April Fools #10: Just Look Up

Editor’s Note: This article by Sarah Lee is a good reminder to us that our successes, or “PRs” are not “ultimate” things… in other words, they cannot determine our value. Culture emphasizes great success, rather than excellence. We are tempted to feel invalidated when we don’t reach our goals, even if we gave our best.

I write this blog entry after having a few track races that did not go as planned. I felt like I did not accomplish my goals at these races. For those who are reading this and do not know me, I am a runner. I am working (very) hard at become more competitive with my running. Right now it’s track season. Yes, adults can run track. I had one big PR (PR means personal record, aka, ran a faster time than I ever had before) in the 5000m in the beginning of the season, and after that PR I have been running slower times. This is quite frustrating, as one would imagine. When I ran a huge PR in the 5000m at the beginning of the season, I was so excited. However, I quickly forgot that I had run such a big PR when my future races did not go as well. Each time I get slower I feel a sense of my goals fading further and further away. If you do not run, just think what it is like to feel a sense of failure in your job, parenting, or your marriage; the list could go on and on.  We can all relate to that nagging sense of failure. Many times I get stuck in the moment and forget to look up from the details and focus on the big picture.

As I was thinking about this situation, I was reminded about feeling stuck in the forest on a run about six weeks ago. I was running through the Nisene Marks Forest, which is in Northern California, near Santa Cruz. The forest is beautiful and is such a wonderful snapshot of God’s beautiful creation. It has one main trail down the middle and then many side trails that extend off from the main road. At one point in my run, I decided to go off on one of the side trails, but as I was trying to get back to the main trail I started to get turned around and couldn’t find the main road. As I was running along, I was looking down trying not to fall on roots. When I stopped running and looked up, I realized the main trail was right through the trees. I was so relived.

This scenario is such a great metaphor for life. Sometimes we get stuck in the details and forget to look up. As I was thinking back on this scenario, I started to realize the many ways I do this in my own life with many situations and my goals. Just this past weekend when I ran a race that did not go as intended, I was once again finding myself forgetting to look up.

Going back to my story from the beginning of the blog, if I look at the big picture, I see that this is just one track race and one track season. Hopefully I will run a new PR in the next track race and next year’s track season will build on this one. I still have a few races left in this track season. Not accomplishing what I set out to do still leaves some frustration, doubt, disappointment, and sadness at the moment. However, when I look at the big picture, I can see things more clearly.

More importantly, we all need to think about the big picture God has created us for when he placed us here on earth and how we will deal with setbacks along the way. God created all of us for a purpose. This is what many Christians call a “calling.” We are all called to different things. For some it may be running while for others it may be a business career. I believe God finds great joy in watching his children live out their passions and callings. The good news is that God knows exactly what will happen to each person long before we enter the world. This does not means that we should wait for God to drop something in our laps before we act though. We need to look at the big picture and act on what God is calling each of us to do.

For those reading this who are Christian, if we believe Christ’s death on the cross is the only hope for us to have eternal life, how does this change our life? This should vastly change the way we live each day.  Last night at church, the pastor reminded us that everything we do should be done for the Lord. I should dream big and go after my goals and life calling, however, at the end of big picture is Christ. At the end of the day, I want to look back and know that I glorified in the way I acted, trained, and interacted with the world. I want to finish the long term race strong and in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord. 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Goals are good, but the process should be one that will glorify our mighty savior.

When you get stuck in the moment, or feel a sense of failure, don’t forget to look up and focus on the big picture of what is calling you do. Just look up, the main road is right ahead.

Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Lee

Posted in Health & Fitness, Theology & Philosophy | Leave a comment

April Fools, #9: Real Marriage is Mac ‘n Cheese

Editors Note: After this article by Noelle Ritter was published, a reader of On the Willows helped Noelle identified the speaker who she mentions below. The speaker is Lauren Winner. Enjoy…
I always get contemplative in the shower.  This usually means ten extra minutes just thinking, sometimes about my schedule, potential conversations I should have, recipes to try, thoughts on God.  I think of it as “Brain Blogging”.  If only I could immediately put those thoughts in writing, ’cause as soon as I’m out of my steam room, the thoughts vanish. But every now and then there’s ONE that holds on.
I’ve been thinking back to a podcast from a few years ago on marriage and real life.  The woman spoke of the way our society proclaims our need for the new and exciting.  Always looking for the ultimate spouse, vacation get-away, sexual position or the latest spins on keeping the love alive.
This speaker, who I would gladly give credit to if I remembered where I heard it, challenged us to find beauty in the monotony,  to find simple joy and deep pleasure in things we do or make in a typical day. It’s doing it well that counts.  Kind of like a cast iron skillet used over and over, for the same dish even — it gets better and better each time.
Marriage can be like that.  We are told the lie, and sometimes fooled, that we must keep finding the newest ways to keep our spouse happy … or else.
The truth is real love does not expire.  It’s not like a condiment in the fridge.  It grows and gets better, but not because you keep updating it.  I remember my dad telling me soon after Chris and I were married: “It’s not that I love Mom more than I did when we were first married.  I just love her deeper.”  That’s always stuck with me.
This all makes my foodie brain churn.  My best days of marriage are when my husband and I can narrow in, despite the world around us, and love each other well in the simpler ways.  Warming, uninterrupted, soul-feeding time — the kind that’s familiar and without pressure.  In the colder stages of life when circumstances are difficult, money is tighter than last year, jobs are unsatisfying, family debacles are playing themselves out, stress levels are high, what do we crave?  Comfort food — what we know and love.

The woman on the original podcast said a great marriage is like Mac-n-Cheese, the way you always remember it:  comforting, safe, predictably satisfying.  New recipe ideas fill my inbox each morning, and it’s so fun to try new things, but I’m reminded today not to get caught up in the chase of the newest and greatest.  We’ve probably already found it, and we should make it well and often.  I want a Mac-n-Cheese kind of a marriage.
Hungry for Noelle’s Mac and Cheese recipe?  Visit her website for a recipe and story of how her hero husband saved her from a kitchen fire… Now that’s an “exciting marriage.”
Photo Credit: these photos were taken by Noelle Ritter.
Posted in Being a Woman, Culture & Media, Family, Food & Drink, Marriage, Relationships | 4 Comments

April Fools #7: If It Feels Good, Do It…?


It’s no secret that our culture is all about telling us to do what feels good. I think many people who do not share my faith would raise an eyebrow at me, wondering what other way there is to make decisions. Go with your gut. Trust your heart, not your head. Do whatever makes you happy. If it feels right, do it. These are all phrases commonly heard in our culture, and I cringe when I hear them, because they are leading an entire culture astray.

Let’s just call it what it is. Making our decisions based on what “feels good” is selfish. Brass tax. And while I can argue that being selfish is not good for a society as a whole, I can more confidently declare that God tells us to be selfless (Philippians 2:3-4). So, really what we should be asking ourselves is not what feels good, but what is right .

Several years ago, my dad, who I respect more than almost any other person on this earth, was wrongly accused of a non-violent, federal crime. There was an FBI investigation and a whole lot of ugliness that went on for many years, and did a lot of damage to my family. My uncle, who was actually guilty of the crime my dad was being accused of, refused to go on the record about my dad’s innocence. Passing or sharing blame felt best to him. When the investigation finally reached a head, the government came to my dad with a deal: admit your guilt, and we’ll only send you to prison for a few months. The unspoken part of the deal was that if he maintained that he was innocent, he would almost certainly lose in court, and face a whole lot of years in prison instead. The government, with unlimited resources, is powerful against one man with almost no resources and a court-appointed attorney.

We gathered together as a family and my dad looked us all directly in the eyes and said, while the decision was very hard, he knew what was right. Lying would get him a slap on the wrist instead of a devastating beating (so to speak), but lying was not right. We all agreed with him. He was innocent, so he should not lie and say he was guilty. No matter what the consequence, he should do what was right, and he had our support. And we went into an eight-week trial.

Fast forward to the actual trial. There was a woman who was called to witness by the government (the prosecution). She said something, under oath, that I happened to know was an all-out lie, and it made my dad look really bad. I don’t know what kind of pressure she was under, or how she was persuaded to slander my dad, but had there not been a bunch of police in that courtroom ready to haul off anyone who got out of line, I would have marched right up to her myself and given her a firm slap across the face, in addition to a loud piece of my mind. I felt vengeful. I wanted her to pay.

We adjourned for the day, and our group (we had about thirty people there to support our family on a daily basis) left the building together, solemnly offering their prayers and encouragements to us. Outside, I noticed my dad had fallen behind the group. I looked back and saw the woman who had lied about him on the witness stand, arms wrapped around herself, crying. My dad went to her, consoled her, and forgave her. He did what was right.

There are a lot of examples I could draw from that experience, but honestly, what better example to draw from than Jesus on the cross?

I guarantee that wasn’t what felt good to him. His emotions were telling him to plead with the Father to spare him. He was so distraught over it that he sweat blood. That was not a man who felt like dying on a cross. Instead, he said, “Not my will, but your will be done” (Matthew 26:39). He did what was right. To us that seems obvious, because the Bible tells us so. But I’m sure there were a great many people in Jesus’s day who thought he was crazy. Why did he have to say he was the Son of God if it was going to get him killed? Why didn’t he run and hide when the soldiers came to arrest him? Why didn’t he just show everyone his power by making himself disappear, or something? Jesus knew that the hardest decision, the one that would cost him great pain and suffering, and ultimately his life, would count for all eternity and for all mankind, was not what would make him feel good. But, it was the right one.

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Posted in Adversity, Culture & Media, Family, Politics | 5 Comments

April Fools #6: “The Naked Brunch”

This article was originally published by Darling Magazine .


It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. I thought I had a cute idea when I asked a handful of friends to do a little experiment with me. I invited them over to my house for brunch one chilly, drizzly February morning to participate in a little photo shoot. Warm muffins, bubbly mimosas, creamy espresso, and friends. Magic, right?

There was only one catch–NO make up.  It didn’t take long for my cute little idea lose its cuteness. Some said no. Some asked questions, cringing. Some were excited. Some said nothing at all. We ended up with eight women that morning. For some, it was uncomfortable. For some, it seemed easy. The real challenge came when we saw the photos. There was gritting teeth. There was anxiety. I squirmed a little, looking into my own eyes on the computer screen and it began: “Is my face really curved like that?,” “My nose is shaped so weird,” “Why does my right eye always look kind of sloped?,” and “My eyebrows need pencil so bad!”

And I wasn’t alone. There was a unease and awkwardness in seeing them.  Us. Just the way we are. Just the way we were created.  It’s not something that will change overnight. One little revolutionary brunch can’t cure a disease. Not when we’ve been indoctrinated our entire lives to strive for beauty instead of finding it in the rest of just being who we are. These are the women that husbands wake up to every morning. These women are real.

If I can find a way to grab hold of it, somehow cling to that reality, I can love that girl in the mirror before she has her make up on.  What difference does it make?  At that point, I can adorn the beauty I have instead of trying to fabricate a beauty clone.  My make-up becomes decoration instead of a mask and I have nothing to hide.

Photo Credit: Photos taken by Adrienne Sandvos. A huge thank you to the brave women who allowed me to use their pictures!

Posted in Beauty & Fashion, Being a Woman, Culture & Media, Self Esteem | 3 Comments