December 5, 2011

Half Marathon

On December 4, 2011, Geoff and I (along with a few brother's and friends) set out to conquer our first marathon events. We got to Dallas on Saturday afternoon and stayed with my sister and brother-in-law, Justin, who was running the marathon with Geoff. We picked up our information at the big health and fitness expo featuring dozens if not hundreds of booths full of doctors, gear, product samples, etc. It was fun! Unfortunately, Geoff made sure I saw a foot and ankle surgeon Doc guy while we were there - where I got the first bad news of the weekend. I have struggled with an injured ankle since early October that has been a pain (literally!) through training, but I thought it was an overuse injury that would heal once I gave it time to rest. He examined it and was convinced I had torn my tendon and said that of all the people he examined that day, he hadn't told any not to race, but he would advise me not to. Wonderful. Not. Going. To. Happen. After questioning him I felt confident that even IF it was a tear, it wasn't likely to rupture. I had just run 10 miles Monday in training, I wasn't going to drop out of the race I've trained for over the last 3 months just because it hurts! It's been hurting for 2 months!

We woke up race day to a chilly 45 degrees which would have been survivable, even for my cold intolerant self, had it not been raining. My body has never functioned well in cold, and I did not train at all in the cold but opted for the warm gym and treadmill instead on below 60 degree days. Yes, anything below 60 does qualify as cold for me. We made it Fair Park for the start of the race too close to the start time to even think about finding someone to tape my ankle, so off to the start we went. I felt good and was pretty excited about running (not a normal occurrence for me).  Mist turned to rain as soon as the race began, and it continued to rain the ENTIRE race. I had a rain jacket on and good gloves with multiple hand warmers so I wasn't too discouraged.
Geoff with two of his brothers, Keith and Kevin after race
I felt great, my ankle was loose and feeling better than normal and for the first time my anxiety left and I was truly excited about the race and thinking I might just do pretty well! I saw my dad cheering for me on the road a couple miles in and he ran with me for a little bit which will certainly go down in my favorite memories file. The name of the game for me was to keep my feet dry as long as possible, trying to dodge puddles and people along the way.  I met up with Geoff's brothers and a friend around mile 2-3 and enjoyed running with them for a bit as well. I tried to get around someone close to mile three and slip! Rolled my ankle - and stepped in a puddle for good measure. Wonderful. Excitement. Over. I watched as they disappeared ahead of me and focused my attention on my screaming ankle, taking purposeful steps to prevent rolling it again. I was frustrated and fighting despair as I knew my odds of running a fast time had just vanished. To make it more fun, I was soaked through by this point and was feeling very chilled in spite of the exercise. When I feel cold, I feel sick, this is not fun.

I had told people prior to the race how amazed I was through my training how mental, not just physical, endurance running was. While both are necessary, I score the mental aspect to carry more weight than the physical - as evidenced by the mass amount of people of all shapes, sizes, and ages who compete in endurance sports. This is a lesson I learned all over again on race day as my body all but quit on me, and my mind struggled to overcome frustration and despair. I was severely disappointed as one thing after another seemed to delay me from the finish line, but one thing training taught me was that I could always go further than I thought I could. And on that Sunday, I needed that little gem of info!

Welcome encouragement around mile 9 from dad

The course was poorly marked and I didn't know what mile I was on most of the race. I didn't have a watch, so had no idea what pace I was keeping (or not keeping, in my case). The real low point of the race came when my ankle began locking up, making for a very awkward running gait, through mile 6-8 or so. I was just trying to keep moving, when I noticed someone slowly passing me...she was walking. THAT was the low point.  I walked for a bit to try to loosen my ankle, pleading with it to function, and saw my dad right before mile 9 with very welcomed encouragement!  He ran with me to the bottom of the next hill and I was able to keep going. I thought about every warm thing I knew, and tried not to think about what a horrible time I would post. My dad met up with me a final time right before the finish line, jogging with me so I could finish strong. I crossed the finish line fighting back tears of disappointment, feeling like a complete failure as all my hopes for a good time were destroyed.

I hurried/hobbled through the finishers room, received my medal and finishers shirt, grabbed a banana and headed to the World Vision Tent. My mom was waiting there and though I nearly cried seeing her, still feeling like a failure, she was so excited for me that for the first time I was happy just to have finished. I grabbed a dry hat from my bag, pulled on a dry jacket over my wet clothes and headed back to the finish line to wait for Geoff. I cheered on others, and still feeling competitive, was slightly encouraged by the hundreds of those who had been in the same race as I who were still finishing. At least I wasn't last. After watching people for 30 minutes or so, and cheering them on, I began to truly appreciate the ability to finish. For the first time in a long time, I looked at this mass group of people who were so close to the finish line, and had worked so hard to get there, and I was truly impressed with this piece of humanity. Everyone was wet and cold. Some were in good shape, some didn't look like they could get off a couch - and yet they were all there finishing a significant endurance race.  Standing in the still falling rain, and shivering harder by the minute my stupid competitiveness left and I was honored to be one of the several who just wanted to finish, and I grew more content with that.

Geoff and I had set goals for ourselves on what time we wanted to finish. I set mine slightly faster than my training time, and Geoff set his much faster! So when the pacers for his target completion time passed and I didn't see him I wasn't too worried. In fact, I was relieved because I couldn't imagine what setting a record pace per mile on his first marathon in that weather would do to his body. I wanted him to be able to walk again by Christmas! I caught up to my dad and sister who were waiting under a bridge further from the finish and talked with them as we waited. When I thought I had gotten too cold to be able to handle staying out there waiting in the rain any longer - he appeared! Geoff and Justin ran together the entire race, and I was so thankful for that. Somehow I managed to limp jog next to Geoff for a few paces so can say I got to run with Geoff in the race, at least a little!

Both of our times were way slower than we wanted but we finished. I learned a lot from those running the race with me. I also learned a lot from Justin, my sister's husband, who ran the race with Geoff. He was already an endurance athlete in road biking, and had run track in college. Justin had never run a marathon but was excited about the challenge when Geoff asked if he wanted to run with him. Justin's training pace per mile was ridiculously fast, and he could have posted an incredible time for his first marathon if he had just run on without Geoff. But he had said before and stuck with it, "how many times do you get to run a marathon with your brother-in-law?" It meant so much to me that he was willing to keep pace with Geoff. The race was harder for him, because he was changing pace, but his sacrifice and love exhibited was a great lesson for me that day.

The training, and the race itself, have taught me so much. In so many areas of life it's easy to be lazy, find the easy way out, or believe too quickly that you just can't go on. On every long run as mileage increased and I was running further than I had ever run before, I got a crash course on just how much further I could go than I thought. I would never have attempted to run several of the distances (past 4 was unimaginable not so many weeks ago) had I not had this race looming over me. But each time I was able to go farther, and do better. Instead of listening to music during training, I would recite some of my favorite life verses in my head, and I learned a lot from them. One of my constants was:

"In a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like someone beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that in the end after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27

The concept of "beat my body and make it my slave" was so fitting for a body that does not enjoy running, really at all. When my body wanted to quit on all those training runs, I was able to keep going, focusing on all the other areas of life and spirituality that Jesus calls us to persevere through in the same ways. At the start of the race I planned to run to the finish line as hard as possible, having nothing left at the finish, so that I knew I did my best.  I felt like I had failed when I crossed the finish line because I had not even run close to my training time. My body was hurting and cold.  I felt like my body had won, that I had not made it my "slave."  I didn't want to receive the congratulations from loved ones. I hadn't met my goals.

As I hobbled back onto the course to wait for Geoff and watched others complete their race, I learned a little more about grace. My goal in life has been to live as passionately and fully for Jesus as possible. When I get to Heaven, I don't want to have anything left, I want to have "run" as hard as possible and given this time on earth everything I have. I don't want to live here to pursue my own ambitions or anything that the world has to offer, but want every moment, and every work to be filled with bringing His Kingdom - because that is why we are here.

So far in life, I have not met my goal. I can live more fully, I can be far more loving. I can devote my energies toward love, and not money or comforts. I have a lot left to give, and am tired of holding back. As I watched people struggling to finish the race on Sunday, I could feel the love of the Lord calling us to finish our race. I wasn't thinking, "my, they are really slow! I can't believe they even entered this race!" I was thinking, "I am so impressed that so many young and old, big and little, entered this race and are finishing no matter what." We aren't called to finish by a certain time, we are called to pursue the goal of Love.
Crossing the finish line - whew!

On Sunday, I was not able to keep going on my own. Just when I needed it the most, my dad was there to run with me for a bit, to encourage me and get me going again. As I continue through life I hope I remember that race and do the best I can through the grace of God to persevere until the end, keeping the real goal of His Love, in mind. I know that as I pursue the finish line my Father will be there to run with me, to keep me on track, giving me the strength I don't have alone.

October 26, 2011

5 Years Becoming One

It's official! Geoff and I have been married for over 5 years. On September 30 we celebrated our 5 year anniversary. On one hand, I can't believe it's been that long; on another, I can't believe it's only been 5 years!  We spent our anniversary in Abilene. That evening Geoff took me up to the Administration building to stand in the exact spot, at the exact time that we were married 5 years ago. He then surprised me with the reading of his vows...and a new wedding ring! Though I love the original wedding ring he bought in Jerusalem, it doesn't love me...and I was unable to wear it very often or my finger would be raw with rash. The sweetest part about the whole thing to me was that he has been saving cash here and there behind my back throughout the last year to be able to buy the ring without me was all going in an envelope marked, "Jamie Fund," in his desk in his sweet is that?!

As an added treat we were able to get away on an anniversary vacation a week later to California! It was the best vacation we've ever had, and far surpassed our expectations. It was so good to be able to go and play, explore, and plan as we went.  We arrived in LA at 10 a.m. Thursday morning and then spent the day at Disneyland! They were open until midnight that night, and we did our best to stay until it closed...and almost made it! The time change and travel had worn us out, but we had a great, full day at Disney and were so thankful for the experience.

The next day we went to Legoland for Geoff.  Since we did have a lego groomscake at our wedding, it was only fitting that he got to go to Legoland on an anniversary trip. It was fun to see all the Lego sculptures - I had no idea what a useful tool those colored blocks could be! Geoff taught me all about all the different themes of Lego, and it was so much fun to watch him enjoy it after listening to him talk about Lego's all the time! After getting all the theme park we could handle the first two days, we were excited to spend time driving up the coast the next day.

Moon Stone Beach, Cambria
The house in Cambria

We were blessed with the opportunity to stay in a house my relatives have in Cambria, California. I grew up visiting that place and have great memories of it from my childhood. It was so fun so share Cambria with Geoff, and to experience it again after so many years.  We weren't expecting to be able to stay at the house so it was a dream come true for me to be there again.  We enjoyed three nights in Cambria walking on the beach, eating at cute restaurants, jogging by the sea, exploring tidepools, and just being together. It was some of the best time together we've ever had.

Elephant Seals near Cambria
Though it was sad to say farewell to Cambria, we were anxious to get up to Monterey to visit our friends who moved there a couple years ago.  We had so much fun driving up the coast on Highway 1 on our way to Monterey.  We got to see big Elephant Seals laying all over the beach, play on big rocks in Big Sur, walk in the beautiful Point Lobos Reserve, saw Harbor Seals, sea otters, and lots of other spectacular creation!

Father of the Forest
Joy, Geoff and I inside a Redwood

We were able to spend three nights in Monterey enjoying sweet fellowship with Ben and Joy Langford and their beautiful kids, Elijah and Emeline. We got to hang out on the beach some more (always a good thing) and went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Geoff is training for a marathon and had to run his longest run so far while we were there (15 miles) and saw a lot of Monterey Bay, but I don't think he would recommend such a run while on vacation!  Since I'm only doing the half marathon, I was able to actually enjoy my much shorter 4 mile run!  On Thursday we were able to travel with Joy and the kids for a day in Big Basin State Park. It was so fun to see the giant Redwood trees and to admire God's creation. It was refreshing to spend time with them, and a reminder of how sweet fellowship is.

Napa Vineyard

On our final day of vacation we left Monterey and headed to wine country through San Francisco, and over the Golden Gate Bridge. Geoff was very pleased to see that the original bridge looked like the Lego model at Legoland (not the other way around). We traveled north through Sonoma county and explored the beautiful Napa Valley. We stopped at vineyards and saw the grape harvest, crushing process, and beautiful homes and facilities. It was such a peaceful, beautiful drive, and a great last day of vacation together.

We finished the evening back in San Francisco for the night where we ventured to Fisherman's Wharf, saw a few more sea lions, and had dinner together before flying out early the next morning. I am so thankful we were able to get away on this trip. I am more thankful to have such an amazing husband to have shared the last 5 years with and I am excited about what the years ahead will hold!

October 20, 2011

Poncha Bear

*Disclaimer* This is a blog I had to write, but have wrestled with the finality that publishing seemed to bring. 16 weeks ago today I lost one of my best friends; I have struggled to finish this over that time, as a farewell to him. It is way too long to read, and is primarily intended to capture some of my memories of him sooner than later. It was just something I had to write.

4 and a 1/2 years ago Geoff and I were living in the beautiful mountains of Colorado in Poncha Springs. On Superbowl Sunday 2007, we went to Walmart to get some snacks for the football party, and left with chips, food, collar, leash...and the best dog I could have ever dreamed of having.

A young girl was sitting in front of the store with a plastic tote full of black lab puppies; filthy, undernourished and not quite old enough to be weaned from their mom. We went back to the car to trying to make a rational decision about what to do, and finally decided to get a pup. We got back to the front of the store in time to chase down and stop the car that had just loaded them up. I grabbed the first pup I saw, handed him to Geoff, and looked back in the tote for another to compare him with. By the time I turned around with another, the scared, frantic puppy I had handed to Geoff had snuggled up under his chin and closed his eyes. He was home. Putting the other pup back, I gave her the requested $10, and the snugly pup came home with us.

Geoff called Ponch a "catholic" dog early in his training. Meaning no disrespect for the religion, the name implied the high level of guilt and repentance he displayed.  Poncha did NOT like being in trouble. Any strong word from us would instantly turn this fun loving, excitable puppy into a cowering, sorrowful, pitiful mess. We were usually greeted with a toy and excitement when we got home, but there were a few times when we came back and he had chewed on something. Those days he'd meet us at the door with his tail tucked, and head down. "What did you do, Poncha?" He would look at us with more sorrow in his eyes than I knew a dog could express, and lead us to whatever he had done. He would then get sent under the bed for time out, and once released, life was good again. This was particularly funny when he was on a medication of some kind. He was smart enough to hide the pill in his mouth, and not swallow it. We'd follow him for a good while, and not seeing him spit anything out, be content that it had gone down.  He would then go spit the pill out in a corner, promptly feel bad about it, come get us, and show us what he had done.  I couldn't even punish him for those - too funny!

At least 70% of the time he got in trouble in his life, he turned himself in. This became very handy once we got another dog, as she could care less about getting in trouble. If they got into something while we were gone, we'd ask who did it, if it was him, it was obvious, if he greeted us with a toy and didn't start sulking when we asked, he was free, and she was in trouble (usually a safe bet anyway).  He was such an observant dog that most of his trained commands were silent gestures - he in fact responded better to these commands than verbal. From "Go to your room" or "get under the bed" when he was in trouble, to sit, lay down, lay your head down, stay, bow, etc. he was very easy to communicate with.

My "superdog"
He loved being under the bed. It was his favorite place to be, when being in our laps, or touching us in some way was not an option. He quickly outgrew the traditional bed frame we had and would cry, sticking his head as far under as he could to try to sleep. And so, when we built a bed out of aspen logs while still in Colorado, we measured his height to make sure he would be able to comfortably sleep under the bed. He escaped there to avoid any unpleasant experience as well. He was hard to trick. I could walk into a room a hundred times and he'd follow, but almost always if I was going in there to get his medicine, or give him a bath, no matter how nonchalant I was, he would get suspicious and under the bed he would go! Geoff says my demeanor changed and that's how he could tell, but there were definitely times that neither of us had a clue how he knew we were getting pills out of the dog food bin, and not dinner, but he could always tell.

There were a few flaws to this dog I'll mention in short. First, I never liked his name. We named him Poncha after the town we lived in, which was an Indian name meaning "big belly" apparently. Well, he was sick when we got him so had a big belly, which worked. Still, I liked "Bear" better, but Geoff thought that was too overused. Of course it is! It's a great name! Compromise named him "Poncha Bear." I called him Bear, Geoff called him Ponch. But neither really fit this dog, and that has always bothered me. "My boy," or "My Bear," usually won out as names of choice.  Second, he was an anxious dog. Would worry anytime he was alone, to the point we were told to put him on sedatives, etc. which I did not want to do. This was solved in great measure by getting him a little brown lab pup when he was 1 1/2 years old. We named her "Reyah" (Ray-Uh) which means "friend" in Hebrew. He loved hanging out with her, and while we were both at work during the day after we moved to Texas, they could play together, and though he was still obviously thrilled when we got home, he was not nearly as unstable with her around.  Third, he was sick a lot. Being part Sharpei, he had constant ear infections, skin problems in his paws, and food allergies; visits to the vet were frequent, expensive, and overwhelmingly stressful for my poor boy.
Ponch loved the snow!

He was fiercly loyal, preferring our company to any other. We always referred to Reyah as "Poncha's dog," first because we only got her for him, and she followed him everywhere, without regard or concern for us. But Ponch always followed us everywhere. He didn't beg to be pet, or scratched very often, but always wanted to be touched. He was happiest when he could lay down by the couch leaning against our legs, or under the dining room table while we ate, or fall asleep on the bed with his head on our feet - but always he did his best to be in physical contact with us whenever possible.  Reyah on the other hand, will be near us only until we stop petting her, and then will find the most comfortable spot away from us!

Climbing Mt. Princeton!
Her independence compared to his dependence also entitled her to being called our "dog" while he was affectionately our "kid." Don't get me wrong, Reyah is an incredible dog (also very well spoiled as much as possible) but her priorities in life lie in playing fetch, being with Poncha, eating, sleeping...and then spending time with us, while his were exclusively us. He would not eat if we
were not home, while she had no problem finishing not only her food, but his as well. He enjoyed playing fetch the most when we were cheering him on; he never begged to play as she does, but seemed to enjoy it because he thought it's what we wanted him to do.  The only thing in life he may have enjoyed as much as being with us, was swimming.  He loved retrieving sticks or toys from the water, but didn't need us to throw anything at all to have a good time, he'd just go swim in circles for as long as we'd let him. From rivers in Colorado, to lakes and ponds in Texas, he was in his "heaven on earth" in the water.

He was a big dog, especially compared to Reyah who maxed out at a slightly overweight 60 lbs. He was taller than most labs, and a healthy, lean 90 lbs. He had a deep, terrifying bark and growl, with a razor back that would scare off the worst of predators. He had a sleek, jet black coat, a big strong shaped head...and a very powerful, expressive tail. If we wanted to make sure he was under the bed, we'd just say his name and "thump, thump, thump." In his sleep if we said his name, or reached to pet him, "thump, thump, thump." He could clear a coffee table in one swipe and knock down a toddler with half. When Geoff or I got home and greeted him, we learned to get out of the way of the tail, as it could genuinely bruise a leg when going full throttle excited - which didn't take much for him.

All the "kids" together!
I'm forgetting one of his good friends, other than Reyah. Before she came along we found a New Zealand white rabbit running down a busy street in Abilene shortly after moving there from Colorado. Geoff wanted to keep it, so "Doc" came home with us. He potty trained well and spends the heat of summer, and cold of winter inside when we are home. Doc loved Poncha. Though Reyah didn't like to snuggle with anyone, except Ponch on occasion, Ponch was always up for a snuggle. Doc would burrow under his arm while he slept and stayed there enjoying the weight of Poncha's arm on his back. More often he would come up to Ponch, asking for attention, and Ponch would utilize him as a pillow, of which I have many cute pictures. Reyah didn't like the rabbit trying to cuddle, and never understood why he didn't play very well. But Ponch took care of Doc, and kept the Reyah pup from him when she got too rough.

I never imagined a dog could become such an incredible friend as he was. When I couldn't sleep at night, I'd lay on the couch, and he would come in and curl up in the crook of my legs and with his head on my knee look into my eyes in the most comforting way. When I would talk out my problems to him, he would constantly maintain eye contact, as though genuinely listening.  When nothing else in the world could calm me down on a bad day, he could.  He would jump on the bed at night and snuggle exactly where I wanted him too, keeping my legs and feet warm.  I loved the way he always greeted us by going to get a toy first, not for us to play with him, but just to express his excitement and love. I loved going on walks, and runs, and hikes with him. I rarely used a leash with him as his priority was always to be as close to me as possible, so the leash was really unnecessary. If another dog, or human came along, he would walk a step ahead or behind keeping himself between me and the "stranger." A few times a dog would come flying toward us, I'd be afraid they would get into a fight and I'd stop walking. Ponch would take a wider stance, standing right next to me, and with the hair on his back standing up let out a warning growl/bark. No dog ever made it within 15 feet of us with him around before tucking tail and running back. Then we would be back on the road, not a care in the world, with him running right by my side, and we were both as happy as could be.

Snuggling w/ Reyah
He was completely spoiled and "over" loved in every way that I could manage. There are so many animals on earth that are not taken care of, either because we take away their habitats, or capture or breed them as pets only to neglect them.  I can't save and personally love every animal, but those that do fall in my care will be as well taken care of as possible. I have no regrets for loving Ponch as much as I did. I don't regret one treat he got, or one night he slept on the bed. We had one of our late night talks the night before he was killed. I couldn't sleep so we talked and snuggled in the living room. I asked him then, as I did often, "What would I do without you Bear?" He was 4 1/2 years old, and already growing a fair amount of white on his chin. I had seriously thought about dying it black because I couldn't stand the idea that he had almost reached half of his expected life time. How could 10 years be nearly enough with this dog?

I love all animals I come into contact with. I adore Reyah and she is a great dog - but she is still mostly just a dog to me. He was my best friend, my boy, and the one I had spent more time with in the last 4 1/2 years of my life than any other living thing. He knew when I was sad, he knew when I was happy - and he cared. I never took him for granted. He was the dog I had always wanted, and even when Geoff teased me saying, "I know, Ponch can do no wrong," I had to admit he was right. He couldn't with me, because he was so much more than I had ever dreamed a dog could be. Though I had longed for a dog like him, I didn't know it was possible.

What would I do without him? Geoff and I had moved several times, changed jobs, endured hard transitions, over and over again. He was my constant, good thing, even when everything else seemed to spin out of control. The one thing I didn't have to worry about, or have any questions about. I never had to wonder if he really loved me, if I was good enough, etc. Ponch didn't care if I didn't run a fast mile when we went running. He helped me learn to just have fun, because he did. He didn't worry about where we were going to live when it was time to move again, he just wanted to go with us.

This year has been tough for Geoff and I.  Over the summer we had felt attacked on every angle. This led to a few sleepless nights, when of course I was with Ponch, talking it out to him, and thanking him for being the one thing I didn't have any questions about. I felt God's love so purely through this dog. I could pray with him, learn to let myself be loved better through him, and ultimately, I could be still before God, with him. The night before he died we had one of these nights together. As I did most every night after one of our snuggle talks, I asked Ponch what I would do without him, and would he mind living forever? He let out an amuzingly big sigh, and looked at me with those big dark eyes, laying his head on my knee. I'll never forget that moment.

The next day was a busy one, running to all kinds of different things. I played fetch with the dogs that morning, and laughed when he barked at one of the ladies from church who came by the shop behind our house. I cleaned house, and told him to learn to stop shedding. I had a bridal shower to go to that night, and the husband of the hostess's house escaped to our house to hang out with Geoff. I said goodbye, and they got to work fixing a sprinkler, pulling the hose out from the backyard, and I headed to the shower. After getting home, I was exhausted. It was almost 10, I let the dogs out in the backyard to potty before bedtime and collapsed on the bed. 5-10 minutes later I opened the door, called for the dogs, and Reyah came running in. I thought that was unusual; she didn't tend to come so quickly when called as instant obedience has never been high on her priority list. Poncha didn't come, and usually came very fast, so I assumed he had stayed inside and was asleep under the bed. He didn't usually like to go out at night, because of the fear of not being allowed back in and having to sleep outside - a funny fear for a dog who spent very few nights outside!

Geoff had just gotten home with ice for his traditional evening smoothie. I heard him come in and as I was working up the energy to go make the smoothie, my phone rang, and my nightmares came true. "Hello, I'm in Early, and I'm so sorry but I've just hit and killed your dog." My mind raced, and my stomach dropped. Disoriented I said, "who is this?" I had just let the dogs in, I knew Reyah was inside, I could hear her greeting Geoff, and Ponch was asleep under the bed...wasn't he? "Who is this? Are you sure you're in Early?" Surely she was mistaken, but how did she get my phone number? Did Reyah run out the front door? Did another dog steal their collar? Logic clashed with disbelief. I couldn't hear much of what the lady on the phone was saying, I finally asked a coherent question, one vitally important to me. "What color is the dog?" Now, to be clear, I wanted her to say white with purple spots...anything but black or brown. But all I really wanted to avoid hearing was "black." It would have been very hard to lose Reyah, but I couldn't imagine losing him.  The woman's voice came though, "He's a black lab."

I'm still not too sure what happened next, I remember calling for Ponch, looking under the bed, apologizing to the woman who was talking, but I couldn't understand anything as my mind was racing too much. All I knew was that Ponch was not under the bed. I stumbled to the kitchen, gave the phone to Geoff saying "I think he's dead," and walked out the front door not knowing where to go, my only hope being to find a dog that was injured, but not, in fact, dead. The highway runs right by our house, a big fear of mine when we moved here, but we had no other options at the time.  Geoff had caught up by then and was getting directions, he turned left at the drive, and I walked in disbelief until I saw Poncha's shadowy form lying on the side of the road two blocks ahead. I sprinted to him, kicking off my sandals to run faster; a mistake as the bruises on my feet the next few days were constant reminders of that run; the pain inviting me to relive it over and over. He looked asleep, not mangled, but very, very, still. I started yelling in his ear that I loved him, hoping he could still hear me, Geoff had to go talk to the lady waiting by her car; I couldn't leave him.  He went to get the truck and my panic started to take over. I remember trying to find a pulse, and giving up on that to try to pick him up to make him walk again. The grace of God sent a woman from the RV park across the street over. She asked me if he was okay, and I said in my panic that I didn't know, that he couldn't be dead, that I needed him, and rambled about I don't know what. She was able to calm me down enough that I regained a measure of sanity. Helped me feel that his paws were cold, he wasn't breathing, that he was gone. I'm not sure what would have happened in my hysteria on the side of the highway if she had not shown up. Praise God for his presence in people.

Geoff arrived with the truck, adrenaline and shock had numbed me enough that I could function. We loaded him in the back of the truck, called some friends to tell them what had happened, and then decided where to bury him. Geoff grew up in Early and his parents had owned 70 acres of land behind their house.  A dear friend had bought that land, and still owned it; we called and they gave us permission to bury him there. It was where Geoff had played as a kid, he loved it out there.  Kale and Savanna, the youth ministers from church who we had called earlier, called back saying they were coming to help.  Usually private, and wanting to do things like this by myself, I was shocked when I found myself telling Geoff to ask them to come. Having others around, I had just learned, was good for keeping sanity.

Back at the house we let Reyah see Ponch, hoping she would understand, and loaded her up to take her with us.  Kale and Savanna followed us to the land. We found a spot under three oak trees, near a creek bed and buried him there. I took his favorite toys and left them with him. He looked like he was sleeping, curled up with his favorite toys. I clutched his collar that I had taken off. He loved his collar. It was a funny thing we used to show people. If we took it off, he would look after it anxiously, and sit perfectly still while we put it back on. It was like he treasured it as a sign of belonging to someone.

When we were ready to go we got into the truck, and of course the battery had died. So we hiked back out of the land to where we had left Kale and Savanna's car on the road, and they gave us a ride home. After they dropped us off, I asked Geoff if we could go get the truck. We left Reyah at the house, one of the first times she'd ever been alone in her life, and headed back out in the explorer to get the truck, and to be with Ponch just a little longer. We put a big limestone rock on the grave; Poncha had been with us when we went to get that rock for landscaping at the house just a few weeks before. My dad was at camp that week, only checking his phone occasionally. He got the message I had sent, and called as I was sitting on the rock by Poncha's grave. I told him what had happened and cried.

We found out more details the next day as we went to visit the lady who had hit him, to thank her for calling, and staying with him till we got there. She said the dogs were together, that Reyah had run over to Ponch and sniffed him right after he was hit, and then took off running for home, apparently getting home right as I called her to come inside. The gate had been left open after the guys worked on the sprinkler that night, so when I let them out to potty, they went on an adventure. This part is still a mystery, as they did not usually wander very far, and had NEVER wandered toward the highway, or as far as they did that night. It was especially strange for him to wander so far, especially at night.

What hurts the most is that I didn't even know he was gone. I always double checked that he was under the bed, and I didn't that night; it would have been too late at that point anyway. I still can't believe he's gone; I still don't know what I'll do without him.  Reyah is adjusting to being an "only dog." We had two church events out of town back to back so she had to stay with my parents. The distraction of being with grandma and grandpa during the transition was very good for her. She was mopey on and off for the first several weeks, so we worked to keep her busy, or tired. The only time in her life since we got her that she was not with Ponch was the day she was at the vet to get fixed. I couldn't even take him running without her because she'd throw a fit if she was left alone, to the point I was afraid she'd go through a window. She has done better in recent weeks, and I think she's going to be okay. It's going to be quite an adjustment for her, and for us.  We all miss you, Bear; thank you for being such a great dog.
Poncha Bear
December 2006 - June 30, 2011

August 8, 2011

American Dream

Prosperous culture makes me weary. As this country continues to decline in economy, and the complaints of the still prosperous grow louder I feel overwhelmed by the entitlement, coveting, and demand that I see in myself, and those around me.  Our spot at the top as an economic world leader is threatened, and with it our wealth, our way of life, and our ability to take for granted the riches and comforts of this world.

The American dream is at stake; the ability to start out with nothing and still have a good chance to gain everything with a little hard work. With work, and doing the right things, we can gain anything we want; wealth, fame, power, and of course, Heaven. The theology of success perverts the call of Jesus as we build our own kingdoms and fashion our own mansions in Heaven, rather than seeking the heart of Jesus and living every waking moment in pursuit of loving Him by loving those around us. So often I am "encouraged" by "Christians" (whatever that term means anymore) who tell me that I'll "get another jewel in my crown," (or something like that), if only I continue to do what is right and work hard.  I don't believe they/we have bad intentions saying that.  I just think we're wrong.

It's the same theology that teaches us that "If you were the only person on earth, Jesus would still have died for you, so that you would go to Heaven." First, any sentence of "doctrine" or "theology" that contains so many "you's" should be banned. We have turned the sacrificial life of worship that Jesus calls us to, into a selfish, marketing campaign built around an eternal reward that is all about US. Pretty sure we're way off. I am confident that when we get to Heaven God won't be so glad we are there so He can worship US. We anticipate Heaven because WE this, and WE that. WE will have no more tears, WE will walk on streets of gold, WE will be rewarded for all the good things WE have done. Stop. If WE get to Heaven expecting it to be a place that's all about us, why anticipate Heaven at all? We live in that kind of place already.

Help me to long for GOD, to want to be with GOD, to worship GOD, to please GOD. I despise my selfishness, my longing for comforts that train me to be content in this world apart from my Savior. I am not saved if I worship myself still.  Salvation is, I believe, being rescued from the worship of self; entering into a oneness with the Spirit, Worship, and Desire of GOD. If HE does not overwhelm every detail of my life in thought, action, and dream - I live in vanity.

Christian. The very word has become a catchphrase, with countless definitions and exhibitions around the world. I don't want to be a Christian anymore. I want to be a believer, a Follower of Jesus. I think I look like a Christian, that's become pretty easy. Jesus is a part of my life; I want Him to BE my Life. That's much harder. I long to be a Follower of Jesus, not just a Christian. I have fewer of examples of what that looks like, but by the grace of God, I do have examples.

As billboards, radio announcements and leaders call us to prayer for our nation, I hope we keep in mind the Kingdom of Heaven, and not the kingdoms of this world. Let's pledge allegiance to the only One Who should have our devotion, and seek His will, not confusing our own. He has called us to make His house (our hearts) a house of prayer for ALL nations (all people) that we may, through Jesus, be one with our Creator as intended before sin entered the world through pursuit of selfish ambition.

March 30, 2011

Learning to Run

Somewhere along the way I lost a measure of my vulnerability in relationship to God. This grieves me beyond words.  I long for the innocence, passion, and reckless abandonment with which I once pursued my God, my Lord and Savior.  I do not feel as though my love or faith in Him as the one True, Good God has ever wavered.  I am not angry with God; there are no unresolved questions of "how could God do this, that, etc." that separate me from pursuing Him, though this is the common plague I hear when others confess to losing their passionate pursuit.

My struggle has not been with questions surrounding Who God is, but who I am, and who His Church is.  At a definitive point in my life, I let myself, and I believe, my God down, in a way that I still struggle to recover from.  I did not turn my back on my God, but allowed other things to move into my line of sight, and began focus on them at the forefront instead of Him.  Even momentary glances away leave scars on my heart, and allow the enemy a foothold to convince me that I am unworthy to look again toward my Savior.  My theology, my understanding of God, and my experience encouraging others urges me to receive His grace and run into my Savior's arms without hesitation - but in the moments of struggle, my lack of courage and poor perspective of the Divine leaves me hesitating with every step I take toward His Love.

This same struggle with my unworthiness before my God, followed me to my unworthiness before my husband.  Before we were engaged I struggled with whether or not I could allow him to love me, knowing I did not deserve such a man and had not lived up to all of my ideals of the perfect bride.  My dad took me for a drive before granting his blessing on our engagement.  He told me he would be more than willing to bless the marriage if only I would confess that I was a good match for Geoff, that I was a blessing to him, and worthy of such a man.  Though I still struggle with the concept of any person being worthy of anything - I did finally relent that God through me had made me someone who could be a blessing, and a good match for Geoff.

Beyond the struggle to look past my own failings lies a connected, yet greater struggle - to look past the failings of His Bride - the Church.  My struggle to reconcile my ability to be Geoff's bride is only a small mirror to my struggle with the Church presenting itself as the Bride of our beloved Savior.  I have been so angered, so hurt, and so disappointed by the institution of church - as have so many others.  As idealistic as I was about being a bride for Geoff - I cannot fathom the Purity and Love that should radiate from our Savior's Bride!  How can we be so bold as to call ourselves the "Church," the Bride of Christ, when we behave like we do?  I am deeply angered by half hearted devotion, traditional, yet meaningless doctrines, scriptural debates, and numerous other distractions that we engage in without Love; without JESUS.  I am weary of the trend toward finding our identity in Christianity, rather than Jesus Christ.

When I mention the "Church," I am speaking of the Church as a worldwide whole, not any specific congregation. I have been a part of church congregations who have hurt me deeply and made me never want to return to a church building. I have also been a part of gatherings that made me feel as though God was reaching through the people there to touch me directly with His Love.  It is the good experiences I have with the Church, moments where I felt as though I could see clearly a group of people coming together and representing the body of Christ, that make me so hungry to see Him represented throughout. We are not perfect, cannot be by ourselves, but will we clothe ourselves in He that is Perfect? Or will so many continue to clothe ourselves in traditions of men, because we are afraid of change, hesitating to Trust the ONE we exist to worship? While there may be activities we pursue half-heartedly in this life, being the Church, the Bride of Christ, should not be one of them.

I am reminded in Spirit even as I write this that anger with the shortcomings of myself, and with the Church are in of themselves distractions from Love.  I pray that the Church would be blessed with the courage, strength, vision, and LOVE to pursue JESUS with all passion, energy, and devotion. That our line of sight with the Father would be restored, allowing no distraction to stand in our way that we may see Him clearly, and not the rubble of this sinful world.  I pray that the Church would repent and be purified by the Blood of Jesus, that we may be presented before Him as His radiant Bride.

My hope and prayer for the Church is that same for myself. That we would not hesitate to run into the arms of God.  That we shed the baggage that hinders us in approach and rely fully and completely on His Grace and His Love to meet us when we run to Him.  I believe the only reason I long for such a thing is because it is His longing for us as well.

March 24, 2011

Travels to Israel and Jordan!

Geoff and I were blessed with an incredible three week trip to the land of the Bible and were able to explore many areas of Israel and Jordan. Though Egypt was on our original itinerary, we were unable to go there due to the political unrest in the area. Though disappointed about that, it did allow more time than expected in Israel - never a bad thing!

While there, we recorded a couple of videos for Geoff to send back to the church. He and another man are taking turns each Sunday reciting portions of Mark. Our goal was to get his recorded and sent back so they could be played even in his absence. Alas, the internet connection in Galilee was insufficient to say the least and we couldn't get them uploaded in time - but we have the videos anyway and I encourage you to watch them. He did a great job, and they are at two cool sites!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Things were peaceful when we arrived in Israel, security stops were borderline friendly (not a common experience), and we decided to travel immediately into the more historically unstable regions while we could safely do so. You never know when tensions will rise, so when things are calm, you take advantage of it.  The first days in Israel we spent going to significant sites located in or around Hebron, Ramallah, and Nablus in the West Bank areas. These areas were perfectly calm, and know one without being educated on the region would have cause to fear any unrest. The people were hospitable, grateful that we came to the sites located near their homes bringing tourism to their area.

Very few groups travel to many, if any, of the sites we visited in our first few days, which is unfortunate due to the historical significance, and strength of tradition and age of these major sites. Some of the sites we saw include Jacob's Well, located in modern day Nablus, and one of my all time favorite sites and stories of Jesus.  We also visited the Tombs of the Patriarchs when in Hebron, which is where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, and Jacob and Leah were buried, and traveled through Samaria and many other sites "off the beaten track."

We were working with a great group, half of whom had traveled through Israel before and were back to see more, so it was important to incorporate some of the "less seen" sites in the trip and those included many I had not visited before - which was very exciting! Neither Geoff or I had been to Jordan before, and this was very fun. We loved all of the sites we were able to visit there, and were honored by the hospitality of the Jordanian people we encountered.  Geoff loved being able to identify the landmarks in Israel from the other side of the Dead Sea, seeing the mountain ranges and sites from a different angle than he had before.

After the main group left, we remained for a few days with our mentor, Dr. James D. Martin, learning roads, meeting contacts, and discussing future possibilities.  It is easy to start feeling at home over there, with the simple lifestyle, the pursuit of learning and love, and the lack of luxury to worry about things that just really don't matter. People over there are sacrificing their luxuries, comforts, and sometimes lives for what they believe in. There is no passive faith available for those who claim religion, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew.  For this reason we have learned to meet the hostilities that rise up over there with a great deal of grace - knowing that these acts are not often senseless acts of violence, but responses to what they feel truly convicted to be necessary to defend their faith. Muslim's and Jew's alike have a theology of the land that leads them to believe whole heartedly that GOD wants them to fight for it. They are doing what they think God wants them to do. No matter how wrong these conclusions may be, I urge you to pray for the Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike in this region of the world.  Hostilities increased while we were over there, with a family being murdered, and retaliation beginning a new wave of harm. A bomb exploded in Jerusalem yesterday, the first of it's kind since 2004. Tensions remain so tight in that area of the world.

Pray for the people seeking Truth, that they will find HIM. Pray for those who are angry and no longer seeking anything but retaliation that they will find Peace in HIM. In name of Jesus.

January 23, 2011

Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne died today at 96 years old.  May never have been a life more fully devoted to health and fitness as this one - to the end. Famous for all kinds of fitness stunts and world records - even the Jumping Jack is named after him.

This video is a small clip of him only a year and a half ago at 95 years old, oozing with passion. Poor reporter is trying to be in charge with no chance - he knew what he wanted to say - same thing he always has! Watch this video - may help inspire us to keep up with those health themed New Year resolutions a little longer!

This one is quite a bit older - just as enthusiastic!