Monday, December 19, 2011

The Most Festive Time of the Year

Christmas quietly snuck up on me this year, but last weekend it hit me over the head like a bag full of toys... like a Christmas tree full of ornaments, like a sled flying down a snowy slope... and the festivities have continued in full swing since then. If I wasn't in the holiday spirit before, I am now!
It all started with Megan's Classy Cocktail Christmas Celebration - a great excuse to throw on a red cocktail dress and sip on peppermint martinis...

Followed by seeing The Nutracker with West, Jason and Erin then another cocktail party for a young professional women's group I'm a part of.

The next morning a group of us ran the Holiday Half Marathon in North Portland. People were pretty festive which actually motivated me to run faster - I wasn't about to let a grown man in green tights, a Santa hat and jingle bells on his shoes beat me!

These are the characters that made the run entertaining...

That evening was the Moore's annual Advent Celebration which is always the highlight of the season for me. It's a meaningful gathering of scripture reading, Advent reflections, music and wonderful people.

We had our company Christmas party this past weekend where we all went to "A Very Merry PDX-Mas", a holiday musical, Portland style (featuring songs about a green environmental Christmas, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and The Annoying Drummer Boy who beats on buckets and trash cans... soooo Portland).

This weekend, Megan and I went for a run in one of my favorite neighborhoods to look at all of the festive lights, then watched Elf.  Now all I need is some good family Christmas time in Texas, which comes tomorrow! Merry Christmas, y'all!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Awe of Christmas

This past Sunday as I was having storytime with my two-year-olds Sunday School class, something occured to me.  We were reading about the birth of Jesus (you know: Mary and Joseph, manger, star, shepherds, wise men, angels) and I realized... this may be the very first time some of these kids have heard the Advent story.  Even if they heard it a year ago when they were one year old, this might be the first time they can somewhat comprehend the story.  I can't remember the first time I heard the Advent story, but I've heard it so many times since then that I've let it lose it's wonder.

So this week in home group, we read the entire Advent scriptures (Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-12) and each picked out something in the story that we usually don't pick up on.  We asked questions and wondered about all of the details together.  And the awe and amazement of Advent came back to me.

Some of the parts of the story that we wondered over...
- The fact that Mary and Joseph weren't married. Think of all of the social implications people must have placed on them, the labels Mary would have been given, the courage it took for them to tell their story, the faith they had to have in God and what he promised through the angels.
- The angels appeared to shepherds, some of the most lowly people in that time. He sent angels to make this grand announcement to outcasts.
- Luke 2:19 "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Mary went through a lot. Her fiance almost left her, people probably wanted to stone her, she was traveling on camelback for months during her pregnancy. And then after she gives birth to this baby, people come to worship him.
- What happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh? Mary and Joseph had nothing and they were living in a stable. These gifts from the magi must have been the biggest blessing for them. Maybe they used these gifts to travel to Egypt and escape Herod.

It's easy to inadvertently read through the Advent story and forget the glory of everything that actually happened.  This year, try reading it through the eyes of a two year old. Or read it from the perspective of Mary or Joseph or the shepherds or magi.

Advent Conspiracy
Several years ago, Imago Dei started a movement called Advent Conspiracy, challenging people to focus on the real reason of Christmas and not get caught up in the stressful consumerism that this season has become. This will really make you think...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Laugh at Yourself

We can all use a good laugh now and again, even if it’s at your own expense.  I’ve found myself laughing at myself a lot lately (meaning that I’ve recently done some pretty stupid things).  But how boring would life be if we took everything seriously and just tried to act like we’re perfect all the time? Here are a few somewhat embarrassing, but pretty hilarious examples:

Two weeks ago I went for a bike ride and had my first biking accident involving a car. Don’t worry, the car didn’t hit me, run over me, or back into me. Because it was parked. That’s right, it was just sitting there and I managed to hit it. Thankfully the car didn’t have any damage, but my forearm got quite a nasty-colored bump. I looked around to make sure no one was pointing and laughing, gave a sigh of relief that no one had seen this catastrophe, then hopped back on my bike and peddled ever to Megan’s house to get an ice bag and share the story.

Yesterday, my friend Whitney and I were discussing how annoying it is to wear contacts (we have really deep, meaningful conversations).  She mentioned how awful it would be to lose a contact while camping. And I said, “Yeah, or to lose a contact in the snow when you’re snowboarding.” She replied, “Oh my goodness, is that how you broke your wrist snowboarding? Because you couldn’t see?” I thought of using that as an excuse, but instead just admitted, “Nope. I just busted it for no real reason.” And then laughed at what a lousy snowboarder I am.

For some reason the heater at my house is not working, so last night I decided to go out in the garage and fix it myself.  I turned the red nob to OFF which blew the little flame out and then I couldn’t get it back on.  My friends Conner and Mat came over to hang out and I automatically told them about the broken heater and took them out to the garage to show them what I’d done. Well, apparently I turned the water heater off instead of the actual electric heater (the first embarrassment that we had a good laugh over). So Conner lit the water heater again. I said, “Thanks, Conner. I’ll think of you when I’m taking a hot shower tomorrow morning.” I obviously hadn’t thought that through before verbalizing it. We all laughed for a solid minute over that one.

This week, my boss told me about an intriguing movie (or was it a documentary?) titled “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”. So I pulled up the Multnomah County Library website and logged in to put the movie on hold. Our intern, who was looking over my shoulder, stared at me and said, “Do you have your library account number memorized?” (She might have coughed “nerd” after that.) “Duh, 33326372.” And then I admitted that I memorized it to the tune of Bethoveen’s 5th and that I sing that in my head as I type in the numbers.

Today, our receptionist Sarah kindly brought me sparking water from Trader Joe’s. I took the 42oz bottle up to my desk, sat down and twisted the top off. The sparkling water quickly bubbled up and sprayed out of the bottle as if it were a high-powered water hose. When I finally got it to stop spraying, I stood up and walked downstairs to display my soaking wet outfit to Sarah, who must have shaken the bottle before handing it over. She laughed at me and I said, “That’s ok; I can take it. I laugh at myself all the time.” Which is what inspired this blog post.

Wow, this post is getting long. My middle name is definitely not Grace – I’m clumsier than I realized.  All this to say, when you feel like things aren’t going right or like you’re a complete idiot, don’t put yourself down… just laugh at yourself.

Other People Are Catching On
My friend Brad (or let’s call him “Bob” for confidentiality) admitted to us last night that he went for a massage this week with a “naturalistic”, very Portland masseuse who ended up putting heals on him and clicking his feet together. Apparently this super odd practice healed his back, but not many guys would admit that they 1) got a massage and 2) wore heels in the process.  But it makes for an amazing story that we all enjoyed and got a big kick out of.

Speaking of Brad, I mean Bob… he introduced me to a new band that I absolutely love and has become one of my new favs.  We went to the Blind Pilot concert at the Crystal Ballroom last week.  I’ve been listening to their albums “We Are The Tide” and “3 Rounds & A Sound” nonstop since then.  Check them out!

My favs: Half Moon, Get It Out, The Bitter End3 Rounds and a Sound, New YorkKeep You Right, The Story I Heard

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

I spent a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving in Portland this year with a great group of friends.  Drew's mom and nephew were in town from South Carolina and definitely brought the Southern cooking with them.  In fact it was a Southern Thanksgiving all around since everyone in attendance was from either South Carolina, Georgia or Texas.  We even fried a turkey (just like my Uncle Rufus used to do) and had sides of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese (both which are considered vegetables in the South), collard greens, biscuits and dressin' (not "stuffing").

I think I'll let the delicious pictures speak for themselves...

Josh (aka Turkey Doctor) carving the fried turkey

a nice presentation of the platter of turkey, Doc!

getting all of the extra meat off of this bird...
my mama taught me how to dismantle a turkey!

that's right, even Drewsky did a little cooking
(not without a beer in hand, though)

the most amazing spread of deviled eggs
Naylan and I are planning to open a deviled egg/cakeball cart
speaking of cakeballs... pumpkin cakeballs!

drunk cranberries... just substitute Grand Marnier for water

the whole group at the Thanksgiving table:
Naylan and his girlfriend Trisha, Sheila, Drew, Kate, 6-yr-old Grayson, me, Josh

Christmas Tree Lighting
On Friday, we kicked off the Christmas season with the lighting of the Christmas tree at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

bundled up for the tree lighting

and then we topped the night off at Rogue Brewery where Kate and I met (and harassed) a local celeb and got his autograph... in sharpie on our forearms (ask me about the story later)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So Portland

This past Saturday, Megan and I explored our amazing city of Portland on foot.  All too often we take the simple pleasures of our city for granted and don’t get out and enjoy the local (and sometimes “touristy”) things in our own backyard.

We started at the Imago Dei DIY Fair (in conjunction with Advent Conspiracy) where we picked up great ideas for crafty projects such as homemade burlap wreaths, vanilla extract, wine cork boards, and compost bins (so Portland!).

Then we walked across the Burnside Bridge and wandered around the Portland Saturday Market where you can find Portland craziness in all its fullness: people on stilts, henna tattoo artists, Bible-beating evangelists standing on soapboxes (literally), bearded guys banging on plastic buckets (so Portland!).

We walked on over to the US Outdoor Store to find some warm running pants and rain gear so that we can stay active and hopefully avoid SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) over the next 7 months of dreary Portland late fall/winter/spring/early “summer” (Portland… why?!).

Next we hit up Powells where I picked up books on American slavery, the life of James Franco, and a teen fiction series on the post-apocalyptic world.  I hunkered down in a corner of the connected coffee shop and flipped through the books while often getting distracted by the eclectic group filling up on their daily soy latte and vegan tart (so Portland!).

We strolled along in a drizzly rain (ugh, Portland!) to the Stumptown Coffee in the Ace Hotel.  We ordered $4 8-oz lattes (really, Portland?!) and sat in the cozy hotel lobby and read an article about Occupy Portland in the Portland Mercury. It was entertaining and completely annoying at the same time.

After that we headed over to the Central Library, which I’ve never been to but wanted to visit for quite some time.  It is a gorgeous historic building in the heart of downtown.  We walked up the marble stairs to the third floor which has a room dedicated to sheet music (so Portland) and another where you can browse through CDs.  I filled my bag up with Coldplay and John Mayer piano books and Lifehouse and Matt Maher CDs. (Public libraries are an amazing resource, and totally not dorky. If you don’t already have a library card, you should get one.)

All this walking made us hungry, so we stopped in Henry’s Tavern for an early happy hour burger and Rogue beer (so Portland – or rather Newport).  And then continued on to REI to continue our search for running gear (gear is the epitome of Portland).

After a long, yet very relaxing and enjoyable day in downtown Portland, we crossed over the bridge back into Southeast, our true stomping ground.  Thanks, Megan, for such a fun day gallivanting around Portland with me. To all of my friends out there, I hope you take every opportunity you have to “tour” your own city and enjoy all that it has to offer.

Portlanders Love…
- being crafty
- bridges
- going against the grain
- coffee, the stronger the better
- anything organic, vegan, and gluten-free
- camping out in city parks in the name of economic equality
- checking out free music (bc we're all "musicians" and in bands)
- beer, the hoppier the better
- gear, and lots of it
- everything local

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wrestling With God

We just finished a series at Imago about the life of Jacob.  The story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32) has become one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  Here you have Jacob, a deceitful man who has lived a less than exemplary life, go through a life-changing experience in one intense night with God, his creator.  Jacob is fearful of soon meeting his brother Esau who understandably hates him and wants to kill him.  One night when Jacob is alone, God wrestles with him until daybreak, breaking his hip and renaming him "Israel".  In his own weakness and incapability to control the mess he has made, Jacob encounters God in a violent way, but comes out a completely different man.  Wounded yet healed.

I've been thinking a lot about "wrestling with God" and what that looks like in my life. As a Christian, I proclaim that I have a personal relationship with God. But I've come to question if I really know God. Personally. I think I know the God of this religion I'm following. I know that he loves me and is always there. I know that he is good. I know I like talking to him.  And I can almost always feel his presence. But do I really know God? And what does a personal relationship look like? One of the most important things in a deep intimate relationship with someone is the ability and willingness to challenge each other. To be open and honest. To state the difficult truths. To hear the difficult truths. To figure things out together, even if that means getting a little dirty. I'm pretty good at being open and honest with God. I can tell him exactly what I think. I tell him when I don't like something, when I'm frustrated with him, when I want things changed. But then I often walk away and don't listen to his response.

Wrestling takes two people. Each person is trying to gain a superior position over the other.  But we know that God is omnipotent and if we enter into wrestling with him, we're definitely not going to win.  So just entering the wrestling match is a big first step. Wrestling takes energy. And it could be embarrassing when I end up in a headlock. It requires us to lay down our control (which we don't really have anyway) and actually want to figure things out with God and let him change us in the process.

But wrestling isn't fighting.  We're not throwing punches in a violent way, hoping to knock our opponent out.  And when we wrestle with God, he's not judging us and he's not pushing us away.  He's actually coming closer to us.  He's touching us and transforming us.  We might get hurt in the process.  There might be some scars, or a broken hip in Jacob's case.  But a couple broken bones is sometimes what it takes to be changed.  And a limp reminds us that God cared enough to change us.

Wrestling with God, especially at night when it's dark and we can't really see what's going on, can be scary and confusing.  I've come to find that usually when I'm in opposition to God, it's because I can't see the whole picture.  I don't really know what's best for me.  Or I can't see how what I do in my life might be affecting others.  But God can see the whole picture and he does know what's best.  And in seeing all of this, he chooses to come down and wrestle with me and help me understand.  I'm grateful for a God who is willing to wrestle with me.

Jacob's story challenges me to encounter God in a way that doesn't really seem pleasant and easy. We can't be afraid to step into the ring and wrestle with God. How else will we be changed?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lago di Merlo

Last week, I gained a new appreciation for wine.  Oregon's Willamette Valley is up there with Napa when it come to excellent wines. And my job, surprisingly enough, is teaching me to be a wine connoisseur.  So I'm gradually learning to appreciate the quality and taste of wine.  But last week I learned to appreciate the complex process of making a good wine.

A certain winemaker in Portland has become a strong supporter of MTI and for the past several years has hosted a vineyard harvest party at his vineyard, Lago di Merlo, as a fundraising event for us.  The harvest party took place two weekends ago, but the grapes were not quite ready to harvest on that Saturday.  Grapes should be at at least level 19 on the Brix scale (which measures the sugar content of the grapes) in order to be ready for harvesting.  Due to an oddly cool summer, these grapes were only at a level 17.  So instead of harvesting grapes, the guests enjoyed a day in the sun playing bocce ball and feasting on fresh roasted pork and fine wine.

Apparently last week was the final harvest week for vineyards all across Oregon before the cold winter weather moved in.  It was "all hands on deck" at the Merlo vineyard on Wednesday, so I took the morning off work and volunteered to pick grapes.  I put on my rubber boots, bought a new pair of gardening gloves, borrow a pair gardening clippers, grabbed a bucket and started harvesting grapes! It was actually a beautiful day outside and picking grapes was so quite enjoyable "work"!  It was a real community event.  Eighty-seven-year-old Harry Merlo himself (yes his last name is Merlo and he is a winemaker - fate) was out there in the vineyard clipping grapes alongside a dozen migrant workers, the neighbor from across the fence, a group of interns from the World Forestry Center, some of the Merlo wine salesmen, and a few MTI volunteers who had been at the party a few days before.

All I did was spend a few hours clipping bunches of grapes off of the vines, but my little hands were a small part of the big process of turning those grapes into wine.  And I can hardly wait to someday drink a glass of that what is sure to be a fine 2011 Willamette Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

the very fresh roasted pig at the harvest party

Wednesday morning grape picking

vines heavy with juicy Sauvignon Blanc grapes

Elvis, one of the World Forestry interns
who has since called me everyday to "greet me" and say "hello"

me and winemaker Harry with a bin full of harvested grapes

Monday, October 24, 2011

Great Adventure 2011

This past Saturday night was the 2011 Great Adventure Dinner and Auction.  Saturday marked my 2nd year as an employee at Medical Teams International and my 3rd auction.  The past several weeks have definitely been busy - there is a lot of work that goes into an event of this scale.  At times I was amazed at everything that our team of three (me, Deb and Chiqui) were juggling: item procurement, decor and catering, invitations and rsvps, wine donations, catalog production, run-of-show schedule, corporate sponsors, a Lexus raffle, hundreds of volunteers.  This event is definitely becoming a well-oiled machine!

A few days before the big night, the warehouse at our headquarters was cleared out and transformed into a Caribbean dining hall.  Things came together pretty smoothly this year.  Deb and I got into the office early on Saturday morning, made a few last minute tweeks, then looked at each other and said, "Let's do this!"

I got chills as people began flooding in the warehouse at 5pm on Saturday evening.  All that we had dreamed about and planned was finally becoming a reality.  Generous items that were procured by our dedicated committee members and wine that I had carried in and out of our storage facility was now being bid on by guests who's name tags showed names that I had become quite familiar with over the past few month.  Then the guests were seated for the dinner and live auction where our new auctioneer, Letitia, welcome them with plenty of energy and got them riled up over 28 live auction items, each one better than the last.

Everytime I try to explain this amazing auction to friends or family, I find that I can't actually put it all in to words.  I can never relay the energy and excitement that fills the warehouse.  Or fully explain the humbling generosity of our donors and how miraculous one night can be.

On Saturday night we raised a record-breaking amount: $1.414 million!!!!

The following morning, our incredible staff and volunteers gathered for a celebration brunch to congratulate one another and talk about what a great night it was.  I sat there and looked around the room at the amazing people whom I was surrounded by: a couple who have dedicated the last 3 years of their life chairing this auction and getting literally everyone they know involved, the president of Lexus of Portland who completely donated a $31K Lexus for our raffle, an elite producer who practically donated all of his production services to make our event top-notch, the most knowledgeable wine connoisseur I know, and a handful of women who won't take no for an answer when it comes to procuring auction items.  This is the reason I love my job.  It is truly a blessing to work with each of these people.

So another successful auction is behind us... and we're already scheming for next year!
our superstar committee

the Caribbean dining room

the international auction room

Katie, our auction intern, and me

more pictures coming soon...

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Would Give Anything...

I'm pretty sure last weekend was just about the worst weekend ever.  It all started on Thursday evening at 10:30pm when I locked myself out of the apartment where I was dogsitting.  No keys, no phone, nothing but two rowdy dogs, and me in my pajamas.  After about an hour of bothering several strangers to ask for help, borrow their phone, get a little advice/sympathy, I was directed to Pop-a-Lock.  The guy used a glorified coat hanger to let me back in to a place where I don't even actually live and then charged me an arm and a leg.  Friday was a long, busy day at work and when I finally got home and stumbled over to climb into the big comfy bed, I stepped in dog poop.  Saturday morning, I took the dogs down for a walk, paid the meter for my car that was parked on the street, and headed back up for a little more shut eye.  I kept my eyes shut for a little too long and when I went back down to reload the meter, I already had a bright yellow ticket on my windshield.  No wait, it wasn't just a ticket, it was two tickets.  One for expired parking, the other for an expired license plate.  There goes my other arm and leg.  Sunday night, a rancid smell woke me up at 3am.  I turned on the light, looked around the room, and saw poop.  Everywhere.  And a little puke to top it off.  So it's 3 in the morning and I'm on my hands and knees cleaning up dog crap.  I go back to sleep for a few short hours and wake up to a Monday that has already started off on a bad note. I walk downstairs and outside into the rain.  I cross the street to where my car is parked by a downtown park.  I look at my car and think, "Oh geez, did I really leave my window down all night?"  Nope, my window isn't rolled down.  It's shattered.  Glass everywhere.  My car has been broken into.  As if I expected this to happen (because I'm on  a pretty impressive streak of bad luck), I roll my eyes, turn around and walk right back into the apartment lobby to call the police.  I file a report, find out that it's not covered by my insurance (if I had a third arm and leg, they would be gone too) and arrange for my windows to be replaced. So on one of the busiest week's of the year, I don't even have a car to drive into work.  When it rains, it pours (into your car that is missing half of the windows). I'm in the downtown apartment lobby crying on the phone to my mom and the janitor takes a break from mopping the floor to bring me a box of kleenex.  At that moment she was a saint - it didn't take much to add a touch of brightness to my day.  I start planning a really long run to blow off some steam and then realize that my brand new, never worn running shoes (plus favorite rain jacket, gym bag, watch and ipod) were all stolen.  Who steals a pair of size 5 shoes and a pink jacket? Seriously.  Well maybe I can relax by curling up and reading.  Nope, they took my favorite copy of Les Miserables (which coincidentially is about a man who was a thief and then turned his life around).

So to recap: locked out of the apartment, stepped in dog crap, parking ticket, another ticket, even more dog poop with a touch of vomit, sleep deprevation, car broken into, barefoot running, no arms or legs.

I was seriously scared to walk down the street or turn a corner for a couple of days, afraid that a bus might hit me.  I started thinking, "Things were pretty bad this weekend, but they could have been worse, right?" And I tried to come up with things that could have happened to put me in an even worse situation: my car could have been completely stolen, I could have been kidnapped, someone could have died.

And that led me to think about the times when we say, "I would give anything for ________ not to happen."  We always say that on the back end of things when something awful has already happened.  What if we looked at that statement on the front end of things when awful things haven't already happened.

For example: what if my car was actually completely stolen, or I was in a car accident that left me a quadriplegic (literally cost me my arms and legs), or what if one of my family members died... would I give up my measley ipod and my replacable running shoes? Yes. Would I take the hit of a couple parking tickets? Yes. Would I even step in dog poop? Sure.

So maybe all of this happened in the place of something worse happening.  Instead of saying, "I would give anything..." I'm just giving it without knowing what could have happened.  I know that's a crazy train of thought, but it makes me feel a little better about my streak of bad luck.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Colorado with Hannah

This past weekend, I met up with my friend Hannah in Colorado.  Hannah is a recruiter for Baylor and is in Colorado for 2 weeks for work.  I came to keep her company for the weekend and we had a great time together!

I flew into Denver on Friday afternoon and we went straight from the airport to Red Rocks Park for a little hike.  It just so happened that there was a Grateful Dead cover band concert at the amphitheater that weekend, so we were completely surrounded by 45-60 year old total hippies.  I’ve never seen so much tie dye apparel in my life!  We enjoyed a nice walk through the park then headed back to our hotel to freshen up and head out to dinner.

Our friend Jordy, who lives in Denver, recommended a pub called Bulls and Bush which was very local and tasty.  Since Jordy couldn’t join us for dinner, we bought her a souvenir poster from the restaurant and dropped by her house to drop of her surprise gift (ding-dong-ditch style).  Missed you, Jords!

Saturday morning, we had brunch at a spot called Toast before heading 70 miles south to Colorado Springs.  We drove to the Garden of the Gods were we got out for a nice morning walk through the amazing spired rocks.  It was a gorgeous day and there were lots of rock climbers out which made me want to throw on a harness and start climbing up the walls.

We stayed at the beautiful Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs.  Hannah had a “Baylor Joe” coffee meeting schedule that afternoon for prospective Baylor Bears in the area.  I came as her “assistant” and loved having the opportunity to see her hard at work.  Talk about a girl who is passionate about Baylor!  She made me want to enroll in classes again!

That night, we went to the amazing Broadmoor for drinks and dessert.  We sat outside by a beautiful pond and enjoyed watching the sun set over the Rockie Mountains.  Truly breathtaking.

Sunday morning, we drove to the top of Pike’s Peak, a 14,110 mountain.  I’m amazed that you can drive your car all the way up a paved road to the top of such a big mountain.  It was pretty touristy, but the views were amazing.  Especially at this time of year with leaves starting to change.  I think that is the highest I’ve ever been before.  It was cold up top… and actually a little hard to breath.

We then drove back to Denver for another Baylor Joe full of excited high school seniors and their parents.  I actually loved getting to talk to those families about my Baylor experience and hopefully give them a good perspective on what Baylor is all about.  We then had dinner with our friends from Baylor, Chris and Michael, who just moved to Denver about 6 weeks ago.

It was a wonderful, relaxing, much needed weekend with one of my best girl friends.  Thanks for letting me come join you during your work trip, Hannah!

Hannah and I at Red Rock... blantantly being called "tourists" by the old hippies.

the amazing view of Pikes Peak and the Rockies on the drive to Colorado Springs

Hannah at I walking through the Garden of the Gods

taking in the amazing scene

our castle for the weekend
(yes, there are lots of funny solo shots from this trip since it was just the two of us)

at the top of Pikes Peak - our first 14er... and we didn't even break a sweat.

the fall leaves turning colors. it was a great time of year for this drive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Keeping the Faith

Let me just start by saying that I like the feeling of being in control. I like to know what’s going on, have a plan, make decisions and feel that sense of accomplishment when everything goes just right. And taking control of certain things in life seems to work well. But that’s usually just the little things: what tasks I’m going to complete at work that day, how I will spend my money, what clothes I will wear, what food I will eat, what book I will read, how I'll spend a free Saturday afternoon. The bigger, more complex things in life are a little more complicated and much less controllable.

That is where faith comes into play. And I’ve been struggling with faith a lot lately. One of the core presuppositions of being a Christian is that we have faith in something bigger than us. God. An all-loving God. We are told that all we need is the faith of a mustard seed. We are led to walk by faith. We proclaim that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith. And we find reassurance in having faith in things unseen.

The idea of faith is good and nice and simple… but sometimes you get a little impatient. And the whole faith thing just doesn’t seem to be working. God isn’t pulling through for you, so you figure you’d better just take things back into your own hands. You’re lost in a dark place with no foreseeable end in sight. The clock is ticking. Time is wasting. You subtly clear your throat. You impatiently tap your fingers. Roll your eyes. Wave your hand in the air. And he just isn’t taking a hint.

In situations such as this I often think, “God’s too busy to deal with me right now. Or he doesn’t realize the importance and urgency of my situation. If he’s not going to handle this, then I will.” Somebody got to do something, right?!

So you take matters into your own hands. You try to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. But you’re working so feverishly that the pieces are getting torn and flying all over the place. So now you have lots of missing pieces and you’re left with an incomplete puzzle. You can’t even see the whole picture!

Defeat. Utter defeat. You raise your hands in surrender. Then you sit down, unclench your fists, let your shoulders hang, and let go of the breath you didn’t even realize you were holding.

This is when I realize my madness. Sometimes I’m humiliated. Sometimes I just laugh at myself. Part of me wants to throw another punch in hopes that I can reclaim my power (which I never really had). But another part of me is so relieved that the fight is over. Because I’m exhausted. And I’m beat. And I am glad to put the situation back in God’s court.

The truth is, I like the feeling of being in control… on some level.  But I'm learning to let go of trying to control all aspects of my life.  And boy is it tough. But deep down (probably not even that deep down) I sure am glad that everything's not up to me.  That I'm not in complete control.  And that I don't have to worry.  I just have to have faith.

Walking in Faith
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
- Hebrews 11:1

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
- Hebrew 11:8

Monday, September 19, 2011

Welcome Baby Henry!

Exactly one week ago, my newest little nephew Henry Woodall Starr was born to my sister Sarah and her husband Taylor in Waco.  Henry arrived on the morning of Monday, September 12th weighing in at 6 lbs 10 oz - so tiny!  It nearly killed me that I wasn't able to be there for his birth and I have yet to hold this little guy.  I will get to meet him when I go home for Christmas in a few months (although I look at flights to Texas everyday - especially when someone sends me a pic of him which makes me want to hold him right now).

Baby Henry, I know I haven't met you yet but Aunt Mary loves you already!  Can hardly wait to meet you!

The Starr family with their newest addition

Have you ever seen such a sweet big brother?

Aunt Emily and cousin Hannah with baby Henry... wish I could hold him! 

my 2 neices and 2 nephews... I'm one lucky aunt!

Look at that cute grin... you can't look at this picture and not smile yourself. 

What a good looking family!  Congrats Sarah, Taylor and Carter!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mount Adams - Round 2

This weekend, a group of us traveled up to Washington to climb Mount Adams.  Last August I climbed Mount Adams for the first time and it was awesome - one of the best weekends I've had here in the Northwest.  I don't know if "awesome" is the word I would use to describe the climb this weekend...

The group was definitely awesome: me, Drew, his buddy Trung from Colorado, his coworker Kate, our friend Kiersten and my coworker West.  However, if I were to describe the climb in one word it would probably be: miserable.  I'm not really sure why this trip was a million times worse than the last time I climbed Adams... I think I'm going to attribute it to being exhausted after a long week and really busy Friday.  When we arrived at the trailhead just after midnight on Friday night/early Saturday morning, my absolute lack of sleep and delirium was obvious.  I seriously thought about skipping the climb and just sleeping in my car.  But I didn't drive all the way up there to back out and just sleep, so I gave my cheeks a few slaps to wake myself up, turned on my headlamp and trudged on with the rest of the crew.

There were several times along the way when I almost gave in and turned around, but my stuborness got the best of me and I kept going.  My boots were killing me (I've decided that my next big purchase will be mountaineering boots) so every step was literally painful.  Not to be dramatic, but I wanted to die.  I think this climb was the hardest thing I've ever done.  I was literally bribing myself to make it to the top: "Ok Mary, if you make it to the top, you can treat yourself to a pedicure... and a new pair of shoes... and Swirl frozen yogurt..."

But at the end of the day (well, actually it was around 10am) we summited the 12,281 mountain.  The torture was finally over and we could now head down the mountain.  We glacaded over 2,000 ft which made the trek down much faster (and also made my butt quite numb).  It was pretty hot that afternoon (especially once we got off of the snow and onto the rocky trail) and we kept having delusions of the end of the trail where our car was waiting for us and a cold stream to stick our aching feet in.  But we finally made it back to the car, drove out to Hood River, filled our craving for burgers and beer, then headed back to Portland where we crashed in our comfy beds and slept a good 12 hours.

West and I were talking about how funny it is how quickly you forget the pain of a miserable experience and quickly say, "That wasn't too bad... I'd climb that beast of a mountain again next week!"  I guess there's just something about conquering something that wasn't so easy to conquer.
If I could add one word to the "miserable" description, it would be: exhausting

Kiersten and West leading the way

Kate heading up the mountain as the sun is about to rise

Kate climbing her first mountain - pretty impressive!

West and Kiersten reaching the summit... I think this is right before West shed tears of joy and relief for surviving

West and I at the summit

Kiersten and I at the summit

The summiting crew

the most beautiful part of the climb

hiking out on the never-ending trail to the car

the group - minus Trung who forgot his sunglasses and had to turn around after sunrise

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bayocean Spit Camping

I've decided on the new tradition of celebrating my birthday with a camping trip.  It all started last year by backpacking in Olympic National Park and continued this year at Bayocean Spit near Tillamook on the Oregon Coast.  Saturday afternoon, Megan, Kathy, West, Jason and I packed up the car and headed West until we came upon the Pacific Ocean.  We hiked about a mile down a dirt road, through some brush, over a little hill and onto the sand where we set up our camping area.

I've never actually camped on the beach (actually, I'm not even sure if it's legal), but it was so cool to just set up our tents on the sand, dig a pit for a camp fire, and lay back and relax as we listened to the ocean waves crashing just a hundred yards from us.  The sunset the first night was breath-taking.  It was a perfectly clear sky which turned bright colors of pink, orange and red as the sun set over the water.

There is something so refreshing about being out in nature with no sense of time and no obligations.  I'm definitely someone who like to use my time wisely and be productive, but for those three days I just relaxed and went with the flow.  So what did we do to fill our time?  Layed on the beach and read, sat around the campfire and talked, played frisbee, flew West's kiteboarding trainer kite (probably my favorite part of the weekend), cooked creative meals over the open fire, napped, and took long walks on the beach (seriously).  Sunday evening, I woke up from a nap to find Drew hanging out with the group - he had surprised me and come out to join the celebration!  I have such great friends.  They even made me a birthday smore with a candle in it and brough along little bottles of champagne (my favorite).

Thanks for joining in my birthday camping trip and for making it such a great start to my 26th year of life!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hood to Coast 2011

This past weekend I ran the Hood to Coast relay for the 3rd year in a row.  I applied for a team earlier this year and we were miraculously selected to be one of 1,250 teams to participate. We started off as a team of MTI coworkers, but over the months people ended up dropping out and were replaced by friends of team members. So our team name fittingly became "Droppin' Like Flies".  I was in Van 1 with my friends Megan and Michael and a few other new friends Justin, Trevor and Bobby plus our driver, Bill.

This year I ran Leg 2, which I really enjoyed despite the somewhat brutal first leg completely downhill from Mount Hood (a 1,500 ft elevation loss over 5.7 miles).  I ran at quite a pace (7:15 min/mile) and killed my quads.  My second leg was just outside of Portland along Hwy 30 past the St. John's bridge.  It was a tough leg because it was really hot outside on Friday evening and I think I was pushing myself a little too hard.  I kept a pretty good pace by tailing a woman in blue shorts for several miles.  I passed her with about a mile to go and felt pretty good about taking the lead.  However, she made a comeback in the last few hundred yards and we sprinted toward the exchange line as her team yelled, "Get her! Get her!"  That was the most defeating feeling to hear people cheering those words and knowing that you are the person they're yelling about.  So I pretty much ate that woman's dust as she crossed the exchange line before me and at that moment I realized my competitiveness as I walked off the steam.  Oh well... she motivated me to run hard and brought my pace for that leg under 8:30.  My final leg was at 5am on Saturday morning and was quite enjoyable as the weather was cool and the light of the sunrise was barely visable over the horizon.  I finished up strong and was glad to be finished early.

After our van was done with our last legs and passed off to Van 2 to finish up the relay, we were able to take showers at Trevor's beach house and then head down to the beach at Seaside to wait for our final runner.  Once we made it across the finish line, we were all anxious to get back in the van, head back to Portland, and crash in our own beds.  I fell asleep at 6pm Saturday evening and woke up at 7am the next morning.  I felt much better after a good night's sleep, but have never been so sore. I walked out of my room and stood at the top of the stairs for a good 10 seconds telling myself, "You can do this... you can make it down those stairs!"  They were pretty freaking miserable, but walking became easier throughout the day.

I absolutely love running the Hood to Coast race and I've made it a new goal to eventually run each of the 12 legs.  Our team this year was amazing... everyone ran hard and no one got injured.  I hope we can all run it again next year!

Van 1 at the Starting Line at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood

Van 1 on the road waiting for Bobby to come in

Mary and Justin stretching on Hwy 26

the big exchange with Van 2 under the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland

my 2nd leg along Hwy 30

celebrating Bobby making it to the top of a brutal hill on his last leg

the whole Droppin' Like Flies team happy to have finally made it to the Oregon Coast!