Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shiner Half Marathon!

Reasons to Race:

1.  Racing gives you a goal- something to aim for.

2.  Racing encourages you to train consistently.

3.  Racing helps you see what kind of progress you're making in training.

4.  You already paid for the race.

Reasons I Ran This Race:

1.  Racing gives me a goal- something to aim for.

2.  Racing encourages me to train consistently.

3.  Racing helps me see what kind of progress I'm making in training.

4.  I had already paid for the race.

Yep, I signed up for the Shiner Half Marathon this summer when triathlon training was going well, and I couldn't wait to see how that would translate into my half marathon time.  Then, I started working full time and, though I tried to stay active, my "training" was more like a few little runs a week.

I considered bailing, but I had already PAID FOR IT.  I just couldn't waste the money.  So, for four weeks before the race, I ran pretty consistently.  Yes, an entire four weeks.  And during that time, I even skipped one of the long runs.  Not exactly a stellar training plan, but Coach Mark gave me a little guidance, and he was pretty confident that I'd survive, so I decided to trust his judgment and charge ahead.

The little town of Shiner, Texas, is known for its scenic hills, picturesque downtown, and famous half marathon.  And maybe beer.  This race is capped at the population of Shiner- something like 2046 this year- and it sells out REALLY quickly.  (Another reason not to let the opportunity to run pass me by even though I was unprepared for it!) The smaller group appealed to me.  The huge crowd at my first half marathon made for a tough and unpleasant race for me.  Fewer racers sounded good!

I had very little time to prepare for the race.  I didn't even manage to leave work on time the evening before!  But I had a babysitter lined up, I picked up some Clif Gels, and called myself ready.  Saturday morning, the two hour drive went by quickly and I felt happy and relaxed.  I figured that I couldn't really be disappointed with my performance.  After all, I knew I was out of shape, so I had no expectations.

The sun came up when I was just a little bit away from Shiner, and I tried to judge the terrain and the weather.  It definitely looked like rain.  Or maybe not.  But maybe so.  And was that a hill?  No, it's not that hilly.  Wait.  Yes, it's definitely going to be hilly.

I had already been warned about the hills.  Shiner is a hilly race.  I knew I hadn't physically prepared myself for hills.  I did precisely zero hill repeats, unless you count the endless flights of stairs I climb at work.  So I told myself that hills were part physical, but a lot more mental.  I planned to be as mentally tough as I could be and hope that would be enough keep me from walking.  And I wasn't going to worry about the rain or the 100% humidity.

As it turns out, the rain should have been the least of my concerns.

Guys, the wind!!!  I haven't ever run in wind like that.  At least not uphill, and not for that long.  But I turned up my music, leaned into it, and kept going.

For the first two miles, I ignored everyone and everything, passed as many people as I could, and tried to find a group running around my pace.  I did seem to manage that, and although I didn't stay with the exact same group by any means, I did stay surrounded by steady runners, and that helped me in my "Don't Walk!" goal.

I'm to the right of the picture.  Messing with my phone.  
Great way to start.


After two miles, I felt focused enough to start looking around and enjoying the course and the other runners.  And the backs of the other runners' shirts especially.  "If you can read this, you didn't train either." "Don't let this 56 year old open-heart surgery survivor beat you."  Mine said, "Are my kids still chasing me?"

Random people running. 
I am apparently really good at avoiding race photographers.

Around mile six, a guy running next to me said, "We have been climbing for six straight miles."  And we pretty much had.  Just a gradual, unrelenting uphill with a couple of actual hills thrown in.  I thought I had heard that it started to gradually descend around the halfway point, and I told him so.   But right about this point, we started climbing a real, actual, serious hill.

And the wind!  It was a solid headwind.  About halfway up, I started to feel like Frodo and his Fellowship buddies, trying to head up Mt. Caradhras with the mountain fighting them every step of the way.  (#geekreference) All the forces of nature were telling us, "Go back!!!  Go back!!!"  Someone later said it felt like running on a treadmill.  But I kept running- not fast, but still not walking.

"Just think!" I told myself.  "This means the entire way back will be downhill with tailwind!"

Except that it wasn't an out and back.  It curved around and the headwind turned into a crosswind.  And that was tough too!  Some of the gusts caused the whole group to take a few steps sideways.

At the seven mile point, I could see the gradual descent beginning, and I pointed that out to the "We're still climbing" guy.  And it was...gravel!  A mile and a half of gravel.  Climbing guy dropped back, but, thanks to my many Cibolo Nature Trail runs, I passed about a dozen runners on that stretch.

Around mile 10, I did a caffeinated gel to help me get through the last three miles.  I was amazed at how great I still felt.  I knew I was working hard- my heart rate certainly told me that.  The hills and the wind were taking everything I had, but I WAS DOING IT!  The scenery was great- fields and hill country- and that made me glad to be out there running, plus the people running around me seemed happy to be there too.

At mile 11, the biggest difference from Shiner and Rock n' Roll became apparent.  At this point at RnR, the course goes through what might as well be the armpit of San Antonio- industrial buildings and parking lots.  But the Shiner course went through a gorgeous park with wide paved paths, and the sun (which had finally decided to come out) sparkling on the river.  It was the kind of place any runner would want to be on a Saturday morning.

And then there was this crazy steep hill at mile 12.  Truly.  Everyone started hiking up it, but at this point, I was so determined to tell Nathan (a true runner) that I hadn't walked, that I forced myself to run up it.

Then it was time to create a completely irrelevant mini race with an unsuspecting runner.  A lady in a blue shirt had been switching places with me for awhile, so I decided she needed to be vanquished.  Yep.  That's what happens at the end of a race.

And I beat her!  Woo hoo!  Success.  Petty?  Yes.  Effective?  Also yes.  Did she have any idea what was happening?  Nope.  Someone else probably defeated me.  (Neon Orange Dude at mile 13.05- I'm looking at you.)

At the finish line!  With hat in hand.  It blew off and nearly took out a runner behind me,
 so I carried it the rest of the way.

I finished in 2 hours and 10 minutes!  Because of my sporadic training, I was very surprised, especially given the wind and hills.  (This was, ironically, my goal time for Rock n Roll a year ago.  That was a far easier course with absolutely no weather issues, but I was mentally unprepared and therefore spent a lot of time walking.)  That put me 28th out of 112 in my age group.  Better than mid-pack!

Two seconds after finishing.  Selfie time!

I stuck around for about an hour of the after party- the best by far of any of my races.  Must have been the live music.  All in all, this race was the BEST I have done so far.  Well-organized and happy.  Everyone was happy.  And I am SO glad that I went ahead and raced it.


When I got home, the kids patiently listened to my race report, and then Austin took some time to admire my medal.  He does not understand the concept of finisher medals.  "You winned?" "I finished!"  "You winned?"  "I finished."  "No, you winned."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Stony Paths


“If God sends us on strong paths,
we are provided strong shoes.”
-Corrie Ten Boom

                I love this quote.  It is a comforting reminder of God’s provision when the times get tough.  But the more I walk the strong and stony paths, the more I think there might be something a little lacking in the metaphor.

                If we are provided strong shoes, then we can walk the strong paths confidently from the beginning.  Our feet are protected, and we march into the future knowing that the Lord is giving us the strength and comfort to carry on.

                At the beginning of any difficult path, though, most of us are beset with doubt, fear, and pain.  We walk, but it hurts.  Then, gradually, with time, we find that it hurts a little less.  The stones seem less sharp, and the obstacles seem less daunting.  If we stop and think about it, though, the path hasn’t gotten easier, we’ve just gotten stronger.

                I don’t think it’s because the Lord has given us strong shoes, I think it’s because our bare feet, once tender and unaccustomed to the roughness, have become Hobbit-like, leathery enough to handle the terrain.  God strengthens us gradually in our circumstances.

                Have you ever noticed that two people can react completely differently to very similar situations?  Or that one person will be overwhelmed by a small inconvenience while another can endure great hardship and keep moving?  I’m convinced that it’s largely a result of the toughening process of life.  To those who haven’t encountered many setbacks in life, something small like, say, car trouble, seems like a disaster of epic proportions.  For someone who is accustomed to difficulty, the car trouble is an annoyance, nothing more.

                Life takes practice, and each trial can, if we view it as a lesson, strengthen us and enable us to conquer great challenges, to walk stony paths with tough feet.

“He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places…
You enlarge my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped.”

-Psalm 18:33,36

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just Laugh

Mom's full time job has shaken up the Bain household a little bit.

That is, of course, a dramatic understatement.  It's been crazy.  Any life change will be accompanied by a period of adjustment.  Birth, death, moving, sickness...any major event will usually put our family into survival mode until we learn to resettle.

But in the past, I've always been at home at least part-time to oversee the transition.  I've spent my days figuring out how to "get things back on track," how to "get things under control."  And for the most part, I've managed to get the household running smoothly again pretty quickly.

Now, there's not much control- just lots of broken things and chaos.

Things do, in spite of all that, seem to be moving along and getting into a routine.  We may be adjusting.  Either that, or I've just dramatically lowered my standards.  If you could see the state of my children's bedrooms, you'd assume the latter.

This evening, we watched Cheaper by the Dozen together, and Steve Martin reminded me of something very important: sometimes you need to just laugh.  After all, it's kind of funny.  It would be funnier if I were in the audience instead of one of the main characters, but it's still funny.

When I drive up after 11 hours away and see one of my children chasing down our dog who is in the process of escaping...again, and then, before I can get out of the car, the neighbor boy comes up to me and says, "Mrs. Bain, I'm terribly sorry, but I kicked the soccer ball and it broke the window" - that's funny.

When Austin, after sleeping way too long at the babysitter's, tries to "sneak" downstairs into the pantry at night, thinking no one can see him because he's covered head to toe by his blanket- that's funny.

When Megan suddenly realizes at 9 PM that she is guilty of parental negligence (she has left her home ec "sugar baby" in a cubby at the gym)- that's funny.  (Though not to her- trust me.)

When I go to haul my sleeping four year old out of bed before 6 to get him to the babysitter's, and I find that he has emptied all of his clothes and shoes that were packed for the day out of his backpack, packed it with toys and fallen asleep with it on his back- that's funny.

So I'm trying, in spite of the exhaustion, to just laugh.  One day, this will all be really funny.  I might as well try to enjoy it now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Circumstantial Contentment

I went to visit my grandmother yesterday.  My Grandmommy is very dear to me, both as a grandmother (and the best cookie baker in the world) and a spiritual mentor.  In the "Share about someone who has influenced you" Sunday school icebreaker, I always have an answer, thanks to Grandmommy. 

A week ago, she broke her hip.  She’s had surgery and she’s moved to rehab and I stopped by after work to see her.

And she was smiling.  She encouraged me.  She wanted to know how all of the kids were doing.  Grandmommy was a ray of sunshine, a joy.

Visiting Grandaddy and Grandmommy
Thanks, Aunt Becky, for the picture!
I was so relieved to see her doing well.  I was happy to see her in high spirits.  But you know what?  I wasn’t surprised.

You see, Grandmommy practices a life of contentment.  Anyone who knows her will tell you that.  She is a contented person.  Contentment isn’t something that comes and goes depending on one’s circumstances.  It’s deeper than that.  Practicing contentment enables people to be content in the midst of their circumstances, in spite of their circumstances.

And we don’t have to pretend that our lives are easy when they’re not.

It is very important to understand that being content does not mean denying reality.  Does Grandmommy’s hip hurt?  Yep.  Is getting up and around difficult?  Absolutely.  Life is challenging, and hardships are… well, hard.  No one wants to fall and break a hip!  We don’t have to act like life is easy and wonderful all the time in order to practice contentment.  It’s not a play; it’s not a mind trick.

I’ve been reading NT Wright’s devotional Reflecting the Glory, and as he shares his thoughts on 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, he points out the contrast between Paul’s outward circumstances- tumults, imprisonments, sleeplessness, labor, sorrows- with his inward serenity- patience, purity, knowledge, kindness, and sincere love.  Paul doesn’t deny the difficulty of his life.  He knows it’s hard, but he doesn’t complain about it.  Instead, he focuses on the inward character the Lord is building, the work the Lord is doing through him.

In our lives, when we encounter suffering, our commitment to contentment is tested.  Are we going to ask the Lord for the strength to persevere despite the hardship?  We don’t have to pass the test.  Suffering doesn’t automatically make us patient.  We have to determine to be content.  We have to look for joy and express gratitude.  Little by little, we will get stronger and we will grow more patient.  We will learn the secret of being content, and so demonstrate our faith to others.

“In all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God;
in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses…
by purity, by knowledge…by kindness,
by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love…
by the power of God…
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
 From 2 Corinthians 6:3-10


Friday, July 17, 2015

Fitness Friday- Tri for Old Glory!

I have to admit, I spent most of our Fourth of July fireworks celebration freaking out about the next day.  I was scheduled to race.  And not just to race, but to race the longest race I have ever done.

Yep, I went Olympic.

Spoiler Alert...I finished.
Thanks, Coach Travis!

 I've done four or five Sprint distance tris in the past, but this year, I really want to do an Olympic distance.  It's a big leap- it's double the distance.  And I was determined.

But nervous, really nervous.

The fact that our Fourth of July festivities meant I would be racing after four (4!) hours of sleep didn't help calm my nerves any.

When I woke up at the unearthly hour of 3:45, I decided that I, first of all, would not think again about how little sleep I had gotten.  Adrenaline would carry me through.  Second, my theme for the day would be, "Race happy."

It's cheesy, I know, but, hey, four hours of sleep!  One should not expect deep philosophical mantras after four hours of sleep.  And there was a reason for the theme.  Racing for me takes more of a mental toll than it does a physical one.  I'm not trying to win, but I still get soooo very nervous!  On the one hand, racing is a lot of fun, but on the other hand, there just seems to be so much riding on one event.  All that training.  All that prep work.  All the hopes for a good day.  I realized that if I focused more on being happy- not comfortable, by any means, but happy- I would do a lot better and give myself a reasonable shot at being the best I could be.

So "Race Happy" it was.  1500 m. swim, 23.5 mile bike, and 10K run- all happy.

As I set up in transition, I made instant Best Friends with several people (no idea of their names- that's how it goes in transition).  The guy next to me- #99- was also doing his first Olympic and he was having similar, "What on earth was I thinking signing up for this?" thoughts.  We assured ourselves that as long as we didn't drown, we'd be fine.

Coach Travis was there with me and several other Paragon Training athletes.  (The rest of the group wisely chose the Sprint option.)  He cautiously recommended a warm up run.  Ummmm, no.  Not today.  I nibbled on my banana and eyed the endless line at the Porta Potties.  So many athletes, so few toilets.

We all herded over to the swim start, and I listened intently to the directions.  Sprinters: 3 orange buoys, then turn around.  Olympics: Orange, orange, orange, green, green, green, then turn.  Okay.  I could do this.  We were told to line up according to swim speed, slower swimmers toward the back.  Another one of my instant best friends- Pink Cap Best Friend- said she swam a 2:30 100 and I said, "Great!  I'll get right behind you."  And at that very instant, I saw Coach Travis descending.  Shoot.  He'd spotted me.  "Get up there and get in the water!  You are not going to stay back here."  So I did.

And into the water I went.  The swim was actually a lot easier than I had imagined, particularly for the first half.  I didn't push it too much, but I tried not to take it too easy.  Orange, orange, orange, then green, (I started trying to do math to figure how many meters I'd covered...didn't work), green, green, and then I swam around the corner and started to head back.  At this point, two things happened: I felt completely disoriented AND I got a cramp in my side.  But I kept going, and I managed to stay on course.  After passing green, green, green again, I saw the orange- I was almost there!  I realized I had quite a bit of juice left, so I set my sights on a group of swimmers ahead of me and caught them and passed them.  Then, I did that once more.  Aaaaannnnddddd... the swim was over!  I didn't drown!  I didn't panic and back stroke!  Coach Travis said it took me 35 minutes.  A tiny bit better than I'd expected.

Orange Cap Best Friend came alongside me and said she was the one who kept hitting me on the swim.  Good to know.  She passed the entrance for transition and I hollered after her, "Wrong way!"  She didn't hear, so I had a random person grab her.  "Thanks!" she said, as we scrambled through transition.  We both got on our bikes and headed out, but she dropped her sunglasses (or something) and I didn't see her again.  The ride was beautiful: farmland and rolling hills (not flat- never believe the race flyer).  Best Friend #99 passed me on the bike and we exchanged encouraging words.  ("We didn't drown!  We haven't fallen!  Woohoo!") We rode up around Martindale, Texas, and I reached back several times to grab my phone out of my pocket to take a picture.  Each time I remembered that I didn't HAVE my phone because I was RACING, not joy-riding, and I would tell myself to get my head in the game.  The bike is my weakest event, but I'm getting stronger!  Slowly but surely.  I averaged 16.4 mph, definitely not fast by cycling standards, but a huge improvement for me.

When I got back from the bike, Travis was nowhere to be seen.  I figured he was busy with the Sprinters.  I pulled on my shoes and headed out on the run.  Apart from melting down and panicking on the swim or flatting out on the bike course, falling apart on the run was my chief fear for this race.  "Run happy, run happy," I told myself as I started running on my wobbly, lead-filled legs.  THEN, I saw Travis.  "I can't believe you're already done with the bike!  You surprised me by at least 10 minutes!"

Great confidence boost to start off the run!  Within about 1/4 of a mile, the side cramp was back with vengeance and I had a matching cramp on the other side.  Lovely.  But, "Run happy!"  I took deep breaths and waited for the cramps to pass.  Or the run to be over.  Either one.

Fortunately, the cramps did pass and I began to find a pace- not too fast, but still running.  I have to say that the weather couldn't have been better.  I had been prepared for 90 plus temps with sun, but it was 10 degrees cooler and overcast.  Not what anyone expected from Texas in July.  I started to count the miles down every time my watch buzzed.

5 more miles.  4 more miles.  3 more miles.  I only walked through the aid stations, and then I tried to walk quickly.  I was doing pretty well, but I knew if stopped at all, I'd be in trouble.  "Run happy."  The run was a loop, so I circled back around for my second 5K.  Coach Travis asked me how I was feeling.  "Happy!" And I really was, even though I was working sooo hard.

I had thought that the 2 loop run might throw me off, but it actually proved helpful.  I knew what was coming and where the aid stations were, so it kept me going for the last few miles.  I kept counting down, and I told myself, as my feet started to both go numb and burn like fire, that the pavement was NOT in fact burning through the soles of my shoes, and that stopping wouldn't make it better.  After mile 4, I realized my pace was dropping ever so slightly, so I determined to push harder.  After another 1/2 mile, I asked myself if I could push any harder.  Nope.  I wasn't collapsing, but I was working about as hard as I could.

One mile left.  I saw Best Friend #99 just ahead of me and he was walking.  "Come on, only a mile left!  Let's go!"  "You go ahead.  I'm done," he said.  "Start running.  I'll let you beat me," I told him.  "Oh, I'm way past that working.  I left my ego at home," he said, but he started running, a little ahead of me.  (No guy is ever past that working, and no triathlete leaves ego at home.)

Me...and #99

We ran toward Travis, who had a camera, and toward the FINISH.  It was a crazy trail scramble for the last little bit, and the finish line was straight up a gravelly hill.  I really was scrambling up it, but I crossed the finish line!  My Garmin had me with a 9:47 pace on the (slightly short) 10K.  (Official race time had me at a 9:07, but I think they listed the distance incorrectly.  The course wasn't quite a full 10K.)

So much steeper than it looks!

I had wanted to finish the race in 3 hours and 20 minutes, but my final time was actually 3 hours, 43 seconds!  20 minutes faster than my goal.  I'm really pleased with the result.  I felt like all of my training and all of the coaching had paid off and I got to see the improvement on race day.  So exciting, and looking forward to the next one.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Fourth

The day after we got back from the beach was the Fourth.  The kids love to go to the city park and see fireworks.  This year, my family was planning on coming as well, so I ignored my post-beach tiredness (and pre-race nerves- more on that later) and said we'd go see them.

We decided to picnic at the park.  My mom brought these great glow stick bracelets that kept everyone entertained while we waited for it to get dark enough for fireworks.




They were worth the wait!  Nothing says Independence Day like fireworks.




Austin decided to sit on Opa's lap.  He was a little concerned about the fireworks and kept asking who was setting them off.  Were they using two hands?  How far away were they?  He then told me, "Mom, don't go over there.  It's dange-wus!"  I told him I'd stay put.


Getting out of the parking lot at the end was an adventure all its own.  (There HAS to be a better way!)  

But the kids were so happy to have seen the show that it made it worth it.

 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Day Trippin'- Beach!

Picking up where I left off after the Texas State Aquarium...

We went to the beach!


After our afternoon beach visit, we headed a little ways inland to our hotel.  It was only about 15 minutes away (or would have been if I hadn't missed exits at least three times) and we definitely got much nicer rooms for a much lower price than if we had stayed close to or on the beach.

Staying in a hotel is always exciting for kids, but after the initial joy of discovery wore off, we all realized that we were ravenously hungry.  I decided that I REALLY didn't want to pack everyone up and risk hunger-induced anarchy in a restaurant, so I just took everyone downstairs to the little grill and ordered kids' meals all around.  

And then I officially withdrew my name from Mom of the Year consideration by letting my kids play games on their tablets while they waited for their food.  It had been a long day.


The next morning, I told the kids we were going to start slowly and not rush.  We would go down and enjoy the ENORMOUS breakfast buffet and then take our time heading over to the beach again.  

My kids ate their weight in pancakes, omelettes, cereal, juice, and everything else imaginable.  They were model young adults for most of the meal.  When one of them put Dr. Pepper on his Lucky Charms and another poked his straw through the bottom of his cup, however, I declared breakfast over and we headed back to the room to pack up and get ready for the beach.

Austin managed to escape once, but we found him wandering the hotel hallways.  ("I was just looking for my brudders!") And as we were leaving, he got his finger caught in the elevator door.  He still has his finger, though, so I guess we can count this as a successful hotel stay.

At the beach, I outfitted the younger three with vests.  (Carsten doesn't need one, but it just makes it less stressful for me.)  And I tried to get a group shot.

Let's take a group shot.


All Mom wants is ONE group shot.


Just one...


Never mind...


Everyone had a great time.  We ate a picnic lunch around 1 and the kids were shocked that I had planned on leaving around 2:30.  "There's no way, Mom!  Longer, please..."  I told them I'd consider staying longer, but that I didn't want to get stuck driving home too late.

At 2:30 on the dot it suddenly wasn't fun anymore.  Mom called it!  Skin was getting sun-burned, the sand was chafing, and everyone agreed that it had been a blast, but that it was time to go home.

Austin had checked out just after lunch and was oblivious to all of this.


We got home just before dinner, tired and a little sun-burned, but happy.

I think I've decided that the one overnight beach trip is just right for us.  Sand, salt and sun take a toll and for our family, a short dose is decidedly more fun.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Giving up Whine

Raise your hand if you love to hear your kids whine.

Ah, yes, there’s nothing like coming home after a hard day’s work to the melodious sound of whining.  “We’re having THAT for dinner?  We always have stuff I hate!”  “Why do I have to do chores?  No one else does!”  “I’m booooooorrrrreeeeeddddd.” 

I’m fairly certain there’s not a person on the planet who likes to hear whining.  But, let’s be honest, whining isn’t something we outgrow.  We all have our moments; some of us have more moments than others. 

We rename whining when we become adults.  We call it “venting,” “discussing,” “asking for advice,” or “sharing on Facebook.”  But it’s whining.  And it’s bad for us.

Complaining is contentment’s archenemy.  It’s impossible to wallow in complaints and be content at the same time.  But life presents us with a conundrum:  Life is hard.  Days are long.  Irritations abound.  We could adopt a Pollyanna pose:  “Everything is wonderful always!”  There are some who have sunny dispositions and they are, in their deepest souls, optimists.  But what about the rest of us?  How can we combat whininess in our own lives?

Scripture, after all, is pretty plain.  We SHOULD learn to live without complaining.

“Do all things without complaining and disputing,
that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God
without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
Philippians 2:14-15

Practically speaking, that is extraordinarily difficult.  Society has a pretty high tolerance for adult whining- it is socially acceptable, even expected, to complain at least a little every day.  Any person who decides to follow a path of joyful, contented speech is going against the flow.   

I think, though, that it’s worth it.  The Bible tells us that we speak the things that are in our hearts (Matthew 12:34), and I’ve observed that the reverse is also true.  The things I speak influence the attitude of my heart.  I am not, however, in favor of just randomly saying positive things that are trite or untrue.   This is not an exercise in cheerleading and self-esteem. 

The cure for grumbling, quite simply, is gratitude.

When I feel a complaint coming on, I have to quickly find something, anything, that I’m truly grateful for.  I do not usually feel thankful for the thing that triggered my whininess.  But if I shift my focus, I can put my complaints in proper perspective. 

I HATE waiting in line.  I really do.  And I hate inefficiency even more.  When I’m stuck in line, I should, perhaps say, “Thank you that I am waiting in line.”  But that would be utterly false.  Instead, I focus on what I am thankful for: that food is readily available to buy, that I’m not pressed for time, that I wore comfortable shoes, that the line will eventually end. 

I try to be specific in my gratitude.  I find that works better than using broad generalizations.  Yes, I’m thankful for salvation.  Yes, I’m thankful for the Bible.  Yes, I’m thankful for air to breathe.  But getting my mind out of a grouchy, grumbling mode requires me to think about something more precise.  I need to make myself focus on blessings that my complaints are obscuring from view. 

The contented life is a journey, and changing grumbling to gratitude is part of the trip.  It doesn’t come easily.  I indulge in whine each day, but every time I conquer it, discontent loses a bit of its grip on me.  For every thankful thought, I move a little further down the path.  And I’m convinced the journey is worth the effort.  Give up the whine, and be grateful.

“In everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Day Trippin'- Texas State Aquarium

I cheated a little bit on the day tripping theme for this summer by booking a hotel for ONE night in Corpus Christi.  I wanted to take the kids to the aquarium and the beach, and although it is possible to squeeze those two things into a day trip, I knew the entire experience would be both more relaxed and more memorable if I gave in and paid for a hotel.  And it would give the kids an answer for the “What did you do this summer?” question.  A more succinct answer than, “My mom was too cheap to take us anywhere, so we just did a bunch of random stuff.”

We left early, and I typed the Texas State Aquarium into my GPS.  It gave me an Estimated Time of Arrival of 2 hours and 34 minutes.  I, of course, interpreted this as, “Time to Beat, Including Bathroom Stop.” 

My kids, I must say, are excellent car travelers- no doubt aided by the comfy seats and DVD player.  Back in my day, we had to play I Spy and sit with our feet up on coolers and luggage.  But I digress.

We got to the aquarium with no trouble in exactly 2 hours and 36 minutes, including the aforementioned bathroom break.  Not bad. 

This trip was my first attempt at putting my youngest child on a leash.  Yep.  I have, after years of eschewing leashes for humans, caved.  Austin is a free range child.  He runs away and he doesn’t look back.  He’s unfortunately gotten too big for my beloved Ergo carrier.  He still fits in my very nice backpack, but he can, given a little time, get himself unbuckled and out of that.  (Yes, he can- while he’s on my back.  We don’t call him Houdini for nothing.)  Having to hold hands causes Austin extreme physical pain.  Really.  Just ask him.  It’s clearly debilitating.  So I got him a leash.  A cute one with a giraffe backpack. 


The kid-leashing went pretty well, though I was unsuccessful in teaching Austin to “heel.”  He is small and agile and he can squeeze through areas that Mom can’t.  I ran into more than one half-opened door while attached to him.  BUT, I didn’t LOSE him, and that was the point.

The Texas State Aquarium is really wonderful.  The kids got to touch sting rays and sharks.  (And they didn’t fall in!  Yay!) 


We saw otters and gators and Bald Eagles.  (Austin insisted that those were Peregrine Falcons.  We couldn't convince him otherwise.  I guess he knows about falcons but not eagles.  There was no arguing with him, and he even brought it up again at dinner.)




After exploring the hands-on outdoor exhibits, we headed indoors.  My plan, after feeding them a substantial snack before heading into the aquarium, was to see everything and then have lunch before heading to the beach for the afternoon.  The kids grumped about taking the stairs instead of the elevator, squabbled over who got to the open the door, and then competed for the same twelve-inch space in front of the eight-foot long exhibit.

At this point, I realized that I was getting ready to make Rookie Parenting Mistake #3: Pushing My Own Agenda.  At this season in my parenting career, there really is no excuse for a rookie mistake.  I know that when a parent’s Agenda smacks up against a child’s Mood/Hunger/Tiredness, the parent loses every. single. time.

So I turned around and headed back downstairs to the cafeteria where over-priced food offered redemption for my near-mistake.  The kids ate and relaxed for a bit, and then, I took seven very different children back up the stairs to enjoy the spectacular indoor exhibits. 



We saw sharks and fish- lots of fish- and, my personal favorites, the jellyfish.  Austin kept insisting that the jellyfish were “egg-eaters.”  “Look, Mom, they eat eggs.  I see the eggs in their tummies.”  So funny.




We finished off the day with a visit to the dolphins. 


We spent about 2 ½ or 3 hours there, and that amount of time seemed about right.  I wasn’t sure if the parking situation would make packing a lunch and eating at the car a good option (no outside food allowed in the aquarium).  Turns out that would have worked fine, so if we go again- the kids have their eyes on the new Caribbean exhibit opening in 2017- we’ll definitely skip the cafeteria and tailgate.  Other than that, the aquarium trip was a success, and we left ready to go hang out at the beach!



















Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Contentment Thieves

I wrote last week of my teenage commitment to a life of contentment.  That commitment has, of course, been sorely tested in the years since then.  My enrollment in the contentment course will, I believe, be lifelong.

Shortly after I married, I was blessed to do Beth Moore's study of Philippians.  In it, she lists the Five Thieves of Contentment, five things that rob us of our joy.  I copied those off and posted them on our fridge.  Each "thief" can be identified in Philippians 4.

Pettiness

Philippians 4:2-3 references two women- Euodia and Syntyche- who were, apparently, not "of the same mind."  It sounds like they were fighting.  They were good people- they had both labored with Paul in the gospel, and their names were "in the Book of Life."  But they had let a petty disagreement rob them of their contentment.

When I'm annoyed or offended at someone- a friend, a coworker, a family member- I am not content.  If I am honest with myself, I can usually see that I am being petty.  True conflict does arise and has to be addressed, but most of life's little slights just serve to make life less happy.  Let it go.

Anxiety

Paul is very clear in his command: "Be anxious for nothing."  That's a tall order.  I get anxious.  I worry.  But when I do, contentment deserts me.  Worrying about the future is one of the best ways to rob the present of its joy.  After all, even the most perfect situation can be overshadowed by an expectation of a disaster around the corner.  Paul also gives us the answer for anxious thoughts:  "Pray."  And don't just pray, pray with gratitude, with thanksgiving.  Remember what blessings you do have, and commit the future to the Lord.

Destructive Thinking

Remember, contentment isn't based on one's circumstances.  It's based on one's outlook.  The mind is the place where contentment either starts or dies.  Paul tells us to think on things that are true, noble, lovely, pure.  Don't just think on them, meditate on them.  Be careful what things you allow your mind to repeat over and over.  Those things shape who we become.  Make sure your thoughts are based on God's truth.

Resistance to Learning

As I wrote last week, Paul learned to be content.  Sometimes, we don't want to learn to be content.  We'd rather wallow.  We like to complain.  We need to vent. (If you don't believe me, check out social media.)   Learning contentment is hard.  Hardship doesn't automatically teach us.  We have to be willing to submit ourselves to the lesson. 

Independence from God

We're weak.  We're human.  True contentment requires greater strength than we have on our own.  That's okay.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." All things- even banishing the Thieves of Contentment from my life.


Monday, June 29, 2015

The Future

Would you want to know your future?

If someone today could tell you where you’d be in a year, would you want to know?

Would it change your decisions?  Would it change your perspective?  Perhaps.  But for good or ill? 

What if you were enjoying a trip with your family, living each day to its fullest?

Bryan at Landstuhl Castle, Germany, July 2011

Would you want to know that one year from that date, people would be attending your funeral?

Some of you are saying, yes, you would want to know, for better or worse, what is coming.  You’d make plans.  You’d do things.  You’d say things.  Others would rather just deal with things as they come.  There’s no sense in worrying about things you can’t change.

It’s been three years since Bryan died, and I can say unequivocally that I am thankful that we didn’t know what was coming.  We lived his last year (with the exception of the last four weeks of his life) just like we had lived the years before it.  We worked, we played, we enjoyed the ups and struggled with the downs. 

Might we have done things differently if we had known he wouldn’t be here?  Sure.  We probably would have spent the last year trying to “get things in order.”  But I don’t necessarily think that the decisions we would have made would have left us any better off.  We would have been very tempted to make life-limiting decisions, missing out on the everyday happinesses as we tried to control things beyond our control.

There were things that were a hassle in the immediate days after Bryan died.  Passwords, for one.  I knew some, but not all, of the passwords.  And everything these days has a password.  It took me a week to unearth the will.  (Bryan wasn’t organized.  I can say that because he’s not around to contradict me, but, trust me, he wasn’t.  The will was in a basket on a shelf in the closet, not in the file labeled “WILL.”)  But those are little things and they all worked out in the end.

Now that I’m a full three years out from those immediate grief-filled days, I know that we couldn’t have foreseen all the changes that Bryan’s death would necessitate.  And if I had known, I probably would have collapsed from the seeming enormity of it all.  Instead, I’ve made those changes over time, and in many ways, we’re a very different family than we were then.  I’m certainly a different person, and my children have grown so much that it’s hard to remember what it was like having seven “little people.”  There is no way we could have foreseen those changes and prepared for them, even if we had known the future.

Instead, we lived life each day.  Bryan always lived like life was short, so we got a lot of living done.  We took six young children on an overseas trip when I was pregnant because Bryan said, “You never know how much time you have!”  He didn’t want to wait till it was more practical.  He wanted to live NOW. 

The whole Bain family
plus my sister Sara
plus Austin in Mommy's tummy
in Germany, July 2011

So should you know the future?  If you’re truly living in the present, you don’t need to know what’s around the bend.

{For my reflections on the past anniversaries of Bryan's death, see
First Anniversary: One Year
Second Anniversary: From the Outside Looking In}


Friday, June 26, 2015

Day Trippin'- Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

This summer, I knew a nice lengthy vacation wasn't a good idea, but I still want us to really enjoy our time off together.  (And I don't want Minecraft to turn my kids' brains to mush.)  I decided that we would plan some day trips and go out and do the things that we don't do during the school year.  In spite of the taciturn weather we've been having, we've had a few fun days.

First up: The Zoo!

And...where is Nathan?  He's at Run Camp.

We'll probably do this a few times because I of course bought a pass.  Any guesses on how much it would cost our family to get into the zoo?  Just a nice little trip to the local zoo.  $99.  Ninety-nine dollars!  Yes, it's true.  Life is expensive these days.  At any rate, the $125 pass made a lot more sense.

 I've loved the zoo ever since I was a wee thing. When I was little, we lived in San Antonio for a brief period of time, and I spent my 2nd birthday at the zoo.  (I'll bet it didn't cost us a fortune to get in then!)  Here I am with Grandaddy (and the giraffes and an ostrich) on that day.


(As a side note, on that very zoo trip, I kept saying, "We don't color on the walls, do we?" to all of the adults present.  They agreed with me, praised me for my excellent recitation of the rules, and then when we got home, after cake and ice cream, realized that I had colored all over my walls with red crayon.  At least I knew better.)

I have to say that the San Antonio Zoo has really done a beautiful job with its new exhibits.  There's so much natural greenery, but they've also done a good job making sure that all the animals are still visible.

In the case of the snakes, TOO visible, at least as far as I'm concerned.


Austin wasn't really big enough on our last trip to the zoo to really appreciate it all, so he was especially fascinated.  


All the younger boys were absolutely insistent that they mark every. single. animal. off on the zoo map.  They each had their own copies and we spent an awful lot of time on map-marking.  Austin held onto his nearly the entire time, trailing it behind him as he ran from exhibit to exhibit.  


We finished the day off with a picnic.  (Evan was busy catching up on his map-marking.  He apparently missed a bird or fish.)  The kids had a great time, and the best part of day-tripping is, of course, heading back HOME at the end.





Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Content

Even when I was very young, I enjoyed observing people, listening to their stories, watching how they made their decisions.  I remember thinking that I could learn an awful lot from other people's triumphs and disappointments.

So far, my observations have led me to see something very clearly:

People who are content are content no matter what their circumstances.
People who are discontent stay that way even when their circumstances improve.

Discontented people always feel like something could be better, and when things change, they're sure they will be happy, but they're not.  Because something could always be better.  Something is always lacking.  "Sure, I finally got a new job, but the lady in the office next to me doesn't like me."  "My house is bigger, but now I'm going to complain about how hard it is to clean."  "I've switched churches three times in the last five years, and every one of them has failed to meet my needs."

Discontentment is miserable.

When I was a teenager, I made a conscious decision to be one of the content people.  I was not going to let my circumstances dictate my happiness.  But it's more difficult than it would seem.  After all, life is full of unhappy events, and I'm a realistic person.  If the going gets tough, I feel it just as keenly as the next person.

So I started reading Philippians daily- the entire book through each day- and before each reading, I would remind myself that Paul was in prison when he wrote it.  His life's work, by every human estimation, was on hold, and his life was hard- physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Even in those circumstances, Paul was saying, "Rejoice!"  How did he do it?

In his letter, Paul reveals his secret.  

"I have learned in whatever state I am,
to be content:
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.
Everywhere and in all things 
I have learned both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:11-13

Paul had learned to be content no matter what befell him, in good circumstances and bad.  And he was content because Christ gave him strength to be content.  

It is a truly beautiful thought that Paul learned to be content.  He didn't say, "How do I keep my spirits up in prison?  Well, I was born a pretty optimistic person.  I'm just a glass half-full kind of guy."  No, contentment was a lesson he learned.  And that means that all of God's people can learn that lesson.  It's a difficult course, and there's no graduation, but the study is worth it.

Next time you hear yourself complaining, or you find yourself asking God to change your situation, stop and ask yourself if this circumstance might be a good opportunity to learn contentment.  If Paul can do it, so can we, through Christ who gives strength.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kid Filter

“Mom, can we listen to ‘Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?’”

“Umm, sure,” I replied, as I turned on the My Fair Lady soundtrack. 

Stefan’s request caught me a little off-guard.  I had visions of those words popping out of his mouth at preschool or Sunday school.  I hope all of the adults in his life are current on their classic musical lyrics.

It’s funny how things seem different when you have kids.  You listen to music with different ears and see movies with different eyes.  All parents have had the experience of sitting next to their little ones on the couch watching TV and thinking, “I do NOT remember that part!”  (Home Alone, anyone?  I certainly had forgotten about the girly magazines in that one!  My kids did not rewatch that this Christmas.)

A lot of little things, of course, go over a child’s head.  When I was young, I thought that in Rocky Mountain High, Colorado, the friends around the campfire, “everyone says hi!” and that Leroy Brown was the baddest man in the whole DOWN town.  Maybe it was just me, but I think that’s a pretty common experience.

But then there are the things that they DO notice.  Those small things that I thought for sure would just slip right by them.  And that’s when being a parent makes me grow up, again. 

The bar is raised when you’re parenting.  You’ve got this little human (or a hoard of little humans) watching you, listening to you, and learning from you.  It’s terrifying.

And that’s why as many people who can have kids, should.  The rest should get involved with other people’s kids.  It’s an important part of the human maturation process.  Nothing puts one’s habits and choices in clear focus like having an impressionable child examining every move.  Go ahead, try explaining away some small indiscretion.  Children will have none of it.  And if you do convince them that your compromise was necessary under the circumstances, your conscience, as you look into those trusting eyes, will condemn you.


It’s the kid filter: Parenting cleans up the parent’s life.  It’s not just about raising the kids; it’s about not being a kid yourself.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Daily Portion Part 2- Swinging Extremes

In my quest to trust the Lord’s daily portion, I’ve noticed something in my life: extremes.  We humans like extremes.  We swing from one extreme (“I NEVER eat sugar, ever, ever”) to the other (“All the donuts!!!!”).  People who seek moderation are rare indeed. 

Moderation.  Balance.  Those concepts are so integral to the blessing of the Lord’s daily portion.  I know that.  I seek moderation and balance, and yet I still seem to swing from one extreme to the other.  Some days, I work very hard- too hard.  I do everything.  I don’t stop.  I can keep going like that for weeks at a time.  Months, actually.  Like the Israelites in the wilderness with the manna, I gather and gather and gather.

And then, the crash.  It’s inevitable, of course.  I’m human.  I wear out.  No more gathering.  At all.  The opposite extreme kicks in and I just don’t do anything.

Over the course of time, this swinging is so destructive.  When I’m in “gathering” mode, I’m doing too much to hear the Lord’s voice clearly.  I’m just forging ahead, doing what seems the most urgent.  In “sit in my tent” mode, I’m too tired to do what the Lord wants me to.  Plus, the “manna” I hoarded is stinking (unfulfilled commitments are piling up and remaining undone), but I don’t have the energy to do anything about it.

I’m a single parent.  Exhaustion is inevitable.  (Trust me, married parents, you have NO idea.  All the single parents are saying, “Amen!”)  It’s draining to be everyone’s everything all the time.  I’m going to have to work each day until I’m very tired.

What isn’t inevitable, though, is the crash.  The push-past-the-limit-until-all-strength-gives-out crash.  That’s something I bring on myself.  Poor planning and overscheduling guarantee a crash.  So does failing to recognize when my mind has reached its limit.  (I have found that it’s often my mind that feels overloaded, even if I can still physically keep going.)

Recognizing that it’s my choice how much I “gather” each day is the first step toward finding the right amount.  It’s easy to feel like circumstances beyond my control are directing my days, but I have more say in the matter than I like to admit.  I can set priorities and plan ahead.  (“Today, it’s most important that I…”) I can be realistic in my planning.  (“I won’t schedule any projects right before we leave because it’s very likely that one of the kids will have a crisis on our way out the door.”)  And, I can say no when things get to be too much.  Even my kids have learned that Mom is “done” in the late evening. 

Being “insanely busy” and “stressed”- how many times have those terms come up in conversations you’ve had lately?- does not make me a more committed Christian or a better mom.  Insane and stressed people aren’t really better at anything than rested and focused people.  I like to be busy each day.  I want to get out and gather my daily portion with strength and determination.  But each day, I want to avoid the extreme.  No more pushing past the limit. 


Moderation- it might not become the latest trend, but it certainly does have a sustainable ring to it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Daily Portion

My ladies’ Sunday school class just finished the Breathe Bible study by Priscilla Shirer.  The study focuses on, to quote the subtitle, “Making Room for Sabbath” and creating “margin” in all areas of life.  The concept is an excellent thing to ponder in our busy, distraction-filled lives.
 
In the interest of honesty, I have to confess that the skeptical side of me wanted to say that the study stretched the “Sabbath principle,” as opposed to actual Sabbath-keeping, to its absolute theological limit.  After all, the Bible has lots to say about the Sabbath, both in the Old and New Testaments- we really don’t have to read very much into it.  But, I took a step back and realized that Breathe, with its emphasis on turning our focus to the Lord, had a lot of wisdom, and I should probably try to quiet my skepticism and be a little more teachable. 

Through the course of the study, the Israelites and manna came up repeatedly, and I had a chance to see the story from a new perspective.  I’ve mentioned before the daily nature of God’s provision.  The story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath has guided me through many tough spots in my life. 

The prophet came to a widow and asked for bread.  She told him that, due to the extreme drought, she had only enough oil and flour for that one day.  After that, she and her son would starve.  Elijah convinced her to share what she had.  “Do not fear…For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up nor shall the jar of oil run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’”  (1 Kings 17:7-16)  The interesting thing about this story, of course, is that the Lord didn’t send a stockpile of flour and oil.  The widow simply didn’t run out.  Each day, she got up, and what she needed was there.  Daily provision.  Daily trust.

I try to remember that as I go through my life.  Don’t worry.  God’s mercy is new every morning.  He doesn’t give us one big lump to portion out as we have need.  Tomorrow will require a new portion, and so will day after that, and the day after that.

And then there was the manna.  I had always seen that story as another example of that daily provision, and, in fact, it is.  But there is a crucial difference:  The Israelites had a choice.  The widow simply had to get up each day and use what was given to her.  The Israelites had options.  They could have chosen not to go out and gather the manna.  They could (and many did) choose to gather more than their daily allotment and hoard the excess. 

I realized, as I contemplated the story anew, that there are times when I also have a choice.  I can be disobedient and lazy (“Lord, I’m too tired to do that.”) and refuse to gather.  I can run around like crazy, worry about future days, and attempt to store up provision against shortages.  And for me, like the Israelites of old, it never ends well.  “Every man had gathered according to each one’s need…But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank.”  (Exodus 16:18, 20)


So in my life right now, I’m seeking the Lord’s guidance each day: What is His portion?  What does He desire for me to gather?  And I know, as I trust His leading, I’ll see His daily provision.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tender Mercy

All the way my Savior leads me;
  What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
  Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
  Here by faith in Him to dwell!”


The Savior leads with tender mercy.  How often I need that reminder!

I’ve been reading a book by Elisabeth Elliott, God’s Guidance: Finding His Will for Your Life.  In just the first two chapters, I’ve encountered so much to both challenge and encourage me. 

Lately, I’ve felt constantly behind.  Behind on my work.  Behind on my goals.  Behind on making progress toward the future.  I feel like I should be so much farther down the path.  And yet, so often, I’m tired.  I do my best, but the demands of the day often leave me with very little strength to do the extra things that I believe my life requires.

How can I possibly follow God’s path for me when each day rushes past, and I reach the end exhausted, but not discernibly closer to my goal?

When I make decisions, I pray about them.  I know He holds my future in His hands.  I have confidence that the Lord has given me guidance and direction.  But, even still, my progress is glacial.  My strength, it seems, is indeed small.  I want to obey.  I want to forge ahead with alacrity and will.  I want to take the path in leaps and bounds.

My spirit is willing, but my body (and more often, my mind) is weak.  I know what I should do, but I take only the smallest steps each week.  Am I disobeying?  Will my slow progress negate the Lord’s plan?

And then, the words of Elisabeth Elliott helped me hear the Lord’s counsel.  “Following God,” she says, quoting the words of her friend, Eleanor C. Vandevort, “is not like walking a tightrope.”  Mrs. Elliott pointed out, through scripture after scripture, that with God’s leading comes His compassion.

“He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.” (Is. 49:10)

“I will lead him and requite him with comfort.” (Is. 57:18)

“My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Ex. 33:14)


Then I realized that God is more in control than my anxious thoughts allow.  He plans, not just knowing the path, but knowing my weakness.  Must I obey?  Yes.  Do I have to do more than He gives me strength to do?  No.  His timetable is perfect, even when my execution of His will is not.  He’s powerful enough to use my frailty for His purpose, and as long as I keep heading in His direction, He’ll take care of the outcome.