Category Archives: Perseverance

Running and winning my first and only 5K race

My children do not believe this story. They look at their “pleasantly plump” mother and cannot believe she ever played soccer in college. They don’t understand what multiple child births, along with a decade of caring for an elderly parent, does to one’s ability to exercise regularly! So, although it is true, I can understand why they have a hard time believing it. With this background, here goes.

My dear friend wanted to run a 5K race. She asked if I would be her accountability partner and train with her. I had no plans to run any race, but I liked my friend and figured it would be good exercise. We ran outside for most of the fall. However, when the weather was rainy or snowy, we headed to the campus indoor track. A friend of my older sister’s happened to run the student gym, so we would say hi and chat a bit while I was there. Training was fun for me because it kept me in good soccer shape and I got to chat with my friend while we ran.

Fast forward. My friend found a flyer on campus about an upcoming run put on by the Law School. The entrance fee was reasonable and the course was right around campus. She asked if I would enter with her. Of course, I said yes. We agreed right then that if during the race either one of us just couldn’t continue due to cramping or exhaustion, that the other one should keep running and we would just meet back at the finish line.

I don’t remember much about the morning of the race. I think I ate breakfast. We both showed up ready to run. When the race started, it was a huge pack of people. I remember thinking, “How in the world will this work? There are way too many racers to even fit on the street?” The two of us ran side by side and just kept moving with the pack. The pack was running fast, so we didn’t have the breath or energy to talk much. I am not sure how far we were into the race when my friend told me she needed to stop and would meet me at the finish line. After I made sure she was okay, I caught back up with the pack.

Just a little background to help you understand the humor in this story. I never ran track in high school. The thought of just running bored me to death. I played soccer because I liked being with all the people. The sport part of the game was fun, too. I didn’t mind running if I was actually thinking about scoring or having fun with friends. But running by itself was never something I would consider. I didn’t have the internal fortitude to stick with something as serious as running.

Back to the race. Okay, so as I am keeping up with this pack, I start to realize that I never even looked at that race brochure. I had no idea what the course was like. I had relied on my friend to know this, and she had to stop running. This meant two things: 1) I must keep with this pack or I will get lost; 2) I had no clue how far I had already run or how much of the race was left. These are two desperate things to be running through your head during a 5K race! So, in my usual fashion, I decided to just run with the pack and forget the rest. I didn’t pay attention to who was in the pack, I just ran. That’s funny because the pack was mostly men, however, I was behind a handful of women so that’s all I saw.

As the course winded back towards campus, I felt some relief because I at least knew I couldn’t get lost now. As we turned a corner, we faced a giant hill. I don’t know if it was really “giant” but at that moment it felt giant. I saw my friend sitting on the lawn next to the hill waving at me. I also saw about half of the campus standing on either side of the street watching the race. Suddenly, I am ashamed to admit, my vanity took hold. I thought to myself, “I’m dying here. I am exhausted. I want to stop and sit on the lawn with my friend. But I cannot do that. All these people are watching me. Okay. Fine. I will just beat that lady in front of me up this hill. I will kick it into high gear and ignore that it is a hill because I am so embarrassed at this moment.”

And that’s what I did. I ran my heart out up that hill and passed that lady and kept on running. Suddenly, I hear people saying, “Good race! Way to go!” followed by “Stop. Stop. The race is over. Come back!” Huh? So I stop running and am walking to catch my breath. The lady I passed comes over and shakes my hand with a disgusted look on her face. She says, “Congratulations,” but her body language says, “I hate you.” I am confused. Now, there’s laughter. One of the volunteers working to put on the race tells me, “Do you know that you won the race?” I think she is kidding because all these guys were in front of me. I must have looked confused. She says, “You are the winner of the women.” I think I said something like, “Oh, okay,” and started to walk and find my friend. The volunteer grabbed my arm and said, “You need to collect your prizes.” I think I was in shock. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I received a gift certificate for a Dinner for Two to a very nice restaurant. Sometime, I will have to tell you how I asked my husband out on our first date with the gift certificate!

P.S. I have never run a 5K race again. Even though I won, I definitely did not enjoy running that race. I have no idea how many women entered the race, and honestly don’t care.

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Patience and Humility Can Be Found in the Toilet

If you pray for patience, God will bring you the perfect opportunities to learn how to be patient. If you pray for humility, He will do the same. I know this to be true because every time I think that I need work on a virtue, I think that praying for it will be some kind of short cut to learning how to live that virtue. Ha. Ha. Ha. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither apparently does God. You see, anything that is worthwhile takes time. I have been remodeling my bathrooms. My experience at this is basically nill. I am not too proud to ask for help. I just cannot at this moment afford professional contractors whose bids could pay for a semester of my son’s future college. So, I pick the brains of my siblings and parents and friends. Sometimes, one of them actually helps me do something, like change out the sinks. Because bathrooms are small, it seems like they should be quick and easy to update. That’s a joke.

I remember the first house my husband and I purchased. It had solid bones but was definitely outdated. We spent the first few years of our marriage (before we had children) painting and updating that house. One of the first rooms we tackled was…you guessed it: the bathroom. It was more like a small closet. It also had lots of bump outs and wall surfaces.  I chose a gorgeous vertical stripe wallpaper (popular back then) for the upper portion, and a solid dark blue paint for below the chair rail. It was during this project that I realized that my husband and I would stay married forever.

Why? Because every time we went to hang a piece of vertical stripe paper, it appeared to be diagonal. Not one single wall in that closet/bathroom was plumb. We started just “eyeballing” it, which worked until we hit a turn in the wall which was also not plumb. Our patience was increased by leaps and bounds throughout that project.

Fast forwards to today. I should have remembered all the time it took for that silly little bathroom when I undertook mine. One is completed (almost…there are always those nagging little details that need finishing up) and the other is 15% complete. I try to keep smiling and thanking God for giving me such a dose of patience and humility all in one project, as I scrub the tile with a toothbrush to bring back its original beauty. Tonight, I grout. Tomorrow, I install the toilet! Any well wishes and prayers are appreciated as I honestly have no idea what I am doing!

Finding Our Green Thumbs

Our little garden is growing! I am so excited and so are the kids. You may think this sounds silly, but honestly, we put a lot of hard work into tilling the soil, clearing the tree roots and prepping the area so that our plantings would grow.  And now they are growing!

Our past attempts at a vegetable garden ended terribly. First, I chose a section of ground that was too large for one gardener. Second, I planted whatever my children selected from the seed store. Third, I didn’t really spend any time reading what each plant needed. Fourth, I ignored the fact that bunnies and squirrels and birds lived throughout our back yard. Fifth, I didn’t see a need for fencing or protecting these plants, figuring there would be enough for the animals and us. Finally, my children were about 10 years younger and their patience level was much less, too. So I had no time to ponder and plan as they wanted to plant their seeds and right now! The concept of patience and waiting was not so well-developed in them at that time, as well as the concept of growth taking time.

The results of our first garden almost ten years ago was a small breakfast cereal bowl of lettuce with a few carrots–as in two. The rest of the lettuce was devoured by our bunny friends before it even grew much above the ground. The carrots were also uprooted. The pumpkin and squash vines grew all over the garden, making us guess that we would have a bumper crop. Somehow, pollination just didn’t happen. Our flowers never became pumpkins. Lazy bees? Sick bees? Who knows! But no pumpkins or squash. We also planted some sunflowers which the kids were certain would grow huge. Hmmmm, I don’t think they even started out of the ground. With all the work we did for that garden, the kids were not very enthused about a bowl of lettuce and a few carrots. In fact, I think I ate the lettuce!

Fast forward to today. We only planted herbs, but my tea has already been quite tasty with some fresh mint leaves. The kids are planning to make Signora Maria’s famous homemade Marinara Sauce with fresh basil from the garden. Only a few more weeks and we’ll hopefully have tomatoes. We have lots of other herbs that my “sous chefs” will find recipes for. It should be a tasty summer.

My youngest has been taken on official watering status. Although God has been providing a lot of rain, she stands at the ready to fill in when needed. Tiny weeds have started peaking through the soil. She and I will tackle those tomorrow, while we smile at the giant tomato plants that have already grown taller than their stakes!

 

Is your marriage white, chocolate or lemon?

I traveled this weekend to say goodbye to the family farm. It has been in the family for over 150 years. My great-grandfather came from Germany and “pinned” the land. He gave each of his sons a farm. This gift meant a whole lot during the Depression. Our family didn’t suffer much because by then, we owned the land free and clear, along with the fact that growing food and livestock was part of the farm plans anyway.

Fast forward to the current generation of owners. My father and his three siblings jointly own the land. We have rented it to other farmers for decades. With the financial needs for medical care mounting for my elders, they have finally decided to sell.

So, we gathered for a “Farewell to the Farm” celebration. We also celebrated a 50th Wedding Anniversary, a 17th Wedding Anniversary, and a Wedding Engagement. Three generations of family celebrating the various states of marriage. My talented cousin whipped up one of her famous wedding cakes. It was a three-tier cake: white, chocolate, and lemon.

Isn’t that just like marriage? In the beginning, it’s white–pure and simple. Your love for each other helps you see just how wonderful that person is. Truly, your spouse is a gift from God. The white tier was the largest tier. That makes sense. Lots of people get married and love their spouse.

Then, as you progress through years of parenting, job changes, life changes, things can get a little murky. You begin to see your spouse’s faults so clearly, even while you ignore your own! But through this process, if God is the center of your marriage, love becomes much richer and deeper because it is a choice, not an emotion. This chocolate cake was the second tier and it wasn’t quite as big as the white cake. That also makes sense because many people don’t put God at the center of their marriage. When they finally see their spouse, warts and all, they want to divorce. Never mind that they have their warts, too! Yep, not as many marriages make it to the chocolate stage.

Finally, if you make it through the gauntlet, you arrive at the realization that you picked a lemon, but you managed to make lemonade! You’ve learned to take the sweet and sour of life together in stride. This was by far the smallest tier on the cake. Many people make it through those child-rearing years, only to find that they no longer know or care about their spouse. God was never the center of their marriage, and they were just getting through life, holding it together for the kids. Once the kids are gone, another portion of marriages end in divorce. Definitely, the smallest amount of marriages arrive at lemon.

All this to say that although “farewell to the farm” is sad, our family celebrates as it continues to grow and welcome new members with love. And yes, some marriages will not make it, but we pray that each couple keeps God at the center of their lives together and find that sweet spot called lemon.

Digging in the Dirt All Day

What could be more fun than digging in the dirt? My oldest son and I started tearing into a piece of ground that has been hounding me to make it into a garden. Almost 8 years later, I succumbed! Because of its location, there could be no roto-tiller action. This had to be hand dug with shovels. As an added bonus, the stump of on old magnolia tree was hidden beneath the rocks and dirt. Fortunately, it had already started to decompose so that much of it was easily removed.

After we tackled the first layer, my son mentioned he had to shower before piano lessons and disappeared. I asked him to send one of his siblings back in his place. My eldest daughter arrives. She is eating a peanut butter and jelly because she knows she is leaving for soccer practice soon. I beg a half hour of her time, and she gladly assists me. She and I dig a trench that is 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep and 6 feet long. She helps me with clearing roots and rocks. I am thrilled with her help. My husband/soccer coach calls to her that it’s time to leave. I beg her to send another sibling in her place.

My youngest daughter soon arrives on the scene. I have her change out of flip-flops and pull back her hair. She is the ultimate rock/root remover. We are making steady progress and starting to combine the hard clay pieces with fresh, moist fertilized garden soil, when my youngest son chances his way outside. I ask him to join us. He tells me he would rather not. I explain that someday he may want to know how to plant a garden and I may not be around to show him. Now is the time if he wants this life skill. He actually goes and gets his work clothes on and comes back outside. Unbelievable!

I give him the shovel and show him what to do. He starts digging away. He actually is enjoying this and says so. I guess he forgot all those hours he spent digging in our turtle-shaped sand box that now sits empty by the driveway. I knew he would enjoy this part. Then his shovel hits something hard. It is a root. He begins to excavate around it. It just keeps getting bigger. He decides he will try to cut it out. Whack. Whack. Whack. This goes on for quite some time. Now, my oldest son joins us again. He takes over the whacking. After 15 minutes, we were only halfway through the root. I suggest we leave that root and move on. There is plenty more dirt to dig.

This is the point where things were no longer fun. My youngest started singing songs which was annoying her brothers. The boys wondered how much longer this would take. I suggested my daughter should stop singing because when working with a crew, you have to be considerate of others. She asked what we should do then. I suggested, “Ora et Labora” which in Latin means pray and work. I told them this is the motto of the Benedictines, so we were being Benedictines today. I think they will choose a different order if they discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life!

One by one, the children would disappear, but at least one would stay and help. This went on for most of the day. After about 6 hours, with two 15-minute breaks for meals, we had prepped the soil, planted our garden, and placed the fencing and netting to keep out all the creatures. It looks awesome and I must say it was truly a family affair. We are all pleased by accomplishing such a rewarding task. As we drove to the Snow Cone hut for a well deserved treat, we began to take guesses which critter or bug would eat our plants this time. I just hope the deer don’t want greens for a late night snack tonight!

Sweaty and upset says “I do”

After 22 years of marriage, my husband is still a mystery to me. We are celebrating our wedding anniversary today and laughing about that day so long ago when we decided to marry forever. We both admit that neither one of us had any clue about how challenging being married and staying married could be. We look back and see all the marriages that ended in divorce, and are so thankful that we have made it through the gauntlet so far.

When we compared notes on our wedding day this morning, my husband recalls that he wasn’t nervous at all, until the entire church turned to look at him when he and his groomsmen proceeded out from the side altar. He was definitely unprepared for that!

I wasn’t nervous either. I definitely remember being hot. We were married in a church that had no air conditioning. It was an enormous structure and beautiful. It just happened to be unseasonably hot for mid May. I felt like a flower that was drooping. My lovely, professionally curled hair began to flatten like a mop. But that is minor compared to what happened before my husband and groomsmen arrived on the scene.

Like I mentioned, this church was enormous. The bride’s room was towards the church entrance, while the groom’s room was downstairs and towards the altar. When the organ began to play that was the cue for the groom and his groom’s men to come. The music started and duh, duh, da duh–no groom or groom’s men. The music continued. My father began to panic. He sent my younger brother to find the groom. My father started turning red all over. He actually accused my soon-to-be husband of leaving me at the altar! Now, I wasn’t only hot, I was angry! I couldn’t believe my own father had such little faith in my future husband. I began to argue with my father, telling him just how ridiculous his idea was. That’s when my brother arrives saying he cannot find the groom or any groom’s men. I seriously thought I saw steam begin blowing from my father’s ears! Oh boy.

As the organist was winding down the first song and my father is in full panic mode, in walks my husband and his groom’s men. Later, my husband explained that they could not hear the music from downstairs and were too busy laughing and enjoying themselves to realize they should be listening.

I whipped my veil over my face, grabbed my father’s arm, and put on the biggest smile I could conjure under the both sweaty and upsetting conditions of a moment ago. I think I dragged my father down the aisle. Everything was lovely throughout the ceremony and we were happily married. And then, there was the limo ride to the reception. That’s another story for another blog.

Should I stay or should I go?

The lyrics from on old song came roaring through my head this morning: Should I stay or should I go now?/ Should I stay or should I go now?/If I go there will be trouble/ An’ if I stay it will be double/ So come on and let me know/ Should I stay or should I go?

We are remodeling our kitchen and clearing many things out of our home. Through this process, we are trying to determine if we should stay in this home or move. There are a whole host of reasons for choosing to stay or choosing to go. I used to be the kind of person who would list out all the pros and cons and decide from there. Boy, have I changed!

Nowadays, I am learning and practicing the 4-step:

Step 1 = STOP
I stop when faced with a big decision like this. This takes a tremendous amount of will power for me because I am by nature a decision-maker. So I force myself to completely halt everything to do with the decision.

Step 2 = PRAYER
I step up my prayer life and go directly to God. My weekly Adoration hour has been focused on listening. What does God want us to do? Is there a reason we should stay? Is there a reason we should go?

Step 3 = WISE COUNSEL
I turn to someone who knows our Lord better than anyone else, the Blessed Virgin Mary. I started a Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel which has turned into what feels like an eternal novena! I am way past 9 days of praying, but I keep asking for guidance. However, it has been revealed to me that the Blessed Virgin’s guidance is guaranteed when it concerns your eternal salvation. This made me realize that staying or going may not affect my eternal salvation, so I may not need or receive much guidance here.

I usually find myself scheduling a meeting with my Spiritual Director, who always has practical yet difficult-to-hear-and-do advice. Honestly, I haven’t done that just yet….

Step 4 = CLARITY
I wait for clarity through this discernment process. This is the hardest part of the 4-Step. Hanging around when you are living in no-man’s land is a test of patience, fortitude, perseverance and faith. Especially when everyone around you–your spouse, your remodeling help, your family, your friends, your neighbors–is really badly wanting an answer. Waiting is difficult, but waiting while being pestered can be intolerable. Ask any mom who has toddlers in the grocery store check-out line.

This 4-Step has taught me to be more patient. I used to pray things like, “God, I need to know by next week if you want me to sell my house. If I don’t  hear from you, I’m going to assume you want me to stay.” Wow, what pride I had/have to demand things of God. His ways are not our ways, and his time is not our time. I am feeling this truth tremendously right now.

Please do not think that I am “perfect” in this regard. At the beginning of this process, I jump-started into action, then realized I had broken the rules of 4-Stepping. I had to backtrack, apologize to some folks, and undo some things. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I once again overlooked God in a big decision in my life. So, my hope is that by sharing this with others, I will feel even more compelled to follow it in my own life.

Today, I still am under tremendous pressure to answer this question: Should we stay or should we go? And just like the song states,”if I go there could be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.” But I am not asking a person to answer this for me. I am asking an all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, awesome God and His handmaid, Mary the Untier of Knots, to help me. I am sure I will know with much clarity what I am supposed to do soon enough.

 

To Finish and Finish Well

I was talking with my children about how the end of the school year is so hard for everyone. The spring weather calls to us, wanting us to come outside and enjoy the sunshine and beauty. The school work has been getting more difficult throughout the year, so that by the end of third quarter, we are just starting to break into some truly challenging material. The final exams also mean more intense study. Meanwhile, summer planning has made the excitement of a break from all of this intensity creep into our minds. It’s the perfect storm for poor school performance.

As I considered all of these things, I realized why I always had such an upper hand on my classmates in school. I pretty much conquered school without even thinking too hard about it. Yes, I was the correct learning style for the school room (visual and aural learner), and I had self-discipline and intelligence. Connect that with fundamental respect for adults in authority and personal responsibility, and I see how I was way ahead of the game.

However, as the kids and I talked through the challenges of year-end, I realized that I was able to move beyond my peers because I am a finisher. Although by personality and gifts, I am a very creative, not-too-organized idea-generator, somehow I also have the gift of perseverance. I go until the bitter end. Some would argue this is just a strong will. It is. But it is also a gift because I won’t give up or let obstacles slow me down. When most of my classmates sat down at the end of third quarter, I kicked into high gear. Some day, I’ll share the story of how I won the first and only 5K race in which I ever participated because of this exact principle.

The whole point of this discussion is to teach my children that sometimes in life you win just by showing up consistently and finishing the race. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. In fact, oftentimes, it is not. But that old fable of the turtle and the hare is based on an immutable truth. Perseverance matters. And if you can even increase your performance at the very end, you will pass by many of your peers in any area of your life.

It is humbling to admit that I used to care about finishing well for the sake of college scholarships or job promotions or recognition or honors. Now, I care about it for my soul and my family’s eternal salvation. I want to be able to say what St. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8)

 

Winning the Lottery and Knowing You are Dying

“I know what I’d do if I won the Lottery,” my sister said to me.  I thought to myself, “Really? She knows what she would do? Hmmm…I’m not quite sure I know what I would do.” She continued, “I would pay for our entire family to go on a Disney Cruise.” Right now, that’s about 70 people at least. “Yeah, that would cost some money,” I replied.

I’m not sure how we got started talking about winning the Lottery, but our conversation right before that is what we would change if we knew we were dying. That was a much easier question for me to answer. I said right away, “I wouldn’t change one thing.” That sounded crazy to my ears at first, but I followed it with, “I have fought long and hard to get my life ordered on the right things. I have put God first, my spouse second, my children third, my family next, followed by my neighbors and community and church. I don’t think I would change a thing.”

But the more I thought about it today, the more I realized I would change some things. I would go to daily Mass. I would wake up much earlier and pray. I have done both of these things on and off for the past few years, but I cannot seem to be consistent. It’s like my selfishness and my love for God are battling it out. Sometimes, I feel as if I am on the sidelines watching. Sometimes, my vocation as wife and mother makes me wonder if this is even possible. So, I think I would change this, but everything else, I wouldn’t change.

As for the Lottery, I have given it some thought. Although I never play the Lottery, if I did, I know what I would like to do with that money. I would like to buy a large property with woods, a lake, and cabins all around. I would build a Retreat Center for Families. This would be a place where families could come and spend time to relax and grow in their faith. I would ask the Sacred Heart Sisters to teach and plan the retreats because this is their charism–to serve the Married Church–and they are awesome at it. I would make it so that money was never a barrier for experiencing a weekend full of grace and spiritual growth. On the days when the Retreat Center was empty, I would have a 24-hour Adoration Chapel and I would pray.

As I type this blog, I am thinking the whole time: “You will never win the Lottery. Why are you even writing this?” Just now, it hit me. In all truth, I have won the Lottery already, and it is because God’s plans are so much bigger than mine. See, Jesus Christ died on the Cross for each single person. He made sure each of us “won the Lottery” in the most incredible way possible. He gave us Eternal life and invites us to be adopted sons and daughters of God! This changes the whole way we look at living and dying, too. If I knew I was dying, I would know I was that much closer to being with God face-to-face. I imagine I would be experiencing a “quickening” of sorts that would prepare me for this. Although those around me would grieve, I would only more strongly have to share my belief and faith in God’s plan. I would want everyone to know that we all have won the lottery, and death has been conquered! I pray that all people will come to understand that they have won the lottery in this way when they know they are dying.

Taking Nest-Building to a Whole New Level

A robin has decided to build a nest in a terrible location–on our house. Somehow, we all overlooked this giant nest in our comings and goings. This bird’s choice of location is by our downspout under an overhang. My husband noticed the nest and swept it down. He took the twigs and grass and sprinkled them in the woods.

The next morning, the nest was back. Apparently, this robin is a quick worker or her mate is a really good helpmate. So my husband once more swept the nest down and took away the raw materials.

That afternoon, the nest was back. As we loaded up in the minivan to visit friends, we watched my husband once more knock down the nest. I said, “Poor bird. She just wants to make her babies a home.” My husband said, “She has 7 acres of woods to choose from, and she picks a metal downspout?” I’m thinking she may not be a very smart bird after all.

My brother and his family arrived the next day for a brief visit. He saw my husband knocking down another nest. His comment was that he had the same problem at his house. He said, “The way I figure it is that we have this whole outdoors to share. There’s plenty of room for their nest elsewhere.”

Yesterday, my children and I were enjoying an Easter Monday celebration with our dear family friends. When we arrived home, my husband informed me that he had knocked down 4 nests. These robins have kicked into high gear! The time for laying eggs must be imminent.

I remember those days when I was pregnant with each child. I would kick into high nest-building gear. My husband would come home from work and find our household rearranged. Large and heavy pieces of furniture would have moved from one room to another without a mark on the floor or walls. I remember him looking at our giant sofa and saying, “You and I together could barely budge this thing. How in the world did you move it into an entirely different room by yourself?” The facts didn’t count when it came to preparing for the new life in my belly. And once those babies arrived, my husband and I spent hours enjoying God’s little gift in our lives, and still do!

I hope that our robins choose one of the many thousands of trees for their next nest which would be a much better choice. I understand they want a safe nest for their soon-to-be baby birds. I think the robins are showing us how much life matters. I wish that every couple would take to heart the perseverance of our robins in creating a loving, safe home for their soon-to-be baby. And then every couple would be able to enjoy this amazing gift from our good God for the rest of their lives.