November 22, 2014

Acropolis and Corinth Tour

Saturday, November 8, on our Athens Adventure, we loaded onto a private tour bus at 8am for a full day of touring!

Let me back up a moment to say we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfasts at the hotel, and I really miss that daily, amazing Greek yogurt (kind of the consistency of Cool Whip but much better tasting), feta cheese, olives, breads, meats cheeses, boiled eggs...I skipped the mini hot-dogs, but everything else I had was amazing. Mmmm.

Our tour took us first to the Acropolis before the crowds hit. First stop, Mars Hill! So incredible to stand on the place where the Apostle Paul spoke to the Athenians about the "Unknown God." We read that portion of Acts 17 while looking over the city. Chill-inducing!

Next up, the Acropolis, where our tour guide gave us more info about the structure itself, the myths behind the temples, and some insight into the culture of the Golden Age of Greece. I'm so excited that our whole family will return here before we move away from Italy, as we have planned a cruise in the future!

On what would have been the ramp entryway for animals to be led up for sacrifice.

The Parthenon! I'm actually here! And yes, it was raining at this point!

To the left, in the clump of trees, is the stadium where the marathon ended.
Lower right are the remains of the temple of Zeus.

Shauna and I

Temple of Poseidon, also located in the Acropolis area
After a lovely time exploring the Acropolis, we began the drive to Corinth, stopping partway for a snack and potty break and the opportunity to see the canal.

On to Ancient Corinth! More chill-inducing moments as we saw the Bema area where Paul was dragged when the Jews were angry with him for stirring up trouble, as usual, ha! We read 2 Corinthians 4 out loud there, having seen one of the latter verses carved on a stone. So. Incredible.

You can see the difference between this temple and the structures at the Acropolis, which were built from marble hauled from a mountain we could see in the distance.

I loved the pottery!

Samples of columns. Test: Can you identify the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns?!

Standing on the Bema

We ended this beautiful day with another wonderful restaurant experience. We all ended up sampling each other's food, and I can't remember everything we tried, but it was all fabulous. Tirzah and I especially enjoyed our iced coffees!

Next blog entry: RACE DAY!! This day of touring ended with us going back to the hotel and attempting to get some sleep...after such a huge and late lunch, none of us felt like eating much for dinner, so we snacked a bit and tried to settle in for some rest. (HA!)

Marathon Trip: Enjoying Athens

From the beginning we knew the marathon trip would mostly be a "girls' getaway," as most of us wouldn't be able to bring our whole families along. Nine of us ended up sharing 3 rooms at a Best Western hotel right across the street from the National Archaeological Museum. We flew into Athens on Thursday, November 6, after driving to Rome and leaving our Suburban in a parking lot with shuttle service to the airport. So it had been a long day, but it began well--Tirzah's husband Jim prayed over us before we left Support Site, and he and their kids sent us off with the Rocky theme song. :-)

The highlight of our travel day was enjoying an amazing spread at a wonderful restaurant that didn't cater to tourists--our waiter, Theodore, commented that someone must have recommended the place to us, because they didn't get nearly as many tourists as other places. That was fine with us! We dined outside and loved sampling many different kinds of food, including the free desserts they brought us when we thought we were already stuffed!

On Friday we spent most of the morning and early afternoon puttering around the amazing museum. How cool to see our history books come to life! So much of what the kids and I have been studying recently...artifacts from ancient cultures, such as the Minoan, Mycenaean, Egyptian, and so on...oh, it was just incredible! I could have spent days going through that place. It was sad to have to rush through toward the end and know that we hadn't even seen a fraction of what was on display.

One of the very earliest pieces of artwork on the planet! Approx. 6,000 B.C.

Boars' tusk helmet

Love the octopus/squid artwork!

Chariot reconstruction

Animal mummies
 From the museum we walked toward the metro station, stopping at a fast-food place for a lunch of gyros (costing 1.50 each!) and dessert treat from a classy bakery (1.95 for my baklava!). We survived the metro maze, got on a tram, rode for 45 minutes, and finally reached the Expo Center, where the racers picked up their packets and we met up with Julia, who had come straight from the airport (at a cost of 70 euro to a sneaky taxi driver, yikes!). We also found Lisa R and her niece Erin, who joined us for a dinner escapade. We were told by several locals about a wonderful place, and after several missteps, located it only to learn it was not open. So we trooped across the street to the top floor of a hotel to try their restaurant with a view. It was more expensive than our fare from the previous night, and the main course was far less tasty, but by this point it was after 9pm and we were hungry and running out of time!

We finally found THE PLACE! Only THE PLACE was closed!!

Hotel Poseidon's restaurant on the 7th floor

Libby, Emily, and Shauna during our l-o-n-g trek back to the hotel.

Grace and I...still smiling after a very long day!
Day 1 as Athens tourists = a success!

November 15, 2014

Marathon Preparation

So in early spring 2014 we had the beginnings of our marathon team (see previous post), and I started thinking a little bit more about actually training. November seemed an awfully long way off! I literally started from the couch. After having Seanin last August, I hadn't done much exercise beyond the 15-minute T-Tapp workout (which I do love and think is quite effective). In January I started the Couch-to-5K program. Looking back, it seems unreal that I had to work up to a 5K, which I ran in April!

So we went on our massive 3-week road trip in late April; I think I ran twice during that whole time. I started running again a bit, but then we had family visit us for 3 weeks in June. I ran twice during that whole time as well. So I didn't really get serious about training until early July, just over 4 months before Race Day.

I figured 4 months was plenty of time, no problem! HA! Probably if I had been running regularly it would have been just fine.

Shortly into training I experienced a foot injury. The arch of my right foot was hurting. Actually, it started hurting on top of my foot, but then the arch began aching. I iced it and rested and eased back into running only to have it happen again. I got new shoes, thinking maybe that was the problem, and it happened again. I went to the doctor, who thought I had plantar fasciitis and referred me to ortho. I went to my chiropractor who said I didn't have plantar fasciitis and that I'd be fine. I went to my ortho appointment and was feeling great by that point, but the doctor gave me shoe inserts anyway and off I went. I learned to use a frozen water bottle to roll my foot on after running. I took Ibuprofen when pain flared up and rested, rested, rested. I bought Jeff Galloway's book and learned about the walk-run method when a couple of friends recommended it as the way to prevent injuries.

Basically, I had to swallow a lot of pride and realize that everyone is different, my body is getting older, and this experience was just not going to turn out the way I anticipated.

By late September I was feeling much better, not really dealing with foot issues anymore, and starting to look at how I could plan some long training runs to actually prepare myself for this ordeal. I finally passed 8 miles--the point where I had seemed to be stuck, as previously when I would run 8 miles (or attempt longer), I would end up waylaid and in pain. (Once Ted had to come pick me up because I couldn't make it home!) In fact, I made it to 12 miles one Sunday morning and felt great. I was careful to run 4-5 minutes and walk a minute. The next couple of days I felt fine...knees were a little sore, but I seemed to recover well, having taken an ice bath immediately afterward. I did a 4-mile run Wednesday.

Then on Thursday, I squatted down (using my knees!) to lift Seanin and something seemed to explode in my lower back. Pain radiated down my legs and I couldn't move. Thank the Lord the children were so responsive. Charis got Seanin and the boys helped me stand up, and the rest of the day passed in a blur of pain and fog.

That was October 2. I spent the next few weeks recovering. I met with an Italian physical/massage therapist several times; I visited the chiropractor; I met with a doctor to get some muscle relaxants. I got on the treadmill and walked. And walked. And walked. One of my workouts was 2 hours long and gave me hope that I would, in fact, be able to finish the marathon, even if I weren't running. By October 28, Charis and I were boarding a plane for America, where she was to compete in the National Bible Bee, and although I was moving reasonably well, the long periods of sitting still made my back ache. (I was thankful for those muscle relaxants!)

During our time in Florida, I hit the treadmill and carefully tried some slow running. Four days in a row I ran! And I had hope.

November 9, 2014, I was going to finish a marathon!

Marathon: Why?

If you haven't spent any time with me in person over the last few months, and if you haven't seen any of my Facebook posts, you likely don't even know that I ran the Athens marathon a week ago, let alone why I did it.

So, a brief word as to the reasoning. When I picked up running again after our move to Las Vegas in 2005, I found myself pushed beyond my typical 2-3 mile jog when my crazy running partner talked about doing races. I thought only hard-core athletes did races, people who were competitive enough to think about winning! (My first "race" was a 10K! Go big or go home, I guess!) It was this crazy racing friend who first planted the idea of doing a marathon in my head. After experiencing the trauma of my first miscarriage, I found running to be therapeutic and couldn't let go of the idea of someday running a full-length marathon.

But life happened. My running partner moved. My motivation and desire to run 26.2 miles really flagged. I did do a half-marathon in December of 2007, but a back injury shortly after put me off running long distances for quite some time. Moving to Ohio where winters were much more extreme definitely didn't help, yet I'd visit the idea now and then and tell myself that before I was would happen.

Then we got orders to Italy. And the wheels started turning. We'd be overseas for my 40th birthday...and if I were to actually attempt a marathon, why not the original course in Athens?! So before we even got on the plane to come to Naples, the idea had taken root. It seemed even more appropriate when I realized that the full marathon takes place in November, and my birthday is November 22.

November 2012 wasn't an option...we were finally just getting settled into our new house after months in an apartment, not to mention I was just starting to run again after Ted's deployment and Zaden's arrival. November 2013 found me nursing baby #7. With only one year left, it was November 2014 or bust. And...wouldn't you know?! This is the year I turn 40!

As the days ticked by, I realized that my purpose for completing a marathon wasn't simply to mark the momentous occasion of a milestone birthday. No, I had to have a bigger purpose than that, something that would weather the difficulties of training and pushing my body in a way that it hasn't been pushed in a long time...or ever.

Ted's participation (as a spectator--I never expected him to do this with me!) was never an option, as November is an extremely busy time for him at work, and taking leave during that season isn't possible for him. I needed community, and I wanted the race to be a platform. I figured if I were going to invest this much time and energy into something, it better be for a high calling and purpose! Since I've been involved with the Mission of Light (Missione di Luce) ministry team here in Napoli for the last couple of years, it made sense to fundraise for the efforts to minister to victims of human trafficking that we see on the streets right around us.

I started asking people probably a year ago, maybe more, if they'd be interested in running the Athens marathon. It seemed as though the idea was appealing, but I couldn't seem to get any commitment for awhile. And then, maybe sometime after the new year, my friend Julia confirmed that she would do this thing with me. She hadn't run a full marathon before but has definitely been a runner. Her enthusiasm at the start was invaluable, as she set up our Facebook group page and got the ball rolling that way. One by one we started to hear from other people who took the plunge and said YES to this crazy venture.

Understandably, we had some who initially committed but had to back out for various reasons, but then we also had some who joined us much farther along in the journey. All in all, we ended up having 12 runners who represented Mission of Light in our orange shirts! All of us shared links and talked to people and encouraged folks to donate to our case. I have no idea how many funds have been raised at this point...and honestly, I'm at peace with that! I do hope to hear a total before too long, but right now the fact that WE DID IT seems more important than any numbers!

A brief, different write-up of our reason for running the marathon appears here at the Mission of Light blog.

November 12, 2014

A Marathon of Thanks

At some point I will journal about this whole experience from start to finish, but at this time, I feel some special thanks are in order. And how appropriate as we prepare for Thanksgiving! Each of the following represents an opportunity for me to give honor and glory to the One from whom every good and perfect gift comes.

1.       To our great and awesome God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love, for His enduring faithfulness and graciousness. His power and mercy sustained us during the long hard process of training and especially during the race itself.

2.       To my amazing family—immediate and extended—who supported this endeavor from start to finish, even if they didn’t understand it! (Ted constantly reminded me that “the first guy to do this run fell over dead after delivering his message!”) Their prayers and encouragement were vital during the whole process. Special thanks to our 5 older kiddos who prayed for me and cheered me on from home while their daddy worked long hours…and thanks to my hubby for stalking me online the day of the race, praying for me as I crossed each checkpoint. Without his love and support, I definitely would not have even attempted this endeavor.

3.       To Hannah and Tuba, who took care of our little boys the entire time I was in Athens, allowing me to rest easy knowing they were happy and healthy and having so much fun they barely knew Mama was gone.

4.       To Mission of Light, a ministry close to my heart, for giving me a passion and purpose for running this race…not for any personal or earthly glory or crowning achievement, but for God’s eternal kingdom.

5.       To my amazing and incredible teammates, who deserve their own line of individual thanks! But as a team, I am grateful for the group dynamic that pushed each of us to achieve our goal: physically, mentally, spiritually.

6.       To Julia, the first one to actually agree to do this marathon with me! Without her agreement, I may not have pushed forward with this crazy plan! She even got the ball rolling by setting up our Facebook group page, which was a valuable means of communication and encouragement. Her enthusiasm and passion for both running and battling human trafficking was a huge encouragement to me.

7.       To Lisa R, whose knowledge of the human body helped me tremendously in deciding how to handle the times when my body wasn’t functioning properly and whose indefatigable spirit served as a reminder of just how powerful our mental and spiritual states are when it comes to attempting the nearly impossible. Lisa’s previous marathon experience was invaluable in so many ways to all of us.

8.       To Tirzah, my running partner during the race itself, who graciously pulled back her pace during the first ¾ of the course so that we could pray together for 40+ women whom Mission of Light has served. Songs, Scripture verses, and prayers shared during our time together enabled me to push far beyond where I have EVER gone before and gave me the mental edge to pull out a finish at the end. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to spend that time with Tirzah and the Lord together—I know that if I had been on my own, the experience would not have passed as pleasantly or as easily! THANK YOU, dear friend!

9.       To Emily, whose “keeping it real” personality kept us smiling throughout the ups and downs of training. Despite struggling with her own doubts, she was a constant cheerleader for her sister as well as our whole team, and the radiance she showed while be-bopping into the stadium at the finish line proved that perseverance is its own reward. What an amazing example she is for her own family and everyone around her!

10.   To Libby and Grace, whom I had never met before we piled in the Suburban to drive to the Rome airport, for providing a constant stream of witty remarks that kept us all in stitches. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and these girls are forever part of my fondest memories of this whole trip. Their willingness to join this crazy journey without knowing anyone but Emily and without really knowing much about Mission of Light has blessed me beyond description.

11.   To Thea, our natural encourager, who kept assuring me that if I had birthed 7 children, completing a marathon would be a piece of cake (even though she had done neither of those things prior to this experience!!). Thea’s love and concern for everyone around her oozes out of her very being, and her support for our cause helped us spread the word to the ladies of PWOC and beyond.

12.   To Abigail, who truly did throw off the things that hindered as she persevered to rock her THIRD marathon this year! Her participation in the ministry of Mission of Light as well as teaching a PWOC class AND balancing her roles as wife and mother all serve as an example of walking by faith and letting God’s grace be our guide.

13.   To Lisa and Nate, whose tidbits of experience were so extremely helpful as we packed and planned for the actual race. Lisa’s encouragement was especially meaningful to me as I struggled through my foot and back injuries and questioned the wisdom of even attempting this marathon. When she helped me think through the idea of simply walking the course and still finishing within the allotted time, I was strengthened in my resolve to just do it!

14.   To Erin, who joined us later in the planning stages and was a delight to our team and a special encouragement to her aunt Lisa R.

15.   To Shauna, my dear friend, hotel roommate, and organizer of our actual travel details. Without her fortitude and commitment to planning the perfect agenda, we would have experienced so much stress and heartache! Instead, the whole journey was SUCH a blessing and a memory-making time that we will never forget! What a joy to take a trip that I didn’t have to plan myself AND to spend it with such a dear sister in Christ!

16.   To Susan and Rachael, who, along with Shauna, were wholeheartedly committed to cheering for our team. It was SO wonderful to see them at the finish line! And all the little details like buying us treats to enjoy after the race, bringing food back to the hotel when we could hardly walk, and so on…THANK YOU, ladies, for the in-person cheering!

17.   To Mackenzie, whose commitment to our team was absolutely God-inspired. Though she chose not to race with us, she remained a part of our Facebook group and offered support, information, and encouragement. Her marathon “care kits” full of treats for the PWOC racers blessed us all, and the idea for a marathon relay on Support Site the day of the race was definitely an inspiration that provided a unique avenue of prayerful support for the racing team as well as the fundraising efforts for Mission of Light.

18.   To all those who participated in the SS relay team—you have no idea how much you blessed and inspired us! You may think it was “just” 5K that you ran, but your efforts represent so much more.

19.   To all the wonderful women of PWOC, who prayed for us and supported us in amazing ways. Special thanks to Brooke for praying over our team before we left.

20.   To Dr. Silva, who assured me that I would, in fact, run this race!! Thank God for a wonderful chiropractor!

21.   To Ersilia, my new friend and physical therapist, who helped me get through the back episode that set me back in training but allowed me to learn and experience growth I wouldn’t have otherwise.

22.   To Regina, whose spiritual marathon this year was definitely inspirational as I prepared for this physical marathon. Chap. Keith will always have a special place in our hearts, and more than once I heard his voice in my mind, quoting Scripture to keep my eyes focused on Jesus.

23.   To Audrey, who encouraged me to try the Couch to 5K program when I wanted to start running again after feeling so out of shape following pregnancy, bed rest, and delivery of another baby. Audrey, I thought of you when I reached the 37K marker as I told myself I only had a 5K stretch left to the finish line! To think that I started C25K in January and just completed a full marathon!!! To GOD be the glory!

24.   To Nick, the kind Greek man who asked if I needed help when I stopped to stretch a cramp in my calf toward the end of the race. Upon hearing I was turning 40 and had 7 children, he encouraged me by telling me that the finish line of the Athens marathon would be an incredible experience…and he was right!

25.   To the wonderful people of Athens who lined the streets and cheered us on, particularly toward the end of the race! Though we were far, far away from the elite runners, their unflagging support was such a boon to weary bodies!

26.   To all the volunteers who passed out water, iso drinks, bananas, and more to help us refuel. What commitment!

27.   To all those who prayed for ANY of us at ANY point during this journey…I truly felt we were carried along on the wings of all those prayers during the race.

28.   To those who have financially supported the ministry of Mission of Light—you have helped us feel that our efforts were not unnoticed or unappreciated. May God bless you for your generosity.

29.   To our church family at Il Faro for their prayers, blessings, and encouragement.

30.   And finally, to Jeff Galloway, whom I do not know personally, for all the information in his book about the walk-run approach to marathon training. Despite my injuries, I was able to complete 26.2 miles, in no small way due to my decision to run 4 minutes, walk a minute. Though I dropped the walk breaks at the end (it hurt too much to start running again, so I just ran!), they helped me tremendously during the training that I did complete and during the race itself.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us, 
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb. 12:1

“To God be the glory, great things He has done!”

P.S. If you wanted to support our team financially, it's not too late! Go here to donate. Thank you, and God bless!

Names of 40 women we prayed for during the race. Shown with our team shirt.

Road Trip--From Hungary to Home

[Arg--months after the fact--but I must finish what I started!]

After enjoying our time in Poland, we spent a L-O-N-G day driving to Hungary. Slovakia is beautiful, but with winding, two-lane roads most of the distance, it made for some slow going. We were thankful to finally arrive at Jozsef and Zsuzsi's house and to meet their 3 children. Last we had seen Jozsef and Zsuzsi in person was at their wedding in 2006! Jozsef had been one of my English students when I was there the summer of 1999. Having accepted Jesus the summer before at the English program, Jozsef was ripe for discipleship, and we spent many hours discussing God's Word and the Christian life. They are a special family, and we were delighted that they wanted to host us during our stay in Kecskemet.

Their family left for a reunion the day after we arrived, which worked well for us to stay in their house but left us with less time to spend together. We spent the first day puttering around Budapest, where I got to show the kids some of my favorite places.

In the evening we got to enjoy a wonderful Hungarian dinner in the home of "Mama Magdi" and "Papa Erwin," who hosted many English teacher teams! I lived with them for two summers (1996 and 1999), and they are dear, dear people. It was a pleasure also to see two of their daughters and one of their grandchildren!

Ted took the kids the next morning to downtown Kecskemet so I could do some work on the Commission Bible study. Jozsef and his family returned later that afternoon, so we walked to get ice cream and enjoyed visiting some more. The next morning we attended church together, where Jozsef translated for us, and after one last lunch together, we left for the city of Vezsprem, where Ted was to teach a course for the military folks there. They hosted our family in their military guest house, which was huge and very exciting for the kids to have so much space to run around in! This was a good thing, because after a wonderful first day in which we were treated to a visit to the local zoo, we spent the next couple of days housebound while I dealt with a stomach issue. Ugh. At least we got out and about and enjoyed the beautiful city sights and restaurants the first day!

Ted did a wonderful job with teaching despite some stomach issues of his own, and we were relieved to get back on the road again headed for home. We drove to Rimini, Italy, and stayed in a hotel near the beach. After a lovely walk along the beach that evening, we enjoyed gelato before turning in one last time before reaching home.

The next day we took time to go to San Marino, where Ted and all the kids except Tobin took a cable car to the highest point. Tobin wasn't feeling well, so he and I hung out in the Suburban. A bit disappointing, but what can you do? We have pictures somewhere, but I can't seem to find them right now...

We were so happy to reach our home again! The only bad thing was that the power had gone out in one of our circuits, so our deep freezer smelled horribly of spoiled items. Other than that...things looked good! What a blessing to experience so many things in 3 long but short week!