Saturday, January 13, 2018

Strong Again


That was my theme for last year. I’d had a GREAT 2016 of running and racing, and while I wanted more, my body said it was time to rest. I found myself inwardly panicked, wondering what I would do with myself, what would I fill the running void with, and I even found myself wondering what would be good or interesting about me if I couldn’t run…

The fact that I was asking these questions showed me it wasn’t only my body that needed healing and renewal. My faith needed it as well.

So my theme of “Strong Again” became all encompassing. Sure, I wanted my body to heal so I could chase after those running goals again, but I wanted to strengthen my faith and relationship with God as well. I’d had a lot of fear and worry about many things in 2016 - the state of our country being one of them. But I knew I wasn’t created to live that way.

Looking back at 2017, I can’t say I always stayed the course. There were times I looked to my own devices to satiate my desire for whatever I was no longer getting from running. I think that’s why diving came into the picture. It started as a whim, a way to return to me something I’d lost. But once I entered that underwater world, it became a passion, a way to experience a part of God’s creation I’d never seen before. And it, in turn, drew me closer to Him.

By the end of 2017, I was stronger in many ways. I’d allowed myself to recover, and I gradually began running and training again. I felt so very grateful to God, for gently, gracefully turning my eyes back to Him, even when they’d begun to look elsewhere. A year that started with tears and disappointment, frustration and doubt, became a truly amazing, wonderful, life-changing year.

Which brings me to 2018. Another new year. And I wanted another theme. It came to me immediately. “Push your limits.” It applies to everything once again. Running pursuits, diving experiences, continuing to grow closer to my Lord and Savior who continues to do His work in me. I also want to continue writing - pushing my limits there, stretching and moving those writing muscles I've let atrophy in recent years.

I’d love another PR - but I’m really happy to just be running and feeling good again. I received a new underwater camera for Christmas, and my hope is to work on my photography skills, and to capture moments of sea life that show why I have fallen so in love with that world. I’d love to grow my skills as a diver, experiencing new things and expanding my knowledge.

I’m excited about this new year. I praise God for what He has done in my life, for His grace and mercy on my ever wandering heart, and I ask Him to continue the work He’s doing. I don’t make that request lightly...it makes me a little nervous, but I’m still trying to live without fear, focusing instead on faith so I press on.

I’m pushing limits in 2018. Here goes...


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Listen


During one of my stints of grad school, I was working on my TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) certificate, and took a particular linguistics course that I thoroughly enjoyed. The professor was Dr. Youmans, and she was amazing. Our class was small, maybe 10 students total, and we were more like a little family than a class.

One of the things Dr. Youmans had us do was transcribe recorded conversations. While this may sound like a total drag, it was actually fascinating. I recorded lunch conversations with my coworkers, talks with Granny, hilarious conversations with my family, and would then listen to them over and over again, typing out every word spoken. My fellow students and I would read our transcriptions aloud in class which made for lots of laughter and some really interesting conversations.

We looked for things like interruptions and unfinished sentences, instances when someone else finished a sentence for the speaker and then ran with the train of thought. And something that really stood out in all of these transcriptions was how little anyone actually listened. What should have been considered rude, was actually quite common place. The art of give and take in conversation - listening to a complete thought, mulling it over and responding to that thought - was hardly ever present in these conversations we studied.

Listening. It is such a pleasant word and concept. It embodies the kind of person I want to be. Thoughtful. Interested. Kind. Attentive. Patient. Still. Quiet. Open.

Yet, even with my desire to be a good listener, I catch myself speaking over others to make my point, interrupting, and forming my own thoughts instead of listening to the thoughts of others. I get excited about a story, passionate about a subject, and sometimes the desire to be heard overpowers the desire to hear.

And so my resolve is renewed. I remind myself to quiet my mind and listen, to hear, to understand the speaker, to join them in their thought or story. Completely. I continue to practice this art, this discipline, this act of really listening, hoping to one day master it.

As my beloved linguistics course was drawing to a close, Dr. Youmans was killed in a car accident. I remember receiving the e-mail and rereading again and again, hoping it would eventually say something else. I didn’t know her outside of our class, but I was heartbroken. Another teacher took over for those last few classes, our little family broke apart, and that was that.

I eventually completed my TESOL certificate, and looking back all the classes seem to run together...except for Dr. Youmans’. She showed me the art and importance of listening, and that is a lesson I hope to always remember.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Chase



I started running when I was around 14 years old. Back then we used the good ole car odometer to mark our routes, and I’d choose my route depending on the mileage I wanted to run that day. Sometimes I ran with my mom, but I often ran by myself too. I’d come home from school, have a snack, lace up, and head out. It was a great way to process my teenage thoughts and emotions, move around after sitting in class all day, dream, pray, imagine… my mind was as free as my feet, and I found great joy in those solo runs.
On one particular day, I headed out for 4 or 5 miles, following the usual route to the mailbox at the turnaround point and heading straight back.

I was running along, enjoying myself as usual, when I saw two boys riding skateboards. I vaguely recognized them from my elementary school days, but we attended different middle schools, and I hadn’t seen them in years. We will call them J and B. I can’t remember exactly how it started, but when they saw me they gave chase. And because I was being chased, I ran from them.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I ran. They probably would have given up if I’d stopped. But for some reason I ran harder and harder, trying to get away from them. They were taunting me and shouting at me, and it made me nervous, but I don’t think they would have hurt me. I vaguely remember wondering how long I could run like that because I was still a good mile or two from home.

Finally I came to the last intersection before I’d be back in my neighborhood, and I shot across that street hoping the skateboards wouldn’t be able to follow me in the traffic.

That’s when I saw her. The most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. Sitting in her car at the intersection.

My mom.

Now, if you were a student of A. Crawford Mosley High School and had her for a guidance counselor...or really if you knew her at all, you would’ve known not to mess with Erin McGuire. She was a no-nonsense, no excuses, do-what-you-are-supposed-to-do, intimidating force of nature. Because of this she helped countless students and families, but it also meant you didn’t want to cross her.

It meant you certainly didn’t want to get caught chasing her baby down the street on your skateboard.

She saw me fly across the street with a look of fear in my eyes. She rolled down her window as I pointed behind me, trying to catch my breath and tell her what was happening.

J and B must have seen this from across the street, because they quickly turned their skateboards around and sped back the way they’d come…

And she followed.

Meanwhile, I ran home, collapsing gratefully in my front yard, and I’m pretty sure I chuckled a little. I had no idea what she’d do, but I’d been her daughter long enough to know it would be good.

When Mom got home from wherever she’d been going when she saw me at that intersection, she gave me the details. She’d chased them in her car all the way back to their houses. When they finally reached their yards, tired and out of breath from trying to out-skate her, she pulled up beside them and said, “Now you know how it feels to be chased like that. Don’t you EVER chase my daughter again.”

They said, “Yes Ma’am” between heaving breaths. And that was that.

I continued to run those routes fearlessly, just as I had before the chase. I knew it was unlikely they would bother me again, and I was right. They never did.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Granny



I got in trouble a lot when I was little. So much so, that after the 1st grade my parents removed me from the elementary school where my mom taught and put me in a different one to preserve our relationship...or Mom’s sanity. There are stories upon stories upon stories of the things I did, and many are funny now, but at the time, my mom probably wondered what was wrong with me, while my dad doled out a steady, constant, probably daily dose of discipline.

I remember wondering how I always managed to get in trouble. I just kept stumbling into it. I didn't mean to, there were just things I needed to know or wanted to do, and they seemed quite reasonable to my 5 year old, 6 year old, 7 year old mind. I’m sure my antics got old. I know it got old always getting in trouble for them.

But every Friday night there was a place I could go. A place where I never (yes, never) got in trouble. A place that was always fun and easy to be.

Granny’s house.

Granny was my safe place. She knew how much I got into trouble, but she never thought I was a bad kid. It never changed how she felt about me, and she made no secret of how she felt about me. I was one loved kid at Granny’s house.

Her kind of love was the 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love, and it was just what this grandchild of hers needed.

Despite how I felt during those rough preteen years, my parents were true warriors when it came to loving and raising me. I know Granny didn’t have to do the hard parts, just the loving, and she did that part so well. Eventually I figured out how to stay out of trouble. I became a good kid, a straight A student, a follower of rules. Around the age of 13 or 14, I decided there was more to this Christian thing than just carrying the name, and I started seeking God and trying to be more like Jesus.

While Granny wasn’t perfect - she wasn’t a deep spiritual thinker or a Bible scholar, and she probably let a few choice words fly every now and again - she knew how to love her grandchildren. She might not have ever realized the impact her love had on me, but I have, and it was big.

Granny passed away when I was 25, and I still miss her terribly. I carry this longing for her to have known Jason and the kids, that they too could have been loved by her. I wish she could see me now, with two little ones who may very well give me a taste of my own medicine. But even though she’s not here in person, I have the sweet memories of her example in my pocket. I may not always get it just right, but I know what that kind of love looks like, and I hope I can be a “granny” to someone...or many someones. Because I believe everyone needs to be loved like that.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Discussing Death


The other morning I awoke next to the small, beautiful human who is my daughter. She'd had a high fever for a few days, so I spent those nights on the trundle bed in her room. That morning it seemed like our eyes opened at the same moment, and we smiled at each other as she inched over to my bed and burrowed under the covers. After a few minutes, she sat up and said, “I love you, Mama,” and I answered back, “I love you, Baby.” And then she said, “So you won't die?”

While somewhat surprising first thing in the morning, this wasn't the first time she'd asked me about death. She'd mentioned it to Jason and I once or twice recently, and we'd said something light and dismissive, like no we weren't going to die, and she didn't need to worry about that right now.

But that had not satisfied her, so in the stillness of the morning when she had my full attention, she asked again.

“I am going to die,” I said. “But not anytime soon.” Of course, I had no way of knowing that, but I continued anyway. “I probably won't die until I am very old. Older than Grandpod.” (Sorry, Dad). Even as I was speaking, I knew this wasn't a promise I could make. I wanted to be honest with her, but I wanted my answer to be appropriate for a 5 year old. I wanted to instill hope and peace, not fear and worry over a concept she was just beginning to grasp...if it's possible to ever fully grasp death.

And then my answer became obvious and clear. A gift from the Holy Spirit, quite possibly, as He whispered in my ear the truth that embodied hope and peace. I allowed the words to flow forth, sweet to my own heart as I poured them into hers.

“You know, it will be ok when I do die,” I said, “because I'm going to a wonderful place. A place even better than where we are now, if you can believe it.” She was listening intently, so I continued. “I'm going to Heaven, which is where God is. It's where all the people who love Him go.”

“God is there?” She asked.

“Yes.”

“Will I be able to see him?”

“Yes.”

“Will, I be able to talk?”

I smiled. “Yes, you'll be able to talk.”

We talked about how beautiful Heaven would be and who we would see there. I told her about those I loved, like my grandparents, who I wanted to see when I got there. While our imaginations took liberties outside of what I've read in the Bible about Heaven, I'm pretty sure God’s imagination has greatly outdone mine.

I never would have imagined discussing death with a 5 year old to be a pleasant conversation, but it sure turned out to be. Spending those few quiet moments with my girl, talking about Heaven...well, it felt like I'd experienced a small piece of it that morning.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Scar


At the age of 17, something happened that changed my appearance. And while I could have been really upset by it, I wasn't. Instead of an ugly mark, I saw something else entirely.

My parents and I were on our way home from visiting my granddad in Fort Walton Beach, FL. We were driving in Dad’s Dodge Ram pickup truck, and Mom was dozing by the window, while I sat in the middle seat reading a book I’d borrowed from Granddaddy. Chicken Soup for the Soul, I think. Without warning, my face was slammed into the dashboard. I could hear Mom whimpering a little and Dad frantically calling my name. “I’m okay,” I said, “But I’m bleeding.” Somehow I’d seen my reflection, I’m not sure in what. I cupped my hand under my chin, and we all crawled out of the mangled truck.  

A van had crossed traffic right in front of us, and we hit it going about 45 mph. To make a long night in the ER short, I had a large gash on my chin, and it had to be sewn up on the inside and the outside. It was quite a gash.

Even when the stitches were out, my scar was a bright, angry red and jagged. You couldn’t miss it. Everyone noticed it, and people I hardly knew would ask what happened. I remember taking those uncomfortable moments and turning them into a chance to say how I viewed my scar. I was grateful for that scar because it meant life. God had decided to save my life that day, whether for a purpose or simply because it pleased Him to do so, I didn’t know. But I knew I wanted to live the life He’d spared with purpose. His purpose.

Fast forward to today, twenty years later. I catch myself looking so critically at the lines on my face, lamenting the unkindness of the aging process, and it is hard to imagine the heart of my 17 year old self truly not minding the ugly, red mark across my chin. It is still there, so faint now, the jagged edges fixed long ago. Even so, it still catches my eye from time to time, and I still run my fingers over it when reading or thinking about something.

It is then, in those moments when my thoughts settle upon it, that God uses that scar to shift my focus. He gently reminds me that aging is also evidence of life still being lived, of work still to do, of a husband to help, of children to show Him to, of hearts to encourage and lift, of a helping hand to be given, a card sent, a meal provided, a home opened, a smile given, an ear lended, a hurt forgiven, a seed planted, a bit of Jesus shown...until He calls me home.

I don't know when that will be, but I know what I'm to do in the meantime. And when I forget, when I lose focus, when I’m discouraged and filled with doubt, distracted or just plain tired, all I have to do is look in the mirror to be reminded of God’s great love and purpose all over again.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Arms of Love

After graduating from Auburn in 2001, I headed to Jingzhou (pronounced Jing-Jo) City in China to teach English at a small agricultural college. The college was outside one of the last walled cities in China, and while this city was considered small, it was home to about 2 million Chinese people. Among these 2 million Chinese people were about 8-12 Americans of which I was one.

In this small city, it was quite possible to come across Chinese people who had never seen or spoken to a real live American, and we were very intriguing to them. So intriguing that being outside the school gates could be very tiring some days as I was often approached by people wanting to talk with me or take a picture with me, and at the very least, they pointed and said loudly to all who could hear, “Mei-guo-ren!” which meant American.

At the college, I taught both spoken and written English classes to juniors and seniors, and while my students were only a few years younger than I was, they were more like children than my fellow college students from Auburn. If there was time at the end of each class, I would let them ask questions about America and sometimes about me. And at every such opportunity one of them would always ask me to sing.

My students loved music, karaoke, and singing any chance they could get. They didn't have to be good at it to enjoy it, so if I asked them to sing their favorite song for me instead, they would without hesitation and in front of the entire class. Common favorites were “Right Here Waiting for You” and “My Heart Will Go On.”

I avoided singing for them as long as I could until the English department put on a talent show for the school. They begged and I caved. Someone asked me what song I would sing for the program, and I'm pretty sure the entire school showed up when they learned the American teacher would be singing.

I don't remember much about that night except it was cold (buildings weren't heated) and for the first (and probably last) time since I'd been there, this extremely loud city was quiet. I walked up on stage, was handed a mic, and I began to sing.

“I sing a simple song of love, to my Savior, to my Jesus.
I'm grateful for the things you've done, my loving Savior, oh precious Jesus.
And my heart is glad that you've called me your own
And there's no place I'd rather be
Than in your arms of love, in your arms of love
Holding me still, holding me near in your arms of love.”

The song was one of my favorites from my days at the Auburn Christian Student Center, and while living in Jingzhou, I sang it when loneliness or homesickness got the better of me. I knew without a doubt my God was with me in this place so different from anything I'd ever known, and singing these simple words brought Him closer and made me feel safe.