October 29, 2013

A Marathon Story

I could walk 13.1 miles, I thought.

If I could walk twice a week and have one big walk on the weekends, I could do this, I said.

It started off with determination.  With a goal and a purpose and a drive. 

Some dear friends of ours from church are in the process of adopting a baby.  A marathon in our area called the Chosen Marathon helps families raise support and funds that they need for the adoption process.  When I first heard about it, I wanted to be a part of that story.  I wanted to be a part of the marathon, even if I was a walker.

But the early weeks after I made this decision, I seemed to face one obstacle after another.  Todd having to work weekends.  Rainy weather.  And then battling lies and facing a struggle with a kind of intensity that I haven't in quite some time.  The last several weeks especially, I've been almost drowning in my shame.  I had said I was going to do this.  Not only was I not even "training" but I was struggling with my body and with food in ways that I haven't in ages.

Some of my issues came to a head last Wednesday night in a room with a few of my closest girlfriends.  I fell apart and had a mini-meltdown and colorfully voiced my anger over my struggle.  Wondering why I couldn't just figure this out.  And granted, I have made huge steps of progress, but my body has never been reflective of those changes.  I voiced how ashamed I felt of myself - for wanting to be a part of the marathon and dropping out so-to-speak.  Not finishing what I started.  I was convinced I had let down my friend that I pledged to support.  I knew that even if I wanted to, my body was in no shape to walk 13.1 miles and it would be unkind to do that to myself.

Saturday morning came around - the day of the marathon.  I awoke with my friends on my mind, especially those I knew who were running.  My heart ached and I sat there in a pit of shoulda-coulda-woulda's.  Wishing I could go back and give my few months ago self a pep-talk or a kick in the pants.  And then I sat there and cried for another place, another thing, another piece of life to be lived that was stolen from me by the accusing, shame-dealing serpent himself.  I started beating myself up for not being strong enough to conquer my opposition - the thoughts and feelings and lies that came after I decided something as huge as a half-marathon.

But then I decided that enough had been taken from me.  And instead of sitting in my living room all morning wearing a heavy coat of shame, I took it off, threw it outside, and me and my family got ready and headed out to cheer on our friends.  I went to show my face, my support, my love for people who are dear to me.
When we arrived and Laura saw us in the distance, her hands flew up in the air as she was thrilled to see us.  Even though I didn't run, I was there - I was there for her and her husband and her little boy and the little one that God is preparing for them.  And to her, it seemed, that was what mattered most.  Having my heart.

I waited on the sidelines.  I clapped and cheered as I watched strangers cross the finish line - some with tears streaming down their faces.  This marathon especially is an emotional one.  Some are running for the babies they are waiting for.  Some are running for the babies they've welcomed into their home - they finish the race with their little ones hands in theirs as they cross the finish line.  Some are running because they were adopted themselves.  And some, many, are running to support others and to put love in action.  The foot on pavement, sweaty kind of love.

Along with our friends who are adopting, some of our dearest friends had trained for the race.  They are the kind of friends that DO love.  The foot on pavement, sweaty kind of love is their specialty.  As I waited for Nate and Shelly to turn the last corner, I felt myself rising up with emotion.  Tears started streaming down my face when I saw them from a distance, quickly approaching the end.  And I'm not really sure why I was crying.
Maybe it was because I was full of sorrow and regret, wishing that it would be me approaching the finish line too.  That I could have been stronger or more healed or in a place where I could have stuck with my plan.  Maybe it was because I knew how hard Nate and Shelly had worked and I was excited to see them complete the race.  Or maybe it was because something about seeing this marathon - this running with endurance, pressing forward toward the goal thing, like Paul refers to in Philippians, playing out in real life - it got to me.  I knew in those moments that I wanted to be in the race.  I wanted to be pressing on towards the goal, not just sitting on the sidelines. It reminded me of how much of my life was spent living that way in the past and how I don't want that to be how I live now.

I cried for myself, for my struggles, where the enemy seems to have the upper hand.  I cried for the parts that have been healed and carefully touched by God, as this Jennifer didn't stay home.  She showed up.

And then I hugged the necks of our friends who finished.  We treated them to lunch.  We celebrated their feat and sat over a meal looking to our futures with hope about what God might have in store - about our families, our bodies, and the different places we struggle.  We talked about how God must feel as watches us run and waits for us at the finish line.

Tonight, my heart is tender as I think about the stories God is writing.  The little one He is preparing for Laura and her family.  How God is using Nate and Shelly's way of doing love to touch and change lives.  How He is still with me, ever-present in my struggle, even at the times I feel He has left me alone in it.  We all wait, we all run, we all press on.

And this time next year, my hope is to cross that finish-line.

Clear eyes.  Full hearts.  Can't lose.

October 25, 2013

Happy Fall, Happy Home

I love decorating.  Especially for fall and Christmas.  When October arrives, my home is a whole new level of warm and cozy.  There is a certain feeling that comes after you've carefully placed a few decorative pumpkins around your house in lieu of the regular everyday things.

This year, this fall, this October is no exception.

October 23, 2013

Firsts with the Second

 First time to start crawling.  
(October 8, just a little over seven months old!)

 First time to get stuck under the coffee table.

 First adorable dinosaur hoodie.

 First pumpkin patch photo fail.

First black eye.  Self-inflicted, poor thing.
(He thinks he can stand up on his own already.  But his face met the bottom of our end table and told him otherwise.  True to his character though, he keeps on trying and it's all he has wanted to do since he learned how to crawl.  I can guarantee you that this one will be walking well before he turns a year old.)

Also, he thinks baby food is for the dogs.  
He has no teeth but if you give him real food, he packs it away.
 Lots of firsts with our second boy.

October 22, 2013

Pumpkin Patching

Going to the pumpkin patch is supposed to be one of those fun family happenings where you capture your children's smiles in utter fall perfection.  And in the few years now that I've been a mom, I haven't been that fortunate.

Ahem.  See?
The baby is either fussing because they didn't nap on the way out there like you just knew they would.  Or the boy won't smile because the sun is shining too brightly in his eyes.  Or it's raining.  Or it's 97 degrees.  All things that can potentially damper a fun pumpkiny outing.

Nevertheless, you go.  You stand in line and walk around with other parents and their kiddoes because it's fall.  You go because you want your kids to remember how you always did the same things every year.  Because you are building traditions and making memories and enjoying the little family you've built through the years.

For once, an October in South Texas actually feels like fall.  This past weekend, the boys had to wear long sleeves and everything.

We attempted pictures.

 Tommy rode a pony for the first time and had this whole one-handed John Wayne swagger going on.  
 He was quite proud of himself.  I think we all were though.
 We went on a short hayride where I was almost sure we were going to plummet to our deaths into a drainage ditch.  But we didn't.....so it all worked out.
We bought pumpkins.  We enjoyed October's sunshine.  And we made memories - even with un-napped babies and that one perfect pumpkin patch picture that still to this day eludes me.  But we were together as a family.

And even without the perfect picture to prove it - it really was quite perfect.

October 15, 2013

Gramma's Sweet Rice

Growing up, I would spend long winter-break days at my Gramma's house.  And like any days spent with a Grandparent, I can only assume, the treats and goodies were the very best part of the stay. Gramma would cook up warm fixin's like chicken and dumplings from scratch or hot spaghetti topped with fresh cheddar cheese.  Sometimes it was just a simple salami sandwich on white bread with a steaming bowl of soup.  I can still remember the lazy-susan on her dining room table where she would place that day's lunch and we could spin it around and help ourselves.

One thing was sure to be found on that table during the coldest of days though.  The treat of treats.

Sweet rice.  

From what I know, it's a lot like rice pudding.  But I like to think it's an exclusive recipe that my Great-Gramma invented and no one else knows about it's secret custard-like goodness.  I have to be the only one in the universe with such knowledge and culinary secrets to such a thing as sweet rice.

And I'm not sure why I didn't think of this ten years ago, but I decided it was about time I learned how to make this amazing dish.  And as a treat for my humble handful of readers, it's about to not be a secret, because I'm going to share how to make it.

First - you need an amazing lady with you.  Sweet rice is meant to be shared.

Hence - my jolly Gramma.  Oh, do I love her.
Ingredients to have on hand:

1 Cup rice
2 Cups of water
1 Cup of sugar
1 Stick of butter
1 1/2 to 2 cups of milk
Cinnamon and sugar to top

"Now, don't be in a hurry when you make this.  It's slow and it takes some time." Gramma says.

I suppose the sweetest things do take time.  And I can always use the reminder to not be in a hurry.
The rice and water need to cook on medium heat.  Once the rice has absorbed about half of the water you add the butter and then the milk.

I asked Gramma if she had ever used cream or half and half instead of milk.  Her eyes got wide and mischievous and she says, "Oh no.  Don't use cream.  That's just going overboard - use milk."

She pauses.

"Unless you're really wanting something rich - then of course, use cream!" She laughs.

So apparently, cream or half and half can be substituted for plain ol' milk.  But only for a special occasion or if you're feeling especially mischievous.
The milk and butter will start cooking up in the pot.  "Cockeye the lid," she says.  "So you can keep on eye on what it's doing." 

Once it starts boiling up (again, still on medium heat), you'll want to turn the heat to low, and cover the pot with the whole lid on this time.  I don't remember for how long as it felt like an eternity waiting for this stuff to be ready for consumption.

Once the rice is tender and you have a creamy, soupy looking consistency in your pot, it's ready to pour into a bowl.  She recommends pouring into a glass bowl that comes with a lid - like Corningware.  Top with a generous coating of sugar, then cinnamon and cover with the lid.  It needs to sit for a good 20 - 30 minutes for the flavor to lock in and the custard to set some. (Note:  less milk makes a for a thicker, more custard like consistency.  More milk makes for a soupier consistency, which is my personal preference as I used two full cups of milk for my recipe).
Gramma recommends serving it in a coffee mug.  As long as I can remember, we've eaten sweet rice out of coffee mugs and I finally asked her why.

"Well, it's got a handle on it so you can take it with you wherever you need to go." 

Makes perfect sense.  Because one might need to travel with a mug of sweet rice. 

"You don't need a fancy bowl," she says.  I mean, of course. Who needs fancy bowls anyway?

Seriously.  It tastes better in a mug though.  Especially on a cold, blistery winter's day.  Trust me.
Friday afternoon, as I stood over a bubbling pot in my kitchen, Gramma sat close by guiding my moves and giving me her careful instructions and family secrets to her legendary sweet rice.  It was one of those times where you know you're making memories - the kind you will look back on in ten or twenty years and remember what a good day that was.  How precious that your very own Grandmother was stirring with your wooden spoon and giving you tips about how you should "never wash your rice."  Those are the times I don't want to forget.  It's why I took pictures of every moment.  It's why I wrote down what she said.  Why I soaked in her presence, her laughter, and noticed her gentleness and ease in the kitchen. 

What a blessed woman I am to have her.  For her legacy and traditions and memories to live on through me and my family. Maybe someday it will be me in the kitchen with my granddaughter teaching them how to make sweet rice. 

I'll be the one telling her to cockeye the lid.  And maybe we'll even use cream.

Gramma's Sweet Rice

1 cup rice
2 cups water
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 - 2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
Cinnoman and sugar topping

Cook rice and water on medium heat until rice has absorbed about half of the water.  Add milk and sugar and let cook up, partially covered.  Once bubbling, turn to low heat, cover completely with lid.  Once rice is completely tender, pour into bowl.  Rice may be soupy.  Coat rice with cinnamon and sugar mixture.  Cover with lid and let stand for about 20 minutes.

Serve in a mug and eat with you Grandmother.  That's when it tastes the very best.

October 14, 2013

"We'll never be too old for this"

There are a few tests of true friendship.

#1 - You can always, always pick up right where you left off.  Whether it's been a week, five months, or nine years, it's as if time never passed or changed you.  You still fit together even if you have grown up.

#2 - You can be yourself.  Even if that means having them in your presence wearing pajamas.  Or seeing your ugly cries.  Or farting.  Yes - I just said that. 

#3 - You can say the real things.  The honest, true, hard things that you don't really want to acknowledge.  But if your friend says them, you stay and listen because you know the other person loves you, they get you. And if they didn't really love you - they'd stay silent. And even though it's hard to have that mirror put up in front of you sometimes, they deliver those truths and messages to you with love, not with judgement. 

#4 - They do things.  They show up at your house when you're nine months pregnant and put your clothes in the wash.  They text you just to ask you how that thing went because they remembered.  They drop what they're doing to come over and cry with you because it was the suckiest day ever.  They help you shop around for random pieces to put together a Halloween costume for your baby.

#5 - You have the BEST time ever when you're with them.

Those things would definitely apply to my sister-in-law/BFF/"soul-seester."  Our time together is few and far-between these days, but when she's in town and we have a few moments together, it's like it always was.

In Target yesterday afternoon, we busted out our cameras to take silly pictures of our findings.  A long-time tradition between she and I ever since we've been friends.

Now, in our thirties, we still do the same things.  After trying on giant styrafoam-wigs I asked her if we were getting too old to do this.  Be silly in public.  Take pictures and create shenanigans in unsuspecting places like Target and Hobby Lobby.

She replied, "We will never be too old for this.  When we're 80, we will so still be doing this." 
And you know what?
I really think that we will.

October 13, 2013

Whirlwind Week

The week behind me came and went in a whirlwind.  Which is interesting, because I'm working less hours again and one would think that would make life slow down a bit.  But, no.

Monday, we celebrated Todd's birthday.  The day before he was surprised by friends with cake and ice-cream before we had our small group.  He got a special watch from me and his folks.  We ate Italian food.  (Kid-free too - bonus!)  And we learned that bowling alleys are open only to leagues during the week until after 9pm which was a huge birthday date-night bummer.
Tuesday I got into my car to head home and the battery was dead.  That was awesome.

I came home to my seven month old baby who has learned to crawl on his hands and knees and everything.  And to boot, he's pulling up on things at the same time.  We.  Are.  In.  Trouble.

That same night doing a week-night load of laundry, I discovered that our washing machine was dying when I found a flood of water on the laundry room floor and a front loader that was literally trying to eat Jacob's clothes.  That meant a fun late night mopping extravaganza and Todd running soaked clothes to his parents house to wash. 

Wednesday my car was revived.  Hallelujah.  And the washing machine parts were almost as much as a new washer, so we opted to get a new one.  I've noted that we've entered the phase of life and marriage where things are starting to wear out and break and are in need of replacement.  And why can't appliances be more durable?

Thursday, my dearest friend Sarah gave birth to her precious baby girl, Anna Kate.  8 pounds 10 ounces of beautiful and gorgeous, dark hair.  I am forever thrilled that I have someone to buy girl clothes for.
I spent the day with my Gramma on Friday.  Saturday I attempted to clean.  And today, the rain washed out our pumpkin patch family picture plans and resulted in a few shots on our front porch - not exactly what I was hoping for.

I'd like to hope for a slower-paced week, but those never seem to come.  I'm starting to think maybe it's me that simply needs to adjust to this pace of life instead of trying to figure out how to slow it down.  I can't keep my seven month old from crawling or my other boy from growing out of newly bought clothes.  Or weeks from flying by in a flurry of work and meal-making and story-reading.

I can't slow down time.  I can only make the most of it.

October 4, 2013

When all is right in your world

For as long as I can remember, anytime I find myself experiencing a purely wonderful moment, I try to memorize it - the sounds, the colors, the feelings.  As if I'm trying to stop time, wanting to make sure I can come back to it.  Because as most moments go, they disappear and move on to the next.

As a girl, during laughter-filled times with my family on holidays or birthdays or random gatherings where my dad made fajitas on a cool spring day, windows open and his music playing on the stereo - those were the moments I felt something you can't quite name.

It's a mixture of joy, contentment, security and peace.  Where all feels right in your little tiny world.

As a child, you know enough by this time to be aware of the fact that life doesn't always feel like that.  It doesn't always feel right.  Many, many things feel wrong or sad or hard, or so it was with my childhood.  And when the moments came that the skies parted blue and perfect and the sun would shine down on you, your family, your little world, you would notice and breathe it in and feel it deeply.

Many years later, I find myself doing the same thing.  Noticing and feeling deeply those moments where life can't get much better than this.

It can't get much better than sharing a meal with your family around the dinner table.  Where the baby defiantly refuses rice and sweet potatoes and instead makes you laugh with his growls and chatter.  Where your big silly boy plays with his corn and tells goofy jokes.  Where you and your husband exchange these knowing glances of, "How wonderful is this?  Our life, our family, these potatoes, you, us....all of this that we do together." 
Just like my little eight year old self, dancing around my living room reveling all that was right in my world in these perfect, fleeting moments, I still do the same thing. I let myself enjoy the moments - the sweet, quiet ordinary Thursday nights.  When we all have full tummies, a home to call ours, a family that we've built together - one that loves and plays and enjoys.

And maybe not all is right in the whole, big world, but all feels right in my very own.

October 1, 2013

The first of October

On this first day of October, the government shut-down and Obamacare threw up all over my Facebook newsfeed.  Impending stock market crash predictions, the affect the shutdown will have on our gas and groceries, how "evil" Obamacare is for us, and the general impending doom of America - you get the gist.  There seems to be so much venom, hate, and overly opiniony opinions.  Not exactly how I would hope an October would be ushered in. Not the month-o-pumpkins and scarf wearing and general "fall is here"merry-making.

I've always had a hard time knowing where to land in these places.  I don't want to get caught up in the debates and arguments - it seems futile to me.  I think there is a difference for standing up for what is right and being argumentative and self-righteous.  While I understand that everyone has things to say and has feelings about our leaders and their decisions, it's how people talk, especially to each other, that turns my stomach.  Especially - ESPECIALLY - people who say that they are Christians.  Often times they seem to have the ugliest things to say in the ugliest ways and I can't help but wonder what Jesus' voice might sound like amidst all of this chaos and confusion and drama.   I'm not really sure, but I can guarantee it wouldn't be ugly. 

So I go quiet.  Unsure of what to say or do.  What I want my voice to sound like in all of this.  And I'm left feeling silenced.

I did what I could for today.  Tried to get informed, do some research.  Read different things from different points of view.  I highly recommend that for anyone and everyone.  Get to know the facts, do some research.  And if you still have something to say - can we say it with kindness and respect?  *sigh*

I also turned Christmas music on my Pandora station at work today - because it's October and regardless of shut-downs or whatever bad news there is, Christmas music in my world always begins in October.  It's tradition.

I came home to my boys, one of whom had a lesson tonight about obedience. How it's important to obey mommy and daddy because sometimes what we are instructing is for protection and to keep you out of harm's way. This lesson has sat heavy with my mama's heart tonight.  I have questions for God and my own areas of obedience and an accident that caused glass to shatter all over the floor, has disrupted my heart in more ways than one.

I got some exercise.  Regardless of the up and down scale and the discouragement and all the efforts that feel wasted sometimes, I took care of my body.

I turned off Facebook and quit reading the news and the opinions and the forecasts.

So for now, at the end of this first day of October, I'm feeling quiet and restful.  Trusting that God has this - He has me, He has us, that nothing that happens in our world doesn't happen without His eye on it, without some greater purpose or plan. 

I'm looking forward to the cozy, quiet a south Texas autumn brings.  I'm looking forward to trying out some new soups in my crockpot this season.  Planning our annual pumpkin-carving party, doing some reading.  And enjoying how I'll be working less hours and having more time for my family, more time for me. 

I hope you all find some peace, rest and kindness this first of October's night.