A guide to ambiguous college decisions

Today we welcome Brooke Lange – special guest contributor to the fire. Her decision making wisdom grown from her recent college choice process is helpful for all of us making any kind of big or small life decision. She is a regular contributor to her college blog and this post was recently featured. Enjoy more of her work at http://www.cune.edu

Published by Brooke 2 weeks ago on Thu, May 13, 2021 4:41 http://www.cune.edu

My visit to Concordia began and ended with little drama. I talked to people, I toured the buildings, I observed people doing college things. The day was entirely normal, which was the issue.  

I got coffee with my mom and contemplated and went for a quick run and contemplated more and ultimately continued living my life.  

After a while, I decided to accept Concordia University Nebraska into my life. It was about the spring of my junior year. For me, it was because of my major. There were few colleges that offered a quality English as a Second Language program, and Concordia was one that was not ridiculously expensive, and conveniently located in not Hawaii.  

When I would tell Concordia alum and some of my own friends why I made the decision to go there, they had the tendency to ask me with wide eyes and bated breath, “Didn’t it just feel like home?”  

It did not. It did not feel like anything.  

As an ardent lover of pros and cons lists, Freakonomics, and the phrase, “based on past experiences,” the notion of choosing a college based on how it made you feel really perplexed me. There was no reason! There was no system! I felt simultaneously justified and unjustified in my college decision. Justified because I felt I had logic on my side, unjustified because I did not have this P(S)aul on his way to Damascus type revelation that everyone was speaking of.  

So, I thought, and I concluded that people are diverse enough to make decisions using a variety of methods. Crazy, I know.  

Maybe you’re like me and you’re choosing a college based on what you believe to be logical reasons. When I was making my college decision, my main goal was to be an ESL teacher and work overseas. I had a clear picture of what I wanted my future to look like, and in my mind, Concordia was the most logical way to get there.  

Despite what I might want to think, this absolutely could change. I could have arrived at Concordia and realized that I hated teaching, (has not happened yet, I will keep you posted) or that there were better opportunities for me somewhere else. We can use logic and reason as a means to get to the ends we want, but sometimes those ends change.   

Maybe you don’t really have a specific plan going into college, but you visit, and you like the campus and the people, and truly, you just want to be a part of it.  

This can also change. Although there are lovely people at every college, you might eventually find that your goals and aspirations don’t align with the university or the community you’re surrounded by. Emotions are also important in making college considerations, but let me tell you, those also change a lot during college.  

Essentially, you can make your college decision in the way you are comfortable. But saying that you have made the absolute right decision when these big decisions and changes in life occur can be pretty limiting.   

The summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved from Michigan to Missouri. It all seemed very sudden. The high school I was planning on going to was such a big part of my life. My dad taught there, my siblings went there, and attending high school basketball games and plays was a staple activity in my house. I already knew a lot of the teachers, coaches, and I had a vague outline of a friend group. When we decided to move, my future at that school, so seemingly meticulous in the making was gone. 

  The high school I attended in Missouri had a sizable percentage of international students, and during the summer of my sophomore year, I went on choir tour in Europe. These opportunities I had to connect with  people from other cultures made me realize that I wanted to be able to help people to make these connections. It was then that I decided I wanted to teach English as a Second Language. 

I was truly on the cusp of living an entirely different life. My life in Michigan had all the trappings of being happy and successful, but for whatever reason, the fabric of my life changed. 

However you make the big decisions of your life, or perhaps, have the big decisions made for you, do not limit yourself to simply what appears to be the right choice. Our brains are a maze of discovered and undiscovered passions, aspirations, and talents. The world is similarly complex. It is honorable to bloom where you’re planted, but please do not believe you are incapable of growing anywhere else. 

Brooke

About Brooke

Halloo! I’m Brooke, welcome to the blog!
I’m a freshman education major who enjoys encouraging my plants, watching The Office to destress and great movie soundtracks.

Read more from Brooke

A guide to ambiguous college decisionsSome Helpful…And Not So Helpful College Purchases

Steeplechaser

Halfway through an eight-miler, our feet crunching the gravel roads, my running partner pointed out that although a mile out of town, we could still see our church’s steeple. “I like to see how far away I can get and still catch a glimpse of it poking out above the trees,” she continued. St. Pauls’ Germanic steeple towers above almost everything else in town, gently giving dimension to the skyline. It’s a good thing Victoria is a distance runner, because we have to get pretty far away from town to no longer turn and witness its beauty.

Many, many years ago, according to Business Insider, runners “would often race each other from one town’s church steeple to the next. The steeples were chosen because they were easy to see from long distances…The countryside would also require runners to jump over various barriers over the course of their race. These included stone walls and small rivers.”

Modern track and field competitions modernized this race by using hurdles to simulate the walls and a water pit for the creeks and rivers, naming it “Steeplechase.”

Although I never competed in track and field, I often engage in my own steeple game. Running through life, I get stuck in a path of self-pity or selfish pursuit. How long can I pound down this pavement of self-pity and selfish ambition while still peeking back and seeing the steeple? I can always stop and run back, I tell myself, I’m not that far gone yet…my self-righteousness must not be too bad if the steeple is still in view behind me.

Yesterday I read Psalm 25. A beautiful prayer, which I encourage you to digest in entirety, but I want to highlight a few sections specifically.

David pleads in verse four, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your path” and then in verse ten recognizes, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” In contrast to my own selfish plans, God’s ways are full of love and commitment.

But praise be to God we are not left alone to right our footsteps: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” We are promised that our sins are already forgiven through Christ’s work on the cross, and we are given the Holy Spirit as a helper when we are caught in the path of self-centeredness. What a gift!

If you run through Concordia, be sure to look for the steeple and remember the steadfast promise waiting for you in love.

Vickie Pottschmidt is a lovely person to run alongside 🙂

Knowlton, E. (2016, August 17). Here’s how steeplechase – the wackiest event in track and field – came to get its name and water jumps. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/olympic-steeplechase-history-explainer-2016-8.

Silence

I am excited to introduce Nancy Gowen to the campfire community. My (Molly’s) writing teacher, mentor, and mom! Thank you for sharing your gift of words with us today and welcome the the Campfire.

The silence was deafening. All that deep quiet, intending to give a sense of peace and tranquility,
nearly exploded in my head and made sleep elusive. The mountain was dark and the cabin completely void of noise, but I was not calmed by it. I finally got out of bed and put in my earbuds to listen to a podcast to drown the quiet.


A combination of life events evidently caused tinnitus, a constant whoosh of noise in my left ear. I’ve had it for years and it is hardly perceptible until I listen for it, or I am in a noticeably quiet place. Being in that much quiet was painful.


Thinking back on that situation makes me wonder about the noise we “hear.” Is it background noise or is it disruptive? What is that hum, barely noticed in the milieu of life? Are we tuned in to the noise of the daily or have we learned to ignore it? I remember the long-long-short-long whistle of the trains behind my childhood home, the constant buzz of cicadas in summer while living in a farming community, military aircraft practicing over the house and whining sirens from first responders coming into and leaving the hospital across the street. Have you had similar sound experiences that you have become accustomed to?


The ear doctor told me that I had better hearing than most of his patients, which seems kind of paradoxical. With constant distraction, do I really hear that well? Apparently, the noise is superficial, or perhaps my brain has accommodated for it. Rather than lament its annoyance, what can I learn from this noise?


Elijah heard sounds that seemed to carry God’s signature, but it was the still small voice that spoke His word. Here is Elijah, waiting on God to speak, and God used a quiet noise to get his attention. (I Kings 19:11-13)


Jonah had to be swallowed to hear God’s voice. Noah and Abraham waited years to hear the plan. Jeremiah couldn’t hear God for all of his complaining.


Henri Nouwen wrote many books about prayer and in most of his books, he connects prayer with quiet listening. He suggested that in order to really hear God, a closet was a good place to start (and this was 25 years before War Room was published!). Nouwen writes, “the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice…” (Life of the Beloved) He also understood that we are easily distracted people. Have you ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer all the way through without losing concentration? To stay focused, Nouwen recommended repeating a short Bible passage repeatedly, perhaps 2-5 words long. With practice, we learn to hear what God is saying. I want my whooshing ear to be the silencer of other background noise, or maybe to hear that background better. Maybe that’s the Voice. Maybe I just need to talk less and listen more.
Maybe it is time to find a good closet.

Reading Poetry, Reading Scripture

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

For the last year and a half, I have been pursuing an MFA degree in fiction writing. For as long as I can remember, I have loved stories—immersive settings, evocative prose, interesting characters in strange situations. But for how much I adore good literature, I’ve always been a little intimidated by poetry. 

I don’t think I’m alone. In my experience, most people avoid reading poetry these days, either because they find it difficult to understand, too esoteric, and/or just plain boring.  

Lately, I’ve been wondering if many of us struggle to read Scripture for the same reasons we struggle to read poetry. After all, around one third of the Bible is poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Revelation), and much of the rest of Scripture relies heavily on poetic language—metaphor, allusion, symbolism, imagery, etc. For those of us who have a hard time with poetry, it isn’t any wonder that Scripture can sometimes feel a bit inaccessible, too. 

This spring I decided to challenge myself as a writer and reader by enrolling in a poetry class. I’ve learned a ton from my classmates and professor about how to actually enjoy engaging with poetry, and I’ve started to use some of those same strategies when engaging with Scripture. Approaching Scripture with an eye for the poetic has made reading the Bible more pleasurable for me and has helped me feel closer to the Lord—after all, as the format of the Bible makes clear, God speaks to us through poetry!  

So, I’ve decided to share some of what I’ve learned with you in hopes that it will help you, too, refresh your approach to Scripture and hear God speak. 

1. Read slowly and more than once. Poetry is not meant to be guzzled like those best-selling paperback novels we see in airport bookshops. Poetry, like a fine wine, is meant to be savored. While I do think it’s admirable to read as much Scripture as possible in a single sitting, I have found it most beneficial to read small portions of Scripture at a time—perhaps just a handful of verses. This allows me space to meditate on the language, and to really consider what the text is saying. When it comes to good poetry, including Scripture, new meanings often emerge upon reading the text for a second, third, or fourth time that may not have been apparent on that first read.  

2. Read with a pen in your hand. We live in a culture that favors passive consumption, but poetry and Scripture resist passivity. In fact, poetry and Scripture demand active engagement. One of the best ways to engage with any text is to annotate, annotate, annotate. Underline words and phrases that stand out to you, jot down questions and gut reactions, make note of connections you see between the text and other texts, or between the text and your life. Annotating your Bible, or taking notes in a notebook, puts you in direct dialogue with God’s Word and helps you avoid the temptation to consume Scripture passively.

3. Look up words or allusions you don’t understand. Maybe this seems obvious, but I think it’s worth emphasizing: Often, the key to unlocking an entire poem is simply looking up a term or reference that I don’t fully understand. This has proved true for me when reading the Bible, as well. Scripture is particularly complicated when you take into account the historical contexts in which the text was written (much of which is foreign to our postmodern sensibilities) and the fact that the Bible is translated from ancient languages. Taking a few minutes to look at alternative translations, look up difficult words, or Google historical information has made scripture feel much more accessible.  

4. Find pleasure in the language. Even when a poem feels difficult to decipher, we can still enjoy it simply for the beauty of its language. The Bible is full of exquisite language, too. Take this portion of Psalm 104 for example:

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

    O Lord my God, you are very great!

You are clothed with splendor and majesty,

    covering yourself with light as with a garment,

    stretching out the heavens like a tent.

He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;

he makes the clouds his chariot;

    he rides on the wings of the wind;

he makes his messengers winds,

    his ministers a flaming fire.

He set the earth on its foundations,

    so that it should never be moved.

You covered it with the deep as with a garment;

    the waters stood above the mountains.

At your rebuke they fled;

    at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.

The mountains rose, the valleys sank down

    to the place that you appointed for them.

You set a boundary that they may not pass,

    so that they might not again cover the earth.

Without trying to understand what the Psalm means, let the imagery sink in: garments made of light, chariots made of clouds, mountains fleeing at the thundering sound of God’s voice. The images alone, even apart from the context of the verse, are like paintings in the mind. To describe God is beyond our ability as humans, but the Psalmist uses poetic language—metaphor, simile, and symbolism—to get as close as possible. 

5. Find rest in ambiguity. I think one reason we often resist poetry is because we feel like poems are trying to trick us—like each poem has a single meaning, and it’s our job as readers to work through the language to decipher that meaning. But poems are not riddles. They are not locked containers designed for hiding ideas. Good poetry is often ambiguous because, well, life is ambiguous, and poetry is meant to reflect life. In an article for poets.org, Edward Hirsch puts it this way:

Too often we resist ambiguity. Perhaps our lives are changing so fast that we long for stability somewhere, and because most of the reading we do is for instruction or information, we prefer it without shades of gray. We want it to be predictable and easy to digest. And so difficult poetry is the ultimate torment … [To appreciate poetry], We have to cultivate a new mindset, a new practice of enjoying the inconclusive.

I tend to resist ambiguity when I read Scripture, too. I like easy answers, simple explanations. However, much of Scripture—like all great poetry—is paradoxical and mysterious, and it’s okay to rest in that. I like to think of it this way: If everything about God was always easy for us mere humans to understand, what would make him God and us human? Let us bask in the wonderment of God’s mysteries. Let us appreciate that God is God and we are human—some of him is simply beyond our comprehension. Let us find rest in that knowledge and praise him all the more for it!

To Love Me is to Know Me

When our daughter, Louisa, moved from California to Missouri last summer, my husband and I took the opportunity to hand off some of the bins of her papers and memorabilia that had been taking up space in our garage.  A couple of weeks after receiving these “treasures,” Lou sent me this text:  “I went through those bins you sent down here, and I have a whole bin to send back because it is Katrina and Ted’s stuff. But I found this:” 

Below this text was a photo of a weathered piece of notebook paper with the following heading:

“Chicken Pox Blessings – Louisa”

Seeing those words transported me back 20 years to the winter of 2001 and the time when chicken pox ran quickly through our missionary school in Moscow.  Students and parents alike fell victim, and only a few families were spared the interruption of a chicken pox siege.  In our family, this memorable period began innocently when one of Louisa’s friends came home from school with her.  The girls played quietly together for a couple of hours, and a few days later we learned that Louisa’s friend had chicken pox. If we had plotted to expose Louisa to this illness, we could not have done better!  Within a few days we detected the first spots on Louisa’s back and chest.

So it was that Louisa and I spent much of the next two weeks together as she bore the discomfort of sores, fever, fatigue, and itching and then began to recover and heal.  Katrina and Ted brought home daily reports of more and more kids who had disappeared from the daily school routine. We knew it was only a matter of time before Louisa’s siblings would have it, too, but for those two weeks my world was small, and I was focused on Louisa.

As she began to feel better, I was moved to make a few observations—a kind of remembrance of this quiet time that we spent together. Thus came into being the list of “chicken pox blessings” that Louisa found nearly 20 years later. It continues as follows:

“A Mom likes to discover things about her children.  Thanks to Chicken Pox, I have discovered, or rediscovered, some things about Louisa:

  1. Even when she is sick, she is active, and not one to lie around for awhile.
  2. She is innovative and creative, thinking of her own way to deal with itching.  She kept her hands busy so she wouldn’t scratch, and gently rubbed her shirt over her chest and back to relieve itching.
  3. She tends to be patient or at least quiet, rather than vocal, during her illness.
  4. She doesn’t, as a rule, drink a lot of water!
  5. She can focus on one thing very intently.
  6. She enjoys helping, unless she is focusing.
  7. Her dream house has lots of room for Action, Art, Adventure!
  8. She prays, and appreciates prayer.
  9. She has a quick sense of humor (she “gets” Calvin and Hobbes)
  10. She is sentimental about “old stuff”

Other things were also a blessing:

  1. I got to spend lots of time with Louisa, and so did Ted
  2. We got to move the room around, so it was better for everyone.
  3.  

Well, there was nothing written for that third point.  Clearly, I had intended to go on, but in a household with one child recovering and two others going down for the count, something probably distracted me.

Louisa keeping busy in the time of Chicken Pox

To my great regret, I did not begin a similar list of blessings for either Ted or Katrina. Ted has reminded me that they had each other to occupy them, and they even spent some of their time deciding how they would welcome Louisa home from school at the end of each day.  Still, I consider it a pity not to have a list for each of my kids because the striking thing, as I read my observations about Louisa, is that much of what I discovered (or rediscovered) is still true.  I treasure this reminder that those quiet slower-paced days of nursing Louisa through her illness allowed me to know my girl a little differently—a little better. 

This experience helped to reinforce a piece of advice that I read as a relatively new parent when Katrina, our oldest, was still a baby.  It went something like this: “Grab a cup of coffee, have a seat, and take some time to study your child while he or she is playing.”  It was an attractive idea, to be sure.  I like to sit.  I like coffee.  Sit in an easy chair, sip from a steaming mug, and watch—not just watch, but study—my little one while she contentedly putters about with her toys. What could be better? 

I have often shared this advice with young mothers, but I usually add a disclaimer, because what I learned, from the few times I tried to do this, was that Katrina was quick to realize I was not busy with anything else, and she wanted me to be busy with her!  My coffee cooled on an end table and I exchanged my comfortable chair for the hard floor as we played together.  But—mission accomplished. I learned that quality time together was important to her—and it is still one of her love languages. 

We are fond of telling parents “nobody knows your kids better than you do,” but it’s not something that happens automatically.  The fact is that you know something better if you study it, and that includes a child.  Study includes observing, thinking, and reflecting.  Quite simply, it takes time, and time has become a most precious commodity, I think. But studying our children—however we do it—is time well spent. A friend of mine told me recently that her husband loved to just sit and stare at their baby son. “I just can’t stop looking at him,” he says.  And I think, “Perfect.  Study that little boy. Start now and keep studying him throughout his life.  Learn all you can about him and help him learn about himself.  It’s a powerful way of saying, “You are loved.”

My husband and I were fortunate to have opportunity and encouragement for studying our kids.  Our life as a missionary family in Russia allowed for a lot of family time during the years when our children were still small.  Over time, John’s increasing responsibilities led to training and education that was designed to help him better understand his own strengths and weaknesses. He enjoyed bringing the things he learned home to our family, so that the “discovery tools” he learned to use became part of our family discussion.  We would even joke that “Dad has a new test for us to take,” or “Dad has a book to tell us about.”  But we also knew that we were going to learn something new about each other and ourselves, and that was a good thing.

The phrase, “To know me is to love me” is familiar to many of us.  It can also take the form of “to know him is to love him,” or “to know her is to love her.”  It reflects the idea that anyone who knows a person will automatically love them…or if you know that person, you can’t help but love them…they are that lovable.  The problem is that for plenty of people, the more we get to know them the less impressed we are.  Love and appreciation do not always grow from knowledge of other people. All too often both love and any desire to know come to a screeching halt.

But turn that phrase around, and we have a truth that comes straight from God:  To love me is to know me.  Psalm 139:1-4 says,

“O Lord, you have searched me

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise:

You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

You know it completely, O Lord.”

God IS love. His love for his creation, and for each of us in his creation, is extraordinary and nothing we have earned or deserved.  It’s not that, by knowing us God can’t help but love us.  It’s more like he loves us and can’t help but know us.  And isn’t this what we all desire—to be fully loved, fully known?

I think our world is crying out to be known.  We feel unheard, unappreciated, unwanted, and much of it begins with feeling unknown.  We resent being lumped in groups and categories, without any knowledge of the intricacies that make each of us unique. And instead of building bridges to know each other better we build walls that keep the “unknowns” out of our life.  And at the same time that we resent not being known, we think we know a lot about everybody else.  The fact is that without the love and gracious forgiveness that only is possible because of our Savior, Jesus, gaining knowledge of one another that leads to understanding and the certainty of being loved is impossible. 

There’s a lot we can do to help the people in our circles feel fully known and fully loved.  I realize that’s easy to say, and not always easily done.  If people are open and talkative, there’s a lot you can learn in a short amount of time, although there is probably more under the surface, still to be discovered.  If people  are like me, they are harder to know to know—I am an introvert, I tend to listen more than talk, I like my privacy, and my circle of friends is small.  In knowing others, I tend to err on the side of caution, expecting other people to be as private as I am. But I do appreciate it when I realize that people have observed things about me and are willing to share those observations with me. This reminds me that there are ways of knowing people that don’t require invading their space, but rather the time to study them in different situations, building trust, looking for opportunities to ask questions in a comfortable way that leads to better understanding.

We can take that understanding a step further– The chicken pox siege gave me the opportunity to know my daughter better and to put my knowledge of her into words—words that were precious 20 years later. As an adult and a teacher, Louisa has learned the power of defining and communicating what she knows about her students to them…she helps them to see in themselves the things that she sees—their abilities, characteristics, and gifts that are God-given and make them the persons they are.  Those insights, too, become precious over time.

A few months ago–at Christmastime–Louisa got married.  She and Andrew had put three years into a long-distance relationship, and her move back to the Midwest was meant to give them an opportunity to spend time together in the same place.  It only took a few months for them to realize that they did, indeed, want to spend their lives together!

In early October, when Andrew spoke to John and me about asking Louisa to marry him, one of my enduring impressions from that conversation this: “He knows her. He loves her and he knows her.”  We knew that Louisa loved Andrew, and Andrew loved Louisa.  By God’s grace, in loving each other, they were also eager to know each other. Knowing took time, but it made love all the more real. 

Resources for knowing yourself, your loved ones, and others:

  • Charles F Boyd with Dr. Robert A. Rohm, Different Children, Different Needs:  Understanding the Unique Personality of Your Child
  • Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages
  • Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, The 5 Love Languages of Children: The secret to Loving Children Effectively
  • Richard J. Leider, Calling Cards: Uncover Your Calling (set of cards with instructions)

Space for you

I see you.

You, the one reading these words.

The one who woke up today.

The one thats been given another day to live, breath, work, play, rejoice, mourn….

and write.

One of the unexpected gifts of creating this space for friends to gather and share stories are the handful

of new friends that have quietly asked if they could share as well.

One request came in an email.

Another with a friend in a conversation we enjoyed over lunch.

and one more in a late night ding to my facebook messenger app.

They all shared the same thing…..

“Beth I think I have a story to share around your fire.”

They did.

And they shared.

And many were blessed.

Friend – you, the one reading these words.

The one that has been given another day to live, breath, work, play, rejoice , mourn and

write.

I believe you have a story as well. If you’re alive – you have a story. And if your heart is beating a bit faster

right now at the though of putting it in writing and sharing with our fire….

It may be a sign that you should.

Friend – your story, your reflection on the crazy or simple ways God has or is working in your life

is important.

And there is space for you…..

Here.

This is your invitation ( if you havn’t picked up on my subtle hints yet:) to send me an email, ask me to join you for lunch or send me a late night FB Message .

There is an open seat at the fire……

for you.

Is it time to share YOUR story?

30k by 30

On March 6th, 2021 I ran 18.6 miles. No, it’s not a new fad race distance; it was my birthday party.

The idea began with an innocent conversation at the breakfast table. “What was that race I did with you mommy?” my oldest asked.

“You ran a 5K, sweetie,” I responded while spooning scrambled eggs onto the baby’s tray.

“Oh, yeah, because I’m five. Next year I’ll run a 6K,” he responded. I acknowledged his idea with a smile and went back to my steaming cup of coffee.

An hour later, I stepped out into the clear, 65-degree morning for a quick two-miler. As my feet crunched gravel on country roads I mulled over conversations from the past week: acknowledging the fragility of life, lamenting current events, naming personal disappointments and sorrows. My heart ached for circumstances out of my control. I needed to remember the purpose of striving.

My son’s words echoed in my head, and I wondered: could I run a 30k on my 30th birthday? If I could conquer this somewhat crazy goal, and God used my efforts for his glory, then maybe even one person could find hope to conquer their own challenge.

Later that day, I started looking into my crazy idea. I had about six months before I hit my next decade which, according to most training plans on the interwebs, was plenty of time for a decently in-shape mom to get off the couch and get in some Ks.

If you read the first sentence of this blog post, you already know I completed my goal (so much for suspense).

s/o to Pastor Michael for the artistic sign!

And while I don’t want to diminish the incredible feeling of crossing the (imaginary) finish line, the time spent training is where God worked in my heart, bringing me to my knees and lifting me into his care. I journaled throughout my experience and, through reflection, compiled the top 30 things I learned. Just kidding, no one has time for that. Here are my top six wisdoms-in-progress:

  1. Tell someone

About a week into my training I told my longtime and very dear friend about my goal. She frequently checked in and always spoke kindness and encouragement over me despite my roller coaster of self-doubt (which probably got pretty old pretty quick). Although she lives several hours away, she surprised me at mile ten on race day, and at mile fourteen, Melissa laced up her running shoes and inspired me through the last 4.6. Through her generous spirit, I realized that no matter how big or small a goal might be, we need to open up to one (or several) people. It will be hard. It will push us to actually follow through on what we say. I promise it will be worth it. 

Surprise!
  1. Find a tribe

In February 2020 I was six months postpartum with my third baby and hadn’t run consistently since becoming a parent six years ago. When my across-the-street neighbor learned of my pre-child marathon days, she invited me into their weekly running group. Although intimidated by marathon running mothers, I nervously laced up my Brooks and walked across the Trail of Memories one Saturday. They did not laugh when I stopped at three miles, and the community running eventually pushed me to five, and then eight. When I shared my 30k by 30 plan, once again no one laughed, and Victoria even chirped, “I’d love to train for and run it with you!” (she did!) They told funny stories during hard miles, offered their own equipment as a loaner until I could get my own, and opened up their homes for post-run celebrations. (While a tribe can be any group of like-minded people: a mom’s Bible study, a church community group, a book club, or a softball team, I realize that finding an in-person tribe can be difficult right now. Our running club met outside year-round and is a naturally socially distant activity, but don’t give up if your only tribe options are online… see my next point)

Cheers to many more long runs with this lovely group.
  1. No step is too small.

The other day I had an opportunity to run for fifteen minutes. Pre 30k, I would have turned up my nose, whined that I didn’t have more time, and served iced coffee and chocolate at my pity party. While training, I realized even walking my kids to school instead of driving built muscle, perseverance, and desire for more: a domino effect that ultimately helped me accomplish a big goal.

  1. Look around.

The town where I live is only 1.78 square miles, so during distance runs, I got to know the neighborhoods very well. I recognized new paint jobs, flourishing gardens, and where extra prayer might be needed. Now, as I walk my children to school or enjoy an afternoon run, my eyes are looking for opportunities to pray and praise.

  1. Invest wisely.

At the advice of my running group, I purchased running “gadgets,” and my body thanked me for proper nutrition, hydration, and a muscle roller. Investing in the care of my body meant I was better able to serve my family and friends as well as enjoy the training.

  1. Rely on God 

In the last weeks of training, I continually fought the fear of not finishing. What if I let all these people down? What if I got injured? I relearned the beauty of casting my burdens and fears on the Lord, taking them to him in prayer and resting in his promises. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7) 

The way I see it

“I can think of 10,000 other things I can spend $30 on that would be more fun than this.”

It was hot. We didn’t have water and I didn’t know what I was doing- or actually I wasn’t good at what I was doing. The most logical response – whine and complain and quit. And so we did. We walked off the course on the 5th hole because I was done, with a capital D.

Golf or anything that costs money that results in frustration, discouragement and silent rides home in the car with your spouse feels like an exercise in futility. At least it did 27 years ago when my husband was trying to convince me that this sport would be something we could do together for the long haul. I was perfectly happy with our rhythm of playing tennis. We both enjoyed it. I felt like I got a good workout and occasionally I would get a shot past him. I understood the game, had a decent serve and could hold my own. Tom reminded me that as much as we enjoyed tennis the likelihood of us playing into our later years was probably not going to happen. Golf was easier on the body and there was always the option of taking a cart. So, Tom was all in to improving his golf game, investing in equipment and lessons and I was all out.

Somewhere along the line of our 27 years of marriage – my perspective changed. It may have had something to do with the women’s golf league I joined. We affectionately called it “Golf and Giggle.” The swings of the club were secondary to the conversations we had as we met each Monday, rain or shine, for our girls night out. We didn’t keep score ( I still don’t – important golf hack for all you newbies) and we cheered each other on in only the way girls can do. This experience opened my eyes to the joys this sport can bring. Tom paid for golf lessons and I now feel like I understand the rules, the reasons for the club numbers and when to use them, and also when to pick up my ball and throw it ( without shame) when needed. We have enjoyed many rounds of golf in some beautiful locations and even enjoyed a 3 day golf trip in northern Michigan – something I would never have agreed too early in our marriage. This shared enjoyment of the sport had us imagining the fun of possibly living on a golf course. You know, the homes that back up to a green or fairway. The ones that have extra homeowners insurance covering the cost of broken windows due to a stray ball going off course.

Someday, we would say.

Well, 4 years ago – that dream became reality. Not only do we live on a golf course but we are proud members of the Tri- City Country Club located in Emma, MO. Heavy emphasis on Country. $60 a month gives us unlimited golf for our family. We have several friends that are members and we will often join them for a round. Last summer we worked to make every Friday night a golf date with another couple in town. We are living our dream. Our backyard sits on the edge of the fourth fairway. It’s really glorious.

our backyard

I posted a picture of our course side view on facebook last week and asked the question “What do you see?” What is interesting is that out of the 100 + responses to my question not one person said – golf course. Our friend Jim and golf buddy of Tom’s from our days in Michigan was closest when he said “Look’s like a nice day for golf…” My quest to prove a point that I hope to make by the end of this blog (I’m getting there) poked some deep emotion that I did not expect. Some of the responses made me laugh and others brought tears to my eye. Here is a sampling of just a few.

Horizon

Peace

Endless possibilities/opportunities

The coming storm.

The calm after the storm. Clarity, peace.

Freedom.

Clouds.

Stairs leading to a mystery in the sky.

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

Emptiness. A vast nothing awaiting something.

A shark.

God and love.

Hope.

My question was inspired by a quote from American poet and essayist, Henry David Thoreau ,

“The question is not what you look at…… but what you see.”

Not what you look at but what you SEE.

As I read each response I imagined each person taking a moment to not just look at the picture but to see it. I was so pleased that so many paused even for a few seconds to take in the view and offer me a different perspective. I also loved that not one person saw what I did – an important reminder for me today.

When I look at that picture I see a water tower. If you squint your eyes and look to the right side of the picture – under the clouds – it is there. That water tower proudly displaying the name of the small town of Emma, sits next to the fourth hole of the country club where Tom and I belong. Did I mention our names are engraved on a brass name plate and mounted on the member board in the club house? Yes – we are all that and a bag of chips;). The water tower, on the 4th hole is visible from the deck in our backyard. Thus the logical conclusion that we are indeed living our dream of living on a golf course. This picture and this reality makes me so happy. I also love that between us and our golf course are fields of either corn or beans. I know the farmers and their families that work these fields and their addition to our golf course living makes it even better.

In contrast – this is what I don’t see (but I could).

I don’t see the field mice that storm our house each fall after harvest. I don’t remember the pain of job loss that was necessary to move us across the country to need this home. I don’t see the 4 miles that separate us from the 4th hole of the golf course. I don’t see it because I choose not to.

When this blog posts I will be far from this backyard view of the 4th hole of our country club. I will need to decide what I see when I take in the circumstances around me. I will choose to write the story of the picture in front of me and this will make all the difference. I will wake up on Thursday in Texas – in the home of my parents. Odd for me since I was there just 10 days ago. My quick journey back was inspired by my moms recent cancer diagnosis and my desire to be with her during her chemo treatments. I will have many decisions to make during this visit on what I see.

Will I see moms hair loss or the opportunity to shop for fun hats and scarves?

Will I feel the effects of travel in the middle of a busy month in my business or will I celebrate the fact that CO-VID has forced me to work 100% virtual and I can work anywhere life takes me?

Will I see the challenge of my sister and I living thousands of miles from our parents or will I see the incredible local support my parents feel with caring neighbors, friends and church family?

Will I see the stop on my flight home in Orlando (the opposite direction of my home) as an inconvenience or the opportunity to do some fun Disney shopping in the Orlando airport?

It’s not what I look at…

It’s what I see.

The skeptics out there – I see you and honestly sometimes I need you. The ones that are thinking I’m to polyanna – ish. The ones wanting to shake me and tell me to join the “real” world – the ones saying …..

“Beth – you don’t live on a dang golf course. “

To you are I say – “You’re right.”

To you I say,

“But so am I.”

My hope as I look at my surroundings – wether its my backyard or the hospital with my mom – comes from a God who promises to give me eyes to see the good. He promises that he will never leave or forsake me. He promises that he uses all things for our good and for His glory. He promises that even in the hard he will reveal his perfect gifts. It is His power that changes my perspective. It is His promises that gives me peace. It is His love that prompts me to pull up a deck chair, prop my feet up with a cool drink on a hot day and imagine I see the great shot by a fellow golfer on the 4th hole.

Living the dream.

Living His dream

And that’s the way I see it.

The gallery on the 6th fairway – We love the Country Club life:)

Yesteryear

We’re coming up on a year with Covid-19. This week last year, we had no idea what lay ahead. Just around the corner, life was completely changing for the whole world. Here are my comparisons to where I was then, and where I am today. 

Yesteryear me was shuttling kids to school, prepping for Grandparents’ Day and gathering items for a school auction.

Today I wake up late, help my kids write spelling sentences in our dining-room-turned-school-room, and head to the park to enjoy the warm day. 

Yesteryear me was searching for a dog for my family, thinking it would bring comfort and peace to my boys when they needed it. 

Today we visit the same dog at a friend’s house. We brought a good dog and owner together, it just wasn’t us.

Yesteryear me was not yet aware of the tiny life starting to grow inside of me. 

Today my 3 month old gives us smiles and joy–our favorite surprise of the year.

Yesteryear me heard about a virus attacking other countries and tried not to worry about it here. 

Today I see my country ravaged by disease and fear, quickly-made decisions, and extremely human people trying so hard to make this right. 

Yesteryear me was in a crowded gym watching my kids play basketball on teams with friends. 

Today we didn’t even realize basketball season passed us by.

Yesteryear me was faintly aware of the election year that lay ahead and knew we’d be up for some tough talks and walks.

Today I see a fractured government made up of broken people who have a seemingly impossible job of listening and responding to millions. 

Yesteryear me was getting ready to assume more work hours outside the home.

Today I serve in 2 new jobs. One as teacher to my kids and one as mom to a fourth little boy.

Yesteryear me was so excited to take my kids to their first TobyMac concert (later in March) as a surprise. 

Today, boys none the wiser about the cancelled event, our home is a concert hall as they play their drums, piano, and guitar.

Yesteryear me was filled with hope for the future.

Today I am filled with hope for the future.

fresh air

This January my husband and I made lists of achievable, yet challenging, goals that would push us beyond our limits in a good way. I loved the process and I am seeing progress.

One of my goals is to bring more joy and slower satisfaction to my morning by using my french press daily (instead of the Mr. Coffee percolator). On quiet mornings I clean out the previous grounds and measure in the days’ coffee while waiting for the water to boil on the stove: a slow and awakening process. Ideally, with a fresh steaming cup of joe, I sit down at the kitchen table to read scripture and journal for thirty minutes before the children amble down the hallway, hungry and talkative.

Midway through January, my toddler set her internal alarm clock to 4:45 a.m., turning my gentle mornings into groggy automation. Like poorly placed dominoes, my first actions of the day clinked haphazardly instead of creating beautiful ordered patterns.

The downward spiral leached into other parts of life as well, and my goals and dreams suddenly felt bossy and restrictive: run more, screen less, read more, shop less, listen more, talk less, be more aware, whine less, wake up earlier, complain less, play more, be less distracted. Although worthy strivings, the breathe-in in breathe-out script started to feel as overwhelming as groggy trips to the refrigerator and halfheartedly wiping smeared banana off the wood floors.

My ache for caffeine still throbs in chaos, and stubbornly I refused to put Mr. Coffee back on the counter, so the morning coffee routine survived.

Eventually, our mornings evened back out, but it wasn’t until then that I realized the gift of fresh air. It isn’t an inductive Bible quiet time, a three-mile run, or a sun salutation yoga routine. It’s two minutes tops of stepping outside in my pajamas and unceremoniously dumping coffee grounds onto next spring’s flower bed with unbrushed hair and half-open eyes. But, I inhale deeply of the fresh morning air and praise God for the goodness of a new day, a tiny bit refreshed and ready to return to the madness. It’s not perfect and it’s not a magic pill. It’s a gift that I embrace wholeheartedly.

This is free grace. An unexpected grace. I didn’t research the importance of fresh air in the morning and budget time out of my day to make it happen. I simply realized I liked the taste of french press coffee best and was too lazy to take care of old grounds before the morning, and God took care of the rest.

This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is amazing grace: a beautiful fresh breath of air that carries us through, lifting a weight off of our shoulders we didn’t even know we carried, sitting in the old air of a house shut-up in the winter. Lost in our chaos. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly, adopting us as sons and daughters. The most beautiful, precious gift of fresh air.