2014 in Review

Photo courtesy of playbuzz.com

Photo courtesy of playbuzz.com

This is the last day of 2014.  Bring it. I’ve compiled some stats. Not the blog stats, but if you’re interested, you can look here.

In 2014, I read through two Bible devotional plans.  The daily entries had a couple of verses inspiring each lesson. Joyce Meyer did one and Billy Graham did the other. While I enjoyed Ms. Meyer’s practical application, I wish sometimes her examples were more present day.  It was always, “When I first got saved” or “In the early years of our marriage”.  How about last month?  Last year?

Jonathon got a great job with Concordia University working from home.  He’s using his doctorate now. A dream come true!

As for Mr. Graham’s devotional…I liked it.  It primarily focused on the afterlife:  learning to live for Jesus now as we grow into maturity. He emphasized young people a lot.  While I live with young people and I enjoy them, I don’t consider myself one of them.  I would say Mr. Graham’s strength remains in the evangelistic realm.

I ran 466 miles and worked out 290 times. Again, not the best year for me exercise-wise. I *won’t* be running an extra 4 miles to round it up to 470.  Not gonna do it, despite my type A personality. I continued to struggle with pain in my right leg at times, though it’s much improved. I did teach kettlebells class 8 times in 2014. Good deal.

Ruby thrilled to her first sewing lesson yesterday, on her new-used machine. 

This past year, I got back into racing shape.  I ran a 10 k, a 7-miler and a half marathon.  Not too shabby, methinks.

I published a book (see link at upper left of screen).  That, people, took a lot of right-brained activity.  I’m most proud of accomplishing that feat this year. I plan on feeding my weaker creative side more in 2015.

Zac grew his first mustache. Then he promptly shaved it off.

I finished the Mason County Shelter project. True, it took over 2 years, but I got to be on it until the end.  Yeehaw!  Always great to see the finished building and know I had a part in bringing it into existence.

And now, the goals. Drumroll, please.

Somehow, over the last year, probably due to a great influx of bridge mix and other sundry delicious foods, I gained weight.  I’d like to lose 10 lbs. Thank God nobody’s asked me if I’m pregnant.  Yet. I plan on doing a 21-day junk food fast to kick things off, starting tomorrow.  Gulp.  Wish me luck!

I’d like to do a few races.  I’m not as keen on it as I once was, so maybe a couple of halfs and other distances thrown in for variety. I did get a Garmin for Christmas (thanks, Jonathon!) so I know exactly how far I’m going while training on the road…when the satellite can find me.

I want to get back to reading through the Bible in a year. I missed having so much word to digest. I craved it but knew a little break would help me appreciate it more when I waded back into the ocean again.

Thanks so much for reading this year. I’d love to hear from you, how this year went and what your goals are for 2015.  God bless in the coming year!

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Critter Love

dog food

The other day, Ruby had a friend over to play for a few hours.  This friend moved out of the neighborhood at the end of the summer. They’ve been missing each other.

This friend – let’s call her Ada – took great interest in Max, our would-be pet dog. She has several pet dogs at home. As you may recall, Max lurks behind our garden. We fed him a few times over Christmas break. He especially liked the leftover ham bone.

That Saturday, I was reading my book, enjoying peeks of the blue sky out my window, when I heard a lot of tromping up and down the stairs.  Then whispering.  Followed by the back door opening and closing.

“Ruby, what are you doing?” I asked.  I wasn’t sure what those two would get up to, unsupervised.

“Nothing!” she called.

Right.

But I didn’t get up. I got lost in my biography about Queen Isabella.  Did you know she almost married Richard II?  Fascinating stuff.

The back door burst open.

“Guess what we did!” Ada said. “We raised money for critters!”

Both girls have a passion for lost animals, well, animals in general.  The ones with fur especially. They didn’t have any money, so they put their heads together.  They came up with a plan.

“We wrote a song and went door to door singing it.  We called it ‘Save the Critters’. We asked people to give money,” Ada told me.

“They even paid us before we sang!” Ruby added.

I chuckled at that.  I couldn’t persuade them to sing me the song, but I might’ve done the same.

They raised $7 and some change. We walked down to Safeway and picked up three humongous cans of dog food.  They wanted to spend the rest on themselves but I discouraged it.  Have to manage those donated funds responsibly.

Upon our return, the girls opened a can and gave half of it to Max.  He gobbled it up and licked the plate.  Good eats, I reckon. The girls beamed, their faces aglow with joy and satisfaction. They started planning to save their allowances from now on. Serving others, even those of the four-legged variety, feels really good.

A Gentle Day

We had our last Christmas yesterday, over at Dad’s house.  I felt a little icky today.  Probably too much good food.  I’ve spent the day goofing off with the kids, doing laundry and food shopping, and finally snuck out for a walk in the cold, sunshiny day. Yes, I wanted to run or something.  But no energy. I did what I could.

I walked Ruby’s two library books back to their home. I breathed in the deep freeze. The icy air made everything stand out in bold relief against the brilliant blue. From a hidden cedar tree perch, a single bird chirped a cheery greeting.  Then it stopped.  Too cold, I guess.

I’ve struggled with wanting to have more oomph today and get more done. But some days simply won’t be budged, no matter how hard you try. You work in their timetable, on their sometimes plodding schedule, and find contentment in it. You relax into the rhythm of the now. In a way, it’s like raising children. At times they want to play with other kids and other times they want to dream and create on their own. Trying to force them to be a different personality won’t work.

We’re ramping back down from all the Christmas festivities, putting away special china and reclaiming the house. We’re each finding our own speeds and chatting as our paths cross. I’m choosing to be gentle with myself and others today.

This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.Psalm 118:24

Christmas Eve Composite

christmas candle with hollyFirst, our church didn’t have a Christmas Eve service scheduled. However, on Christmas Eve, I attended two services.  Yes, I am that spiritual.  Kidding.  The first was a 3:00 service at my mom’s Episcopal church. I’d never been inside before.  The sanctuary’s woodwork glowed golden in the rare afternoon sunshine.  Greenery scalloped the walls and altar.  The small nave could seat about 100, firmly packed.

I grew up Episcopalian, so most of the liturgy felt familiar.  Unlike my childhood church, they were a friendly, casual group. We sang several Christmas carols too quickly but thoroughly.  We either stood or sat for the reading and responses instead of my childhood memory of stand-sit-kneel. Our Father, who is in heaven…I took communion with real white wine and a small square strip of wood paneling which passed as the host. We did kneel for communion.  And we sang “Silent Night” as we held our lit candles.  Very nice.

What struck me about the 3:00 service had to do with Joe, the rector.  Father Joe gave a short homily about giving.  He said they have many needy people who come to the church seeking help.  He said, “We give them help.  Then…they come back.  They say, ‘It wasn’t enough.’ Or ‘it wasn’t the right help.’ So we give, and give, and give some more.” He talked of his struggle with cynicism, which he believes is now pervasive in our culture.  It’s hard to keep on serving with no appreciation. Indeed.

Then he got to the gist of his message:  “And this is the point.  In order to do you what Jesus asks, we have to *let* the coming of Jesus change us.  It’s up to us.  We have to let it happen.” He talked of submission to the Lord when he himself felt all out of love. He quoted G.K. Chesterton: “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” Father Joe emphasized that we’re all on this road together, blown away by the beauty of a penniless newborn king.

The second service took place at 6:00 at the Assembly of God church.  We looked forward to this annual event with our pastor friends. They put up some pretty red and gold decorations and had a lighted Christmas tree on stage as well.  It’s a mellow service, with worshipful music and good preaching.

Pastor read passages of the Christmas story out of Luke 2.  He pointed out that sometimes things don’t go the way we’d like them to.  Mary, he’s sure, didn’t plan to be pregnant before she got married.  Joseph didn’t plan to raise God’s son. To keep on anyway, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other, takes courage and trust.

The second thing he said hit me hard. I’ll paraphrase it here.

“Angels appeared to the shepherds.  The shepherds, you might have heard, occupied the bottom of the social strata.  They had no illusions of grandeur.  They were humble.  The angels announced Jesus’ birth to them because they could receive it. They had no agenda, nothing to prove. Their ears were open because of their humility.”

I’d never thought of it that way.  I always considered the message inclusive, from lowly shepherds to the wise men who served kings.  I still believe that.  But Proverbs 3:34 says The LORD mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble. Pastor encouraged us to examine ourselves to see if our attitudes lined up with humility.

Both of these pastors had a similar thrust:  submission to Jesus, despite all circumstances, is the essence of following the Lord. At times it costs us. We lose face. We buck sometimes, frustrated, under the Lord’s yoke.  We run out of patience with the foibles of those we’re trying to help. We fall down in our human weakness, and get back up again. We won’t be perfect – ever. Yet in the end, God will lift us up. Thanks for the reminder, pastors.

Firmly Packed

brown sugarAs I worked on the last batch of cookies today, I had a thought.  I pretty much have the basic cookie recipe memorized:  1-2 cups of flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup butter, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 cup of white sugar, 1 cup of brown sugar. Then add in the flavorful bits – nuts, chips, raisins, hunks of venison.

The white sugar pours sweetly into the measuring cup, its crystalline granules piling on top of each other.  It sparkles like snow. Not so its evil twin. The brown sugar I have to gather up by the handful, dumping it into the cup.  The same thing always happens, whether it’s dark or light brown sugar. The stuff gets under my nails and all over my hands.  Great for exfoliation but icky for doing anything else.

When directed to use brown sugar, it always specifies “firmly packed”.  Okay.  Does anyone ever loosely pack it?  It makes me think of going on a trip.  “Honey, I’m firmly packed.  Finally! Oh wait.  Socks.  I’ll need those.”

As I pressed the sugar into the container firmly but without prejudice, I thought about how our lives sometimes seem packed.  This yuletide season, we have parties, concerts, performances, services and gatherings.  Forget about shopping, cooking, baking and cleaning. I haven’t even started wrapping presents yet.  My life feels packed to the max right now.

Frankly, I have a love-hate relationship with this time of year. I love all the beauty of the Christmas story, the holy times built into the days. I enjoy the bright lights and good cheer.  But I struggle with feeling overwhelmed, drowning in meeting all the markers of the festive season. Sometimes even staying festive is a challenge. As sweet as all these holiday activities are, I have to remember to build in some space.  Times shared with friends and coffee.  Running. Just breathing in God’s presence and remembering to be thankful all help me stay moored to the reason we celebrate. This is where the rhythm of a routine keeps me level.

Just one more day before Christmas and the birth of the holy child.  I’m going to keep loose and let Him fill in my empty spaces.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

Present Day

I ran outside this morning.  The thought of trekking up to the treadmill…well, it made me so very sad.  I couldn’t do it. Not for love or money, not that anyone offered either.

I put it off as long as I could.  You see, we’re under another coastal flood watch.  But you should know we get a ton of these a week on our smartphones, sometimes several a day. They have lost the ability to cause me dread, kinda like the boy who cried wolf. They’ve become routine. We don’t live right close to the ocean or the bay, or even a fresh body of water.  Our house abuts a hillside and  all the rain runs down and out of our yard. The thought of running in a downpour didn’t appeal to me.

So I did dishes.  I vacuumed.  I puttered around.  Finally, I cobbled together some motivation.  I haven’t been sleeping well and I didn’t have high hopes for this run because of that.  I put on my jacket, baseball cap and shoved the earphones in my ears.  No more excuses, now, I told myself.

And…the rain had stopped.  I walked down our little street, buoyed by its cessation. The air smelled fresh. Birds chirped. It felt like an early Christmas present.  Sure, the sky glowered and the early morning/twilight atmosphere continued.  But as I glided into my pace, it didn’t feel like work.

“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”Bill Keane

I always wondered if Ugway from “Kung Fu Panda” came up with that saying.  Nope. Bill Keane draws the “Family Circus” cartoon. He said it first. Perhaps you’ve seen the strip?
BillyIt felt like, just for a moment, that God had given me the gift of a stress-relieving run on a dryish day. I pounded along, dodging puddles and smiling.  Also, good news:  I *did* see a dog. Yes, I know, we’re having a very mild winter here and rainbreaks happen for a number of meteorological reasons (read: above my pay grade).  Yet it lifted up my heart. Thanks for the reminder, Lord. I will make the most of this day. It is a gift, rain or shine.