Sunday, August 10, 2014

Learning to Love the Scenic Route :: A Guest Post By Vicki Stilwell

For the past seventeen months, Vicki Stilwell has been learning to live without her husband. One day Rick's heart simply stopped beating during his morning commute. His car careened across the median, then several lanes of oncoming traffic and into the ditch on the other side of the highway. He was 43 years old; their children 17 and 15. Every day since, Vicki has been carving a new life out of what remains. It's been public and private, broken and beautiful, dignified and not so dignified. When I found her reflection on Facebook, I asked her to share her story here.

  : : :

After we got Max, we quickly discovered that Jack Russells need exercise in order to not eat things like shoes and furniture, so I started walking the dogs. Little walks turned into longer mileage, and Rick encouraged me when I said I wanted to walk a half marathon.

Two years ago, I was training for the first one, and while I was comfortable with mileage, hills scared me. I am slow, and hills made my calf muscles scream.

Rick and I were here at our condo in Lake Lure, and there is a particular route on the back roads of the resort that I had always wanted to walk. It is quiet and in the woods, and of course, filled with twists and hills.

Rick, always my biggest cheerleader, encouraged me that I could do it. He even promised to meet me with the car at the end of the route and take me to get coffee.

I was able to follow that path that day with his encouragement. I finished and got my coffee.

 He always said, "I don't care how far she goes as long as she comes back."

I have now done three half marathons so far: one "virtual" half with Nike (done on my own) and the Savannah Half twice.

Last summer, I did that Lake Lure route again, on my own. I needed to prove to myself that I still could.

Soon after, I began training again for the Savanah half, this second time last year with a group of amazing women ... because they love me and know I needed the encouragement. Getting back out there was hard because I did not have Rick here waiting when I got back. But I know he'd want me still out there, doing the mileage and learning how to do all this a new way.

The kids and I are at our condo at Lake Lure again this summer, and this morning, in the rain, I did that route again. But this time, God made me aware of how much this stretch of road mirrors my life.

The route is not one I ever thought I could do, much like living without Rick. There are parts of this path that are hard; those hills still make my calves scream, but not as badly as two years ago.

When I am in the quiet of the woods, I can feel God's presence. He showed me this morning that some of this road is smooth, some is filled with bad patches, but I am never far from Him or those who love me.

There will be hills, and valleys, and stretches that feel so lonely — but in the end, the walk is worth it.
This route finishes with a brilliant view of the lake — just like this life will finish with a awe-inspiring view of God. I pray that God will say to me "Well done," just the way Rick did when I made this trek the first time.
Vicki Stilwell is a high school drama teacher, a curator of Disney movie trivia, a pinch-hit social media and computer tech pro, and a walker of half marathons. Follow her on Twitter @MrsCaffeinated.

Related Post: Walking and Talking: A Tribute To An Unfinished Friendship

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chopping Salad and Slicing Life

Dear Mike,
I chopped cabbage yesterday while Reagan chopped lettuce. I ate the fruits of our labor for lunch at 3:15 today. And I'll have more tomorrow.

They don't talk on the phone like we did to socialize, so I asked. "Have you been talking with your friends this summer?"

"What friends, Mom?"


"You know! Grace. Maddie. Bailey. Cloe. Your friends!"

Silly girl.

While we press garlic, pinch sugar, and measure balsamic vinegar, the rest of the conversation dawns on me that every one of our daughter's close friends no longer enjoys an intact family unit.

"Do you know what it is you have, Ru?" My knife had fallen silent.

She says she knows, but she takes it for granted. I do, too. How can we not, when we take the fruit of our labors for lunch break on a Monday?

I crunch salad, and I read Reagan's text: Can we do something tonight? I am beyond bored. We didn't go to the pool. We've been every day for two weeks.

The pool. You had invited me in just yesterday. When I climbed into your floating lap, you asked when I last shaved.  I laughed. "It's goose bumps, not stubble."  You twirled us slowly in the water.

I take another bite of my salad and wonder how far into the Guatemalan mountains you are right now. You've traveled less than 12 hours. More than a week still before you return.

We are no longer the norm. We swirl in the water. We chop salad with our kids. We eat the fruit of our life mid-afternoon and look forward to having more tomorrow.

Even after 25 years, we look forward to more tomorrow.

You've traveled far today, Mike. I have too. You toward those who hunger, me toward  recognizing satisfied. Perhaps we shall both sleep well in our respective places.

Sweet dreams,

Photo Credits: Adrian

Saturday, May 24, 2014

For When You are Stressed, Dependent, and Humbled

This week I did something for only the tenth time in my life. I started a new job.

One forgets what it's like being new, knowing nothing, and having no context. I needed help and had to rely on others to guide me in accomplishing my responsibilities. In short, it was stressful, uncomfortable, and humbling.

Although I look forward to the time when I am well-trained and competent in my work, this week of ineptness on the job made me remember that this is the exact context in which we are to remain when it comes to faith.

We are to rely on Another's leadership and guidance. Not just when we're newbies (2 Corinthians 5:17), but always. There will be times when our finite context is not enough and we must trust that God knows what he's up to. In faith, we walk assured only when we are unsure, unable, and reliant upon Christ to be made perfect in our human weakness.

This week, I was grateful for positive feedback from co-managers, higher ups, and even one I manage. I'm grateful just to have co-workers, because I haven't really had them in quite some time.

And for the gift of scripture from my predecessor, who still works for the company (and is training me — thank you, God) and is my co-worker in more than one way.

I'm thankful for the reminder that sometimes it's not only okay, but preferable to be stressed, dependent, and humble.

I want to make this new job my own and add to the corporate culture and community in this new space where I will share 40 hours of life each week with a whole new subset of people. I want to bring my whole, best self to my new job and do it well for the glory of God. It will take being independent, dependent, and interdependent, and knowing when each is appropriate.

I hope to never forget that.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

More than a Meal


I was stunned by the gleaming wedding ring at the summit of my steering wheel. “I’m married.” The words escaped into the air, even though there was no one else in the car to hear them. I had been married eight months and should have been well-acquainted with this fact, but saying it out loud was an attempt to solidify what had not yet taken complete hold in my mind.

Life took me by surprise again when my ten-month-old slept soundly in his crib. I stood over my kitchen sink staring at a lone baby bottle, when I again stated the obvious to myself.  “There’s a baby bottle in my sink; I am a mom.” You would think that after 573 dirty diapers and half as many 2:00 am feedings, I would already know this.

That baby boy in my crib is now sixteen and about to start his first job. The results of this life change, though, I am realizing ahead of time: the beginning of the end of our family dinners.

They started when we would drag the high chair as close to the table as possible. We were determined to create a family experience of dinners around the table. Never mind that our toddler managed to get only a few morsels successfully from his tray to his mouth. Back then, clearing the table also involved mopping the floor. Conversations were limited to Mom and Dad, but it was a start.

Mike and I remember the exact night the family dinners we had envisioned began in earnest. Our third child was newly graduated from her booster seat. This meant that no one was strapped in at our table anymore, another step in the right direction.

How it started, I cannot say, probably because it began like every other meal. Adrian, now a seven-year-old and all boy, began to imitate Uncle Mickey’s habit of clearing his throat. It's just the kind of eccentricity a seven-year-old boy would be all over.  Adrian nailed the impression -- even his younger sisters recognized the similarities. We were all laughter.

We moved on to pinpointing and laughing at each other's idiosyncrasies. There was the way Noelle sucked her thumb rotated in her mouth with palm turned skyward while her other hand was plugged firmly into her belly button. As a toddler, she called it her butty-butty, and we laughed at that too. Then Noelle offered an exaggerated demonstration of her dad’s underwear waistband slapping suspender-style. Reagan was a peacock across our kitchen floor remembering the ones I had tried to feed when we stumbled upon them once in the mountains.   

While the children crumpled in laughter over their half eaten chicken and rice, Mike and I sat up tall above them and met the gleam in the other's eye. The moment had arrived, and we knew it. We were a bona fide family making a memory around our table which held a home cooked meal.

Since that first untethered meal, we have prayed, we have cried, we've helped each other, and we’ve learned together. We have discovered problems, solved some, and ignored some. We've pondered questions and celebrated good news. We've fought over whose turn it was to set the table, make the salad, read our devotion, and do the dishes.

Next week, Adrian's new job will be the first among many things that will keep one or more of our children from our family’s nightly dinners together. Small children that were once strapped into high chairs are becoming young adults who are no longer tied down. In fact, they will eventually follow heartstrings into their own adult lives. So now my hope is that the memories we have made will become the ties that bind and draw us back to the table for many more family meals together.

**This is my first piece ever accepted for print. It has never appeared on my blog. It chronicles part of our story, and as my first published piece it's doubly part of my story. It ran in the May 2012 issue of Reach Out, Columbia. I was reminded of it tonight, when we all five of us were around our table for dinner together. It's already a rare treasure in our family.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why Do We Still Have Beauty Pageants Anyway?

I don't think I'll ever know how I feel about beauty pageants.

Part of me can't believe we haven't come further in society than to parade young women across a stage and compare and compete based on beauty. Someone please tell me we no longer do this.

And fierce competition it can be, too. I know, because I interviewed Miss South Carolina and told her story that got her there and on to the Miss America pageant in a magazine cover story.

But part of beauty pageants is community service, learning to be an articulate communicator, and interviewing skills and experience. Part of it a young woman's accomplishment, intellect, and talent on display. I'm all for honoring and celebrating hard work.

In a day and age when the sexes are blurred and homosexuality is the new black, I like that my daughter was holed up in her bedroom this afternoon with two best friends putting curls in Reagan's hair, eye liner just so, and unwrapping new earrings for the occasion.

I like that she studied her interview questions and answers late into the night with her older sister who would have rather been asleep but stayed up to help Reagan. That will be a worthwhile sister memory.

And the twenty minute rides to and from the school — all 5 of them in the last 48 hours — have been full of singing Broadway songs with my girl at the top of our lungs, and short, casual conversations about the balance between competition and having fun that really weren't all that casual after all.

I told her I was proud of her for doing everything herself. No mom taking over, telling her she ought to wear a suit for the interview. It was all Reagan, every choice, every preparation. No paid make up artist or hair style. Just a girl and her friends in her room.

Part of me will be squirming tonight when my growing up girl walks gracefully across the stage in her teal gown. But part of me will be very proud, and when it's all said and done tonight, I still won't know how I feel about pageants.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 25/65 Or The First Day of the Rest of My Life

I've worked out many times and many ways, but today I had a first date with Pilates.

I've committed to 90 days of P90X3 to prove to myself I can indeed do this for life. Twenty-five days down, 65 to go. Or, the first day of the rest of my life, depending on how you look at it.

Day 25 is the introduction to a new routine: Pilates.

The breathing felt a bit foolish and brought back memories of birthing classes.

Because many, many moons ago, I was delivered of three babies. They brought me unadulterated joy and totally wrecked my core. Actually, it's not entirely fair to blame it all on three babies. The gate that might have killed me is to blame as well. I was delivered from it too, and my parting gifts were a fractured pelvis and exploratory abdominal surgery which guaranteed youthful, taut ab muscles would be a thing of the past at the tender age of 11. I am not overstating, either, because I was so weak, my lower back ached for the rest of the day after I vacuumed the house. In high school.

Anyway, when Joseph Pilates came through his own mother's birth canal, I think he was taking notes for the future creation of his exercise discipline that might repair all that he he wrecked when he grew inside his mother.

That's what it felt like anyway. Like repair. Like a hint of the beginning of a second chance at the old me, the one who at least had a little pre-pregnancy core strength after the gate and the doctors got through with me.

I could feel places in me that are weak getting strong. Not a dramatic Rocky-theme-song kind of strong, but a subtle, nuanced kind of strength that rises so slowly you don't realize it's coming until it's right there in the room with you keeping you company while you Shh, Shh, Shh until you think you might hyperventilate. It's the kind of strength that keeps you from looking and feeling foolish when you look and feel foolish.

Another thing I loved? Tony Horton — who is Mr. Fitness himself — got on the floor and did the move he called the pretzel. His attempt was not pretty, and he poked a little fun at himself while he was doing it. But he did it. He put it on the video and in America's hands, his weakest move that showed him in the poorest light. He rolled his eyes and smiled silly faces at himself, knowing he looked less than stellar. He mumbled something about being better at pull ups, but he didn't quit. He said, "This must be good for me," with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

The whole thing made me feel like a winner. Pilates. Tony-Mr. Fitness-Horton secure enough in his fitness prowess to show his weakness and humbly know it wouldn't wreck his credibility as a trainer. The inspiration of humanity on display. Twenty-five consecutive days, a glimpse at a second chance, and knowing there's always the rest of your life.

They are all good, good reasons to keep going in the same direction slowly.

I learned today that the number one reason to be admitted to an assisted living facility is no longer being able to sit and stand unaided.

Well, no thank you. I choose strength and balance and flexibility and aging with poise and grace.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spiritual Misfit Winner and Easter Weekend

The winner of Spiritual Misfit is Glenda Childers.

Congratulations, Glenda. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I have.

With Easter weekend upon us, I ponder anew his gift to us on the cross.

It stills my soul and quiets my mind.

I am so in awe, I don't know what to feel.

Humble. Grateful. Expectant. Stunned.

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