Saturday, August 19, 2017

Week 1 Training

With every good intention of being on track with my training again, life has thrown curve balls that have made for some difficulties already in my week one.
 Fasting required by blood work, which in the end was a bust and turned into returning a second day in the week after fasting again made it so I missed two morning workouts. I could have done something, but when routine parts of the workout call for the morning coffee, let me just say that at 4:30 a.m. without that cup of coffee to get going, the morning exercise is made far more difficult!  And early morning at work also threw that routine off. So, week one has started out with a lot of interruptions. The trick is that as these interruptions are only going to continue to be in my path, finding ways around the "excuses" and just pushing through any and all of that one way or another.
 there is always an answer, it's just a matter of figuring out the best answer for that particular day.

 So, onward I will press with the endeavor. Weather has never been a thing to stop me. And unless I'm really sick, that doesn't tend to stop me, either. But at this season in my life, with school, the busy season of work, juggling some various things at home... I admit that not having coffee at 4:30 in the morning before I run was a show stopper. I may have found my weak spot! ;)

 But this morning all of that faded away as I laced up while the others in my house still slept. One cup of coffee in me, I was ready to go. Determined and looking forward to knocking out a solid 5. Seems minimal compared to what I have done in the past , but considering the surrounding events, I was truly looking forward to me, the open air and my feet on the pavement. The ground was wet with rain, and the steam rose up from the grass as the cool rain met the heat of the day and rose up to greet me good morning. And as I stepped out the door, I smiled.

 I love to run. Nevermind my pace or what my week was or wasn't. For me, it isn't about first place, 534th place or last place. It's about clearing my mind. It's about feeling free. It's about the accomplished feel of sweat. It's about the fact that running represents moving forward.
 As I was only a mile in to the run when I thought about how much I've missed these training runs. For me, it's not about what place I am in or who or what is ahead of or behind me. For me, running is a representation of pressing forward. I am working towards a goal. And I am quite goal oriented. I am pushing forward towards my future with my schooling, regardless of the obstacles in my way. I continue to pursue dreams in spite of the naysayers. And I run forward, looking ahead, not behind. I look towards the goals, not backwards at the difficulties. Although it is good to reflect on progress and how far I have come, looking forward is where the hope is. And running is a representation of that.
 I nearly forgot how good it feels. Training for a race is hard some days, just like going to school or spiritually growing or trying to lose weight or change a bad habit. But the rewards in the end, and even in the process, are so beautiful. Because training, running, pushing... it's about moving forward, one step at a time.
 I love my morning long runs.

 This little quote seemed to sum it best for me. So, as I press forward in my races, in my schooling (semester begins again on Monday!) and in all my other endeavors... I am thankful for how far I have come and where I have yet to go.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Feeding Program in Colombia

I promised I had not finished my stories from Colombia, so I return to one this week, long awaited by my friend, Barb, who will be mentioned often in this post.

 Currently there is a team there in Brisas right now. I was invited to attend, but had to decline the invitation for various reasons this time around. To not go was very difficult for me, as those people have become a large part of my life. But the team was gracious to me, and allowed me several ways to still participate and be part of what they were doing through helping to write lessons and collect items to bless the women. I cannot wait to hear how their trip goes, as this particular team is doing more of a focus on teaching and discipling  the community and even the surrounding communities pastors, more than on the focus of the construction.

 But I am off track. I want to go back to Brisas and tell you about the Food program.

When we attended in 2016, we learned about the food program the village hosts. This program is provided/funded by the church, and allows for children in the village who do not have enough food to eat lunch to come to the cabana and be provided a meal by the church. This program is honestly beautiful. What a ministry! The problem was that in 2016, we learned that there was a lack of funding and so the program would dissipate and only be able to feed minimal amounts of the children.

 Enter Barb Benson. Barb was on my team that year and she fell in love with these kids and when we returned home, she took on this program. Barb quilts (beautiful quilts!) and she began fundraising for this program by raffling and selling her quilts. Led by her, others in her church got on board by helping donate bits each month to this cause, and for the last year and a half, Barb's efforts have been a large part of what has kept this program going.

 Barb returned with the team in June and she got to see how her dollars and efforts had been put to work. You could see her heart and passion as the kids would show up each day (M-F) for their lunches. I was generally in a different vicinity when this was taking place, but one day I did get to sit and be a part of the program. Pastor Javier, new to the community in January, had done some things with organizing the order of the kids checking in and making a system so that when they don't show up for a few days in a row, he then goes into their homes to check on them, etc. The one day I was able to help out,  as I checked in the kids one by one during this time, in between the moments of interacting with the kids, I was able to do a little translating between him and Barb, as Barb asked questions and shared some of her concerns and dreams, he answered and shared some of his dreams and visions with it, too. Watching Barb's passion in this event was inspiring.

 She loves those kids as if they are her own.

 Ashely and Emma and Cindy did a lot to serve the kids and help with the food during this time too. Barb has a huge heart for this program and came home with more determinations and dreams to keep fueling the program. It was really neat to see how her efforts have helped the program grow. You don't have to be a missionary in another country to make a difference there. It was so clear how she had made a difference there with her efforts here in Ohio. But how cool she got to see those efforts firsthand in June.

 At the end of the trip, I got to take place in a cool event with Barb. One of Barb's concerns as she watched the lunches take place through the week, was the state of the kitchen tools, utensils, pots, etc. And so with discussions with the various leaders in the church, it was determined she would go to a store in the city when we returned to the city to buy what the kitchen most needed as part of her efforts to help that food program. So the ladies of the kitchen made a list. I actually was not totally aware of this.
 But when we left the village, I spent the first half of the drive with Mileth quietly reflecting, sometimes crying, but really soaking in the last moments. I was in my own world a little bit. But we always make a stop half way between the village and the city, when we hit this little "gas station" to use the restroom and get snacks the Bishop approached me (who spoke only Spanish). I had honestly forgotten that he was in a vehicle behind our bus. And he asked me to ride in the car with him and Barb to help translate. Juan, the week's translator, needed to be with the team and the bus driver. But I got to have the special privilege to go with the Bishop and Barb... and then Chris, too, who wanted to buy tools for the construction site. For me, this was a moment I won't forget. Nothing monumental took place, per say, but for me it was just a little more confirmation in my journey. But also it was so cool to go into this IKEA like store in the city, with the Bishop and Barb and Chris, and get to take a small part in gathering up all these items for the village. Barb was having a lot of fun seeing the cart fill up with things the kitchen needed. Bishop was seemingly having fun bargain hunting for the needed items (and he was rather good at it.) And Chris had a good time in the tools, doing a lot of sign language and such with the workers since I was not there to translate for him. 

 By the end of the trip, Barb had a full cart and a full heart. And I had a lot of fun, even though I really did nothing. Just seeing the joy filled me. Barb has made a lasting impact on that little village. The food program has grown and it was a beautiful moment to be a part of it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Back in Training

It has been some time since I wrote about my running or my exercise habits. So, just as it is time to get back into training better, it is time to share about that realm of life again too. Because when I train, I always learn about myself.

 This weekend I sat down and planned out the next several weeks for training for my fall race. While I have never quit my running this summer, it wasn't my focus. I didn't have any races planned and when you take a trip outside of the country, it really does shift your perspective. Again, not that my exercise or running wasn't important still, it just wasn't my focus.
 But I have put my training hat back on and am gearing up towards my fall race. When I left off in the Spring discussing my training (Yikes! Has that much time passed?) I was left with the lesson that I will not say the word Slow.

 And so I pick up where I left off. Of course not focusing on my distance has left me in a place that my pace is what it is. But really, that is just fine with me. I am happy to be working towards a goal again. I love goals. :) They make me ... me. And I really  enjoy doing races, and so I am looking forward to participating in them again. I've missed it. Each training leg I do tends to bring on lessons of life with it. I can't wait (Dare I say that?) to see what will be in store over the next couple of months.
 Of course, I always wonder to myself about my fall races because fall is a bit of a crazy time with my job at its peak and this fall, with my classes, for the first time I am going to take one on campus and not just online. So, ready or not, bring it on!

 The start is always the easiest in some ways, as my body just knows and is used to 3 and 4 mile runs. It's also the hardest as I push back into my routines. But running clears my head. It relaxes me, even if when I get up at 4:30 I am tired. It energizes me to move through my day. And it helps me feel better all around.

 It isn't about my pace. It isn't about the medal on the finish line or the shirt that comes with participating. It isn't about a name or a win. It's about me continuing to be a better me.
  So, slowly but surely.
      So, ready, set, go! Pressing on towards the goal....

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Little Moments

It has been some time since I have written one of my "little moments" post. There is no better time than the present! Having a fresh perspective on life and priorities makes one see all those little moments all the more. Here are a few from the last few weeks...

1. Beautiful new friendships with people in another country. I am so blessed to have some people I can call on to be in my corner here, but also in another country, in another language. They make me smile.

2. A very nice 35 birthday. Last week I turned 35 and now I enter into a new year. I always love those fresh starts. I don't know what this year will hold, but every year I am finding  I am growing more and learning more and becoming a stronger me. I am blessed. And... I got some pretty awesome cards and love from special people on my day. 

3. Running. I have not blogged a lot about that lately- don't worry- it's coming soon! But as I begin to gear up again for the fall races, I am thankful for that outlet and my health to do so. 

4. Pictures. Spend much time with me and you will learn I take a lot of photos! Photos capture the memories and I am so thankful to have them on the days I need a smile or a reminder.

5. A picture of love and sacrifice. I am not going to go into great detail on this one, but every now and then I get this glimpse of someone willing to sacrifice greatly for my greater good and it's something I hold on to without taking it for granted.

6. My siblings. I am forever thankful for them. My brother came to town recently and we had a wonderful time hanging out. And then I got to go visit my sister for a day and we enjoyed time laughing and sharing. My older brother, while quite busy, and I share a love of coffee and enjoy conversations over cups of joe. We all happen to be born in July, too, so we have had some special moments this month together.

 7. My job. How often do we take our income and our job for granted? Or go through the motions of "just needing to work" . I am like everyone else and have my days I will complain, but honestly, I have been so blessed in my work. I love what I do. I have a great boss and good coworkers. My job has allowed me to meet so many people from all different walks of life. And my job provides for my family. I am thankful for this and it has not gone beyond me in the last couple of months what this blessing is. 

8. No TV. Ever gone a few weeks without TV? It's been a recent experiement, for lack of a better word, in our home, and I have been loving it. It won't last, but during these weeks the evenings have been filled with scrapbooking, games, conversations with my kids, reading, and lots of writing. (not blogs, per say, but writing in general.) That can be done with the TV on, but it isn't the same. It's been refreshing for me. 

9. Concerts and Conversations. I thoroughly enjoyed going to an outdoor concert recently with my friend Ginifer. We laughed and cried and talked and sang and it was fun to be carefree for a few hours. 

  Because I have not written these moments out in a while I could make a list a mile long. But we'll start from this one and try to get back to this habit. TGIF my friends! What blessings can you find in the little moments today? 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Colombia... One Month Later

Yesterday marked one month since my arrival back to the states from my trip to Colombia.
 The reality is I could write on and on about this trip. I didn't include the stories about the food program or our day in Cartagena and I could continue this forever. Perhaps I will return to the stories every couple of weeks to keep on sharing. The experiences just sit in my heart and resonate in me. Putting it to words is always a difficult task when the journey has been so monumental.

 My first time there the trip was life changing. This time it was just as much so. I really want to try to put into words for you what I learned and how life has changed for me upon my arrival home, but I am not even sure I can do that adequately.
 The conversations I had while in Colombia and the culture  I took in truly gave me a fresh perspective of who I am and who I want to continue to be and how to view life a little differently. We have a tendency to look through such a narrow lens at times. This trip opened my eyes and heart even wider.
 Here, we focus so easily on things. Our drive often comes from getting to the next best thing in life, whether that's a job, a car, a possession or a place. I have always been a relational person. But I took that in more deeply on this trip. People matter. Love Matters. Relationships matter. We spend so much time bickering over little things or picking at the petty habits or idiosyncracies of others that we lose sight of what matters. Or the focus is on how much money we make or what we do for a job that we don't put time into the things about which we are truly passionate. We get caught up in all these focuses and lose sight of the people and the love in front of us.
 In every activity we did with the community, when we would finish, they made a point of walking around to each of us, hugging us, kiss on the cheek, saying "Dios te bendiga" (God bless you) or telling us they loved us, and we were strangers to them. But they loved us. They have experienced more war and devastation than my blogs could even begin to describe to you, so I have a tendency to leave it out. But in spite of all that, they choose to love. They get it. They aren't perfect people, but they display the concept that so many of us miss..... that life is about loving, not competing. Life is about working together, not bickering or picking. Life is about others, not self.

 There is a Bible verse in 1 Corinthians 13 that the message version words in a way that I really like . 1 Cor 13:3-7 says "If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love."
  That verse comes to mind when I think about my trip to Colombia this time around. Because without love, all those things don't matter.

 I don't mean to get up on a high horse here. I just am saying this is one of the most powerful lessons I walked away with this time. Last year I went and I came home with the different perspective of being grateful for running water and electricity and amenities and a home. And I did learn the power of love there on my last trip as well.
 But the relationships and the conversations and the culture I took in on this journey have been carried home with me in a way that has transformed me. It doesn't make me perfect at this or better than anyone else. It just makes me want to live life a little differently. A little more intentionally.
 Life is about love. It's about getting over ourselves sometimes and investing in others. It's about seeing ourselves as Christ sees us, not as the world wants to tell us we are. It's about crying together, listening to one another, loving eachother, disagreeing maybe but respecting the differences, and helping eachother be the best version of ourselves we can be.

 As the verse said "I'm bankrupt without love." It's not about money or things or looks or body types. It's about love. And the village of Brisas taught me that on a deeper level than I have seen in a long time. A people with nothing who love with everything.
 Our first night there, they sang their national anthem and then played ours for us to sing. Then they braided the colors of our flags together. They were blending two cultures as one because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. That is love. That is what life is about.

 So, one month from the time I have left that little village, I have been sorting through learning these lessons. I have been processing the many conversations and experiences and putting them into my every day life in new ways. I have grown in a monumental way through these people, this trip that can't quite be articulated into words. Life is not all roses and rainbows, and it isn't for the people there either by any means.  But simple acts of love can go a very long way.

 I close by just sharing a few of my very favorite snapshots from this trip. There really are more stories to go around, but in time....
This girl... Love her. We laughed so much. 

Me and Gin, Eating Mamón. So delicious. 

Eating Mango, not so gracefully. 

Me and Mileth. Love this girl. 

Me and Tía.

Me and Pastor Javier

I love these girls!

It's the little things, like wearing our gloves...

Part of the team at Alto de Julio

Juan, mi hermano.

The team in front of the clinic, right before departure.

I love this photo of us with the youth

Me, Miguel and Mileth

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Colombia #8 The Clinic

Life has hindered sharing these posts a little lately, but Today I share with you about the clinic in Brisas del Mar.

 This clinic is beautiful. It was the first project that teams worked on constructing in the village and it has become a great blessing to Colombia. The clinic does not charge its patients. It's fully funded by the church. The staff are staff of the church. We had the privilege to take medical supplies in to the clinic once again. Kettering Health Medical Center is to thank for this, as they run a ministry with a warehouse full of extra supplies for missions groups to take. We took 8 suitcases full of things for the clinic. I am humbled watching the team there open what we bring and listen to them discuss and laugh and have joy and tears over this simple act of supplies we take for granted.

 Yuleida is the clinic administrator. She lives in Medellín and works for the church, but she oversees all the needs of the clinic. She does all of their inventories and she keeps track of all the records and she does a wonderful job.  I am sure I do not know the half of what she does there. It's a big job. I first met Yuleida last year on my trip to Brisas. We became friends and she has become a part of my encouraging group through the year. She has such a tender heart, so much love for what she does and for the people in Brisas. I feel so blessed that I am able to speak the language and talk with her not just while I am in the village, but during the year.

Doctora Jennifer arrived just one day before we did. She is a beautiful young woman, and happy to serve with her gifts of knowing medicine. I have been asked several times if she is actually a doctor, and the answer to that is yes. She has studied to become a doctor. She comes from the city of Cartagena, but her love for the people, Brisas, helping and the Lord are evident.

While we were there, for one of the first times, a gynecologist came in from the city. Those type of needs are one of the higher on the list in the village, and while a doctor can attend to them, a specialist can make a different type of impact with his expertise. We did not spend much time with him and his assistant, so I neglect to remember their names, but they were as much a part of touching me as the rest of the clinic staff. These two didn't have to come this "forgotten" village, but they did. And I was humbled as they asked me about why we came, why we wanted to be in this little village all the way from the United States. I enjoyed a brief conversation with them before they left and while I may never cross paths with them again in life, they are part of the Colombian experience this time there.

Piedad became a friend. Piedad came with my Tía from the city of Barranquilla. Piedad is an orthodontist. This was also her first time in the village. I enjoyed talking with her in her few days there. We brought with us 300 toothbrushes and toothpastes, and I was amazed watching Piedad teach the kids in Brisas and in the neighboring village of Alto de Julio how to brush their teeth. Something we take for granted so much they were learning to do properly and very likely holding what could have been their very first toothbrush. We take so much for granted here. And I find it humbling and beautiful to be reminded of that.

Tia, me, Piedad

 The clinic is not our project when we go, but I feel a part of it as we take supplies and spend time with the staff. The latest project the clinic is working on is raising money for an ultrasound machine. As I said, that is an area of the village that needs extra attention.
 I was humbled with Yuleida opened the suitcases full of supplies, with tears, and tells us, "These supplies are better than what the city hospitals have." Kettering Health Network, here in Dayton, OH has become more of a blessing to Brisas del Mar and the clinic more than they can ever know, as they supply these items for the clinic at no cost to us. So many extensions of people go into that village that the Lord sees but they don't even know how much they are touching and affecting lives.

 Time is hindering my posts a little, and some may be tiring of hearing about the trip. But it just is such an extension of me, I have to share. I will tell you about the feeding program next, and a really cool opportunity I got to be a part of with that on this trip.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Colombia #7. The Youth

You may recall before I left for my trip that I shared one of things about which I was nervous was the youth night. So, let me share with you about that.

 That night became one of my favorite moments of the week. It is true that much time and preparation went into that lesson, but really, it was Juan who helped it come together in an amazing way. The first night of youth was really a beautiful time I will forever recall. 

 The night began with games. Ashley helped lead them with Juan, and the kids were so animated and watching them and playing along with them gave us all laughs. Then we had the lesson.

The lesson was about who is greater? And it came from the passage of two men asking Jesus which one of them was better than the other. And the end result was Jesus explaining that it's not about who is better or greatest, but that the one who gives himself in service is the greater person. Life is not about self promotion or being the greatest, but we become the greatest when we become the least and serve. 
 So, we talked about this. As I shared, Juan translated, and again, I paid attention to how he elaborated on my words or adjusted them a little in order to reach the teens in a more profound way. They responded, with some prompting from Juan, and listening and watching them respond was really neat.

 But what was really cool was what happened next. With every activity we put on, we add a "craft" type thing for the group, something they can have or do to take home and keep and remember the lesson. It has been my experience in watching this now through two trips that the kids and the teens alike enjoy this experience. But, for this particular lesson, we chose something a little different. Something I wasn't sure how it would be received. 

 Each person was given a piece of paper, we had markers, and they drew their name in a creative way on the paper, and then they began passing their papers around for everyone to write encouraging things about them on their paper. In the end, then, they would take it home and remember and see what the others liked about them. The point was to not think of eachother as competition or "greater" but to encourage all of them to encourage others, to see the best in others and encourage each person to grow in who they are.

 I wasn't sure how that would be received, but as I watched, I had tears. They loved it. And they just kept going with it. And then they brought their papers for us to sign, too. Our time for the event was really far past when it was supposed to be over, but as I mentioned it , no one wanted to say it was time to stop. The teens were enjoying it too much. They needed that time of soaking in the encouragement as well as giving it to others. I took in the scene and could not help but be humbled. 

The teens who were there last year, a lot of them have graduated, so the teens there this year were a new group for me to get to know, and I grew to love them so much. I never saw working with teens as my gift (still don't) but since I have teenagers at home, I found new ways to relate to these kids.  And by the end of the week, the photos with them were some of my favorites. They are hungry for the love and activity just as much as the children are. I felt like I adopted this group of kids in a way. 
 The girls served us our water as we worked on the worksite. The boys became hard workers along side us through the week, and as the week went on, I watched them open up. 

 Our second youth night went well, too. And deserves just as much explanation. But it did not touch me as deeply as this one. Here are some photos of the teens and our youth night(s). 
 Meanwhile, Barb, Chris, Cindy, Gin, and Ed helped keep the kids occupied on the outside of the cabana with games and chalk.