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.


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.


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.