.  A community of which I am so proud to be a part.

Me and my parents who have always taught me both to give back and to stay fit.

The six runners who ran for relief.  Thanks for a fabulous first 5K.  Let's do it again sometime!
I also want to thank all of those who donated and coordinated behind the scenes.
After all, not everyone was "born to run."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Running the Run for Relief

In high school, volleyball practice always began with 25 laps around the court.  Slapping the shellacked wood floor like lemmings, we ran in constant circles.  While I played volleyball with true dedication for four years, I routinely fudged my run count.  Yeah, I did most of it, but I never ran it all.

In college, I enjoyed working out in the campus gym.  I continued my strength training from my team sports days and often utilized the stationary bikes.  I never ran.  I never even used the elliptical machines.  Running like a dinosaur is still running.  In fact, I think besides the occasional dash to class, I did not run for any length of time after the required mile during freshman year fitness and wellness class.

But, for some reason, I laced up my nine-year-old New Balance sneakers and took off around my neighborhood early on Labor Day.  And I really liked it.  (Don't fret, I have since purchased new shoes and may even require different ones.)

For weeks, I would wake before my alarm.  I would skip down my front steps in anticipation and don my headphones.  And then I would breathe in the luxury of my run.  I could hardly believe it myself.

But, the honeymoon ended.  Both of my ankles started to ache.  More and more mornings had to be sacrificed for early meetings and rest for my feet.  No huge loss.  I probably took things a bit fast in the beginning and am paying for that now.  I still enjoy running and will continue to do so.

The problem lies in the fact that, during my enthusiastic "early days" (six loooooong weeks ago) I agreed to run a 5K to raise money for a family near and dear to our church.  This 5K is eight even shorter days away. And I still have never run 2.5 miles let alone 3.1.


After we return from our weekend in the woods where the hills are too treacherous for me, I will do my best to prepare.  After nearly 10 days off, I am eager to get back out there and pound the pavement.  I feel healthy.  I feel motivated.  People have paid for me to run this thing and that means a lot to me.  My hope is to raise even a little bit more.  My goal is to run the entire way.

Wait.  The Run for Relief has nothing to do with me, in the end.  True ministry should only be about the people you are serving, right?  Well, God has a groovy way of using ministry to serve everyone involved.   I have seen that firsthand on several missions trips and service projects.  Really, God will reach you.  Even if you do not have the true heart of a servant.  Even if you have selfish ambition.  I know physically, mentally and spiritually preparing for this run has changed me.  Even when I have made it about me.

But most importantly, I know the run will help the family we care about, even if in just a small way.

Thanks be to God (not me.)    

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perserverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith."  Hebrews 12:1-2a


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Just Another Rainy Thursday

It rained ALL DAY.  In fact, it is still raining.  Thankfully, I thought to schlep out in the middle of the day to retrieve firewood and let it dry out.  As I write this, my fingers and toes are toasty from our first of many fires this season.

The rain made the morning a bit mundane.  Neither the kids nor I were feeling all that energetic or creative. They had some success playing games together.  I tried to get a few things done around the house.  My blatant disregard for my children during these brief intervals caused them to immediately crank and fuss and, all of a sudden, no game was good enough.  I put on Diego.

The rain rewarded us in the afternoon with extended quiet time.  I got my work done.  I read my book.  I listened to the sound of the rain against the window and then realized that was all I could hear.  My oldest rarely actually sleeps during nap time anymore and that is just as well.  We all get our breaks even though mine is to the soundtrack of her constant narrative.  But, today she had looked very tired and I was glad she had succumbed.  Our upcoming weekend will be busy as was our previous one.

Just as I dozed off myself, I heard her cry out in alarm, "Mommy!  Mommy!"  I knew she had woken up, confused in a fuzz after midday sleep.  I scaled the steps in that quick way only someone who lives here can, and found her sitting up on her bed.

"It's OK, baby, " I whispered, my other baby still down.  "You fell asleep today.  You feel weird?  Come here, lie back down with Momma."

She quickly obliged and told me she was cold.  I wrapped us both tight and she snuggled deep into my arms, her face to my chest.  Only a few minutes later, she was fast asleep, her cute lips slightly parted, her breath sweet on my skin.  I was in heaven, cradling her little body and stroking her soft, orange hair.

I closed my eyes, but then she shifted abruptly and I knew it would end.  I looked down at her and found her looking up at me in genuine surprise.

"Mommy, why are you in here?" she asked with a smile.  "I didn't know you were here."

I started to explain what had happened, but the longer I spoke the more concerned she looked.  So I paused.

And then, my four-and-a-half-year-old angel, baby doll peed all over herself, the bed, and me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mr. Mel

I first noticed the gold limousine when I stuck my nose out front to judge that morning's weather.  Initially, I thought perhaps Mr. Mel, the older man who lives across the street, had treated himself to a Groupon and was going to be chauffeured all around Baltimore like a king just for kicks.  But soon, unfamiliar figures arrived, lining their cars behind the limo. They emerged dressed in black and greeted each other with quiet handshakes and hugs.

All the same this funeral flock was a lovely sight to watch.  The young, fresh and tidy taking somewhat sophisticated steps into the reality of life.  The old, a bit beaten, but bold, relying on others to steady them to do this yet again.  It was comforting to see Mr. Mel had more than physical shelter from the storms.  

As time passed, I began to wonder for whom they all gathered.  I worried, perhaps, it was Mr. Mel's son who I had seen visiting from time to time.  I considered calling out to even those I did not know, but hesitated.  Shouting, "Hey, who died?" across the yellow lines was probably not proper, after all.

Mr. Mel had yet to be seen, but I knew he was being well cared for, no matter who was gone.  His friends and relatives enveloped him.  Some entered his home from the front while others walked around back. I pictured him sitting inside at a table with a checkered cloth, drinking tea, all of their hands on his somber shoulders.

After our morning routine of coffee and Candyland, my youngest and I prepared to color the sidewalks.  Mr. Mel's door opened just as ours did and I searched for him in the small crowd.  As the mourning wave flowed down the yard it was he who saw me first.  Following his lead, I walked toward him and we met in the middle of the street.  I gave him a big hug and kissed his freckled cheek.

"Mel, what happened?"

"I lost my mother.  She was 102."  His words were calm and proud.

"God bless her," I said looking right into his eyes and then nodded to those looking on.

I suppose we did make an odd looking pair, the two of us, in the middle of the road.  Mr. Mel is a tall, black man, a retired police officer, who smokes a pipe while he waters his lawn.  I like to think of him as a social Boo Radley who watches over my family during the day.

"You know what my mother said?" Mr. Mel egged me on.

"Tell me, what did she say?"

"She said keep looking out for those little girls."

I was stunned.  "No, she didn't," I remarked, unsure how she knew.  Perhaps she had seen my daughters draw chalk, or ride bikes, or smile and wave at Mr. Mel.  But, I didn't remember seeing her.

He smiled.  "She did indeed.  And I will."

After another strong hug, I watched him walk back in his dark gray suit.  As he turned to settle into the car I took note of his bright crisp, white shirt and dapper red bow tie.  A big little boy all dressed up for his momma.  My heart sat sad, yet soared.

They say "good fences, make good neighbors," but I think standing face to face makes better ones.  Mr. Mel's mom, you must have been one special person.  Your son certainly is.    

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