Lake Gem

Lake Gem

From the water, I see a pale leg-tepee on the far shore. 

It might be a woman lying on her back, knees bent, or it could be a patch of exposed tree bark. I’m not sure which, from my vantage point in the kayak. Things have a way of looking different from the water.

But, as I tour the nooks and crannies of the small lake, startling turtles off logs and generously watering my thighs as I paddle, I see it is indeed a woman. Her back is flat against the earth, feet planted and knees touching.

turtle in lake

At the lake’s center, I stop paddling {skewing the results of the GPS-enabled workout app keeping track of my pace and distance} and lean back, looking up at the blue sky streaked with clouds. I let my gaze wander down to the end of the lake where the fishermen gather on a grassy knoll.  There, clouds hang low and dramatic, stretched thin and long, shaded with darker grey. They look painted like a stage backdrop, the sky depicted skillfully, if a bit heavy-handed with light and shadow. 

branch lake

As I float aimlessly, I notice him now — a stocky man in a royal blue tank sitting still atop a picnic table on the shore to my right. He doesn’t move.

We three — sit, lay, float — a triangle of tranquility.

I am impressed by their skill at being still. Their commitment to inactivity. Their choice to be small and let quiet overtake them.

I am working hard to convince myself this lake date is not about a workout. I’m struggling with a notion that honors the opposite of motion.

heron lake

How obvious, I think, that God is big and we are small. Yet, do we experience life this way?

How often do we take time to be still and recall small?

My life has become huge. My problems, my worries, my to-do list. Simply enormous. God is a tiny tickle in the back of my mind, a quick prayer for safety while driving, a rushed morning devotional.

My need to manage our busy life (with three kids — 5, 10, and 12) has grown to gigantic proportions. I have gotten into the self-indulgent habit of magnifying everything, from my dissatisfaction with my messy closets to my frustration with my aging physique. Nothing is good enough for me.

lake view

But, this quiet morning on the water, I hear dogs barking on the distant shore and a hint of traffic noise even farther off. As I stare at my still companions on the shore, I recognize with a sudden and sharp clarity we are at the center of something far larger, and it is beautiful.

kayak lake 2

For a heart-stopping moment, my view zooms out incrementally, from the lake to the hills to the surrounding town and region. There is concrete around us and stores and roads and busy people leading their rushing lives, but we … we three are tucked into an Eden moment.

We three are consciously still players in an impossibly serene pastoral scene, the lake an opal ringed by layers of pine-and-maple-green emerald, the moody sky graduated blue textured with dusky clouds.

We are held, gemlike, perfect and tiny, in the palm of this world … and in the even larger hands of its Creator.

Lord, though we are faced daily with myriad demands in our hectic modern world, please help us pause and remember You. Though we know in our minds that you are larger than our petty day-to-day worries, infuse this truth into our hearts so that we may walk today with our shoulders lifted and heads high, confident in Your ability and secure in Your peace. Amen.


Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part Two

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part Two

When I begin to see warning signs of Driven overload — like the fire and the running sickness — I ignore them.

It’s okay, I told my girls when the smoke alarm first went off last Wednesday. Probably just the home protection system battery going. So, I finished getting dressed and then went downstairs to a house full of smoke and potholders in literal flames on my stovetop.

Two fire trucks did arrive (photo above courtesy of my neighbor Robin) around the same time my mother-in-law did for dinner/babysitting. (Not my best mom moment, though the fire fighters said my roast chicken looked — and smelled — excellent. But, to be clear: I don’t condone setting fires just to get compliments from men in uniform.)

As for the running, I’m training for the Pittsburgh half marathon in two weeks, and I’ve been steadily increasing my mileage by one mile a week. Sunday’s 10-miler was precisely what my training schedule called for. Yet the day was about 20 degrees warmer than the weather I’ve been used to running in, and the sun beat down mercilessly.

I already knew I should aim for a 10-minute mile pace since it was such a long run, but I decided that would take forever, so why not aim for a sprightly 8:40 or 8:50 pace to move things along? (This is pretty fast for me, so you speedy ladies don’t laugh.) At about 8 miles, I was ready to be done; oddly enough, I felt no specific knee, back, or ankle-ache — it was almost more like a dull organ ache.

(Mom, if you’re reading, it was really just my knee. Seriously.)

I am used to running long, and feeling crappy afterward, but when the dull, flu-like ache continued through the rest of the afternoon and evening and the following day, I began to Google things like “overtraining.” While my symptoms don’t fit those of overtraining and I’m starting to feel better, I am scaling way back this week, taking several days totally off and then playing it by ear.

In light of my recent Driven demi-disasters, I’m taking a different tack than usual. Rather than broadly assuming I’m just doing too much in every area of life and trying too hard — and using it as an excuse to eat chocolate and buy expensive coffees and read novels — I’m viewing this is a wake-up-and-smell-the-Discipline call.

I’m going to pray for consistent (i.e., Disciplined) healthy habits: reasonable exercise, smart food and rest choices, adequate time for prayer, bible reading, and reflection.

I’m taking this as a chance to become more Disciplined (which, I’m learning, is as much about the “no,” or “not as much” as it is the “yes”), rather than collapse into a post-Driven heap of self-indulgence that I can only pull myself out of by becoming Driven toward a new goal.

I’m praying for Discipline as a lifestyle, not a punishment; for Driven as the occasional occupational hazard of a recovering perfectionist — the exception, not the norm.

This year, I’m running 13.1 hilly miles through the city of Pittsburgh for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation. My daughter has been battling Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM) — a rare systemic autoimmune disease that affect 2-3 children per million — since 2012, including more than 16 hospital overnights for IV infusions of steroids and immunoglobulin treatments. I am designating all the funds I raise to the department that treats her — rheumatology — an often underfunded and little-known specialty.

If you’d like to consider sponsoring me for the half-marathon and helping support pediatric rheumatology, you can donate here.










Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part One

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part One

Within the past week, I have set a small kitchen fire and run 10 miles so hard, I was sick for more than a day afterward.

It’s caused me to look hard at the two D-words that give me the most trouble in life: Driven and Disciplined.

I am Driven, but I am rarely Disciplined.

At first glance, I think of a Driven person as a successful person, a go-getter, competitive — I already like her. She’s like me.

She runs fast. Her house is immaculate. She’s a discerning consumer with impeccable taste. She writes books. She repurposes things in chalk-paint and always has two kinds of wine — red and white — and a dessert every time I go to her house. (These, by the way, are each characteristics of different Type A friends of mine — not a description of one person.)

But, I find the Driven synonym list in Webster’s a bit disconcerting: “besetting, compulsive, impulsive, obsessive.” Driven isn’t all wine and roses.

On the other hand, Disciplined people fascinate me — though we don’t have much in common. I view their rules and routines with a sort of detached, envious amazement. They don’t just train for a temporary goal; they espouse a lifestyle, almost a raison d’être, if you will.

Take my husband — once he decided he was going to be a runner, he has run consistently for the past seven years. He runs two half-marathons a year, and works out (whether running or weights or both) at least three days a week. Always. (With the exception of a week or here or there due to a vacation or getting sick.) I, on the other hand, have run in erratic fits and starts my entire life, ranging from sprinting in high-school track to half-marathons — and everything in between.

You see, I’m Driven for the temporary goal but not Disciplined for the long haul.

This is why I am always sporting a mohawk (short hair + sleep = vertical hair), wearing PJs, and wielding a egg-covered spatula at 8:40 a.m., while my similarly clad five-year-old is watching Leap Frog Letter Factory when we both need to leave for preschool in 5 minutes.

Driven and undisciplined gets me up at 6:40 a.m. to read and journal and pray, and I read and journal and pray — but I think that if a half hour is good, than an hour is better, so I end up waking my girls late, not having time to eat or get dressed.

I start out my day caffeine-jittery, starving and snappy as I try to flat-iron hair, give fashion advice, dole out vitamins — all while getting dressed, washing my face, and attending to my unruly hair.

I sail through at least part of every day underprepared and overfrazzled, trying to fit in just one more thing. I cling to my to-do list like the line to the life-preserver that will keep me from sinking under the sea of family and school obligations. I constantly check on the scrolling list in my head — write-car-rider-notes, renew prescription, pack Caroline’s track bag, mail taxes, prep salad ahead for dinner, email school nurse, make return at TJ Maxx —

but forget the simple but beautiful disciplines of a life well-lived — breathe, turn your face to the sun, smile, pray.


Join me tomorrow for Part Two?


A Poem: Summer Self

I wouldn’t recognize you today,
all blossomy and damp,
light as a gauzy sundress.
You casually crush green
beneath bare, stained toes,
snip herbs for dinner,
bouquet hosta or lilies.

You’ve forgotten me,
hoarding wan daylight,
wiping puddles of salted snow-melt,
brewing bones.
You wouldn’t remember how to use fleece and wool
to staunch the cold
that bleeds through everything.

You smell of sunscreen and clover
as you step into twilight,
your yard aglow,
dewy blades vibrating full
of summer night sound.

(It’s difficult to think of you
without judging your thoughtless naiveté,
scarcely believing autumn was gathering
and winter would fall down hard.)

But now that spring buds in fits and starts,
I find I am a helpless creature,
soft, white, shrunken,
covered still
with layer upon layer of winter armor.

So I recall you now gladly
for what you can teach —
how I might once again
receive warmth,
expand forth,
turn my face grateful to the sun.