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Still, In Motion

Three days after Thanksgiving, I am racing against a red mustang to get to the last empty parking space at Club Fitness. Coming from the opposite direction, he loops into the diagonal spot. There are a few ways that I could have shown my disapproval. But I dare not challenge him. He looks as if he lives off of Muscle Milk.

One more lap around and I decide to park a few storefronts down. I’m sure that just before the holidays, I could have ignored these lanes and simply cut through parking spaces.

I use the slight jog through damp weather as a small warm-up for my scheduled 3-miler. But in case the selection of treadmills looked anything like the lot, I start to think of alternative cardio.

Walking into the gym, I’m greeted by “Extended Black Friday” vendors selling handmade trinkets, koozies and perfumes. Tempting. I politely decline.

 

This has been my month of attempted focus. Being still. My greatest challenge to date. By work contract, I have eliminated the option of changing jobs, cities, countries. Good. I’ve got the physical part down. Now, the mental. Being still. It’s a practice of listening to God and to others, and tuning out those subtle selfish desires of being someplace else…in location, in status, in life. Overthinking, when unnecessary. How successful have I been? Well…

Tonight, I blame the vibe in the room. Perhaps it’s the live DJ or everyone feeling good in their new apparel. Or just the crowd, in general. Everyone seems to be part of a pair, probably due to the $10 holiday joining fee. As a single, I missed the memo. Walking to the back, I look down and see newly laid matting. The “new carpet smell” is no challenge to the cologne doused over sweaty gym clothes of the bench presser. That machine wasn’t there before. I try to remember the last time I’ve been here. Why does it even matter? Grab a treadmill.

As predicted, the only cardio left to choose from was the Stairmaster or stationary bike. I go for the Stairmaster, the perfect spot for people-watching. The gym is one of the few places where people are expectedly nosey. A wiry little woman, likely in her 80s, browses the aisles of machines, looking at the picture instructions. I opt to scope out the trainer who turns this knob or clips that bar to convert focus from biceps to triceps. Then there’s that guy, who performs handstands and bear crawls across the gym.

It’s getting hot. Shedding a layer, I drape my jacket over the timer. All of the varying body shapes interest me. On one side of the gym, there’s the one woman who’s found a balance between feminine curves and muscular strength. I look around and many eyes, male and female, unbashfully eye her as she executes a burpee routine notorious for sculpted derrieres. Three machines down, an overly tanned brunette removes a sweat vest, to reveal abs of perfect symmetry… in the winter… after Thanksgiving. Figure competitor, I’m guessing. I pass the next 10 minutes spotting which women are long-distance runners vs. Sprinters. It’s all in the quads. The leg press machine just opened up. Wipe down.

The Crossfit cage is in my new line of eyesight. A brawny guy wearing a slit tank is knocking out pull-ups with simplicity. A back riddled with indentations that would put an anatomy major in awe. He knows this.

“There’s the trapezius muscle. And the latissimus dorsi..”

He drops down, shakes his arms out, turns around and is wearing a firefighter shirt. Makes sense…

There’s someone with a good sense of humor. A shirt saying, “I RUN better than the government”. He’s a marathoner sporting a 26.1 on the back. Then I spot bright orange, across the gym. A fellow Tennessee Vol. I decide to make that my route out the gym. After chatting, I find that he’s not an actual Vol, just lived near Knoxville. Meh…

Only until I’m seated in the car, as the rain hits the windshield, do I realize that zoning out as intended, never happened. “Be Still” fail. Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll try a run. Not my normal traffic-filled route. I need silence. Can I stay motivated without my tunes? Maybe I should leave my phone at home. But how would I track my time?….be_still 5

Spring Cleaning

With Spring quickly approaching, I’m sitting here assembling this mosaic
Splintered glass put together with persistence
This brokenness represents all of meglass mosaic
Finally, I figure it out all on my own
Showered with compliments of my talents
Nevertheless, I know which pieces are missing
The debris that is swept under the rug
The old rug that makes sure not to stand out
Unexpectedly, God takes over the Spring Cleaning
Threw down my artwork that I was proud of
Shook out the battered rug over the shattered mosaic
And then laid Himself over all of the brokenness
How dare I ever complain of pain?
How dare I say that I’ve never experienced love?
All of these fragments are slowly finding its place
I don’t even want to offer any of my help
God is my artist
And I think His piece turned out absolutely beautiful!

~Ashley

Footprints in the Sand

So apparently I will have a chance to mark off a huge goal on my Bucket List: Run an international marathon! Of all places, Saudi was the last place I thought to get this done. By living outside of a compound, it’s an extreme rarity to see a woman 1) running, 2) in an abaya, and 3) in the heat. My whole blog was meant to sum up my struggles adjusting to these restrictions.

In the States, I ran daily with an outstanding group of ladies from “Black Girls Run”, a nationwide movement of long distance runners that has added quite a bit of color to a sport that was predominantly white. When I first joined, 2 years ago, I could barely run 3 minutes without getting totally winded. In elementary, I absolutely dreaded that timed, 1 mile test we were required to do in P.E., and almost always came in last. However, today, it’s an addiction to beat my PR, run extreme distances, and rack up on medals! With one marathon under my belt, I hope to one day qualify for Boston, complete an ultra, and team up in a Ragnar Relay.

 

Before arriving in Saudi I asked my recruiter about the ease of running in this country. “Oh… it’s no problem! Many people run. They have plenty of parks. It’s just like any other modern city!” .. So I packed my running shoes, hydration belt, energy chews, and every runner’s favorite: Body Glide.

For the 1st few weeks, I just observed my surroundings. Not only did women not run, but I barely saw them rush for anything! Nothing  (literally) moved fast in this country, except for impatient drivers. No one even walked around outside for fresh air. People caught cabs to cross the street. There were gyms every two blocks, but none that catered to women. I later found out that the few womens’ “gyms” (more like spas), cost $150-200 per month. Very cruel joke this recruiter played on me..

 

So on Month 2, I made my first big purchase, a commercial treadmill. Although, I was happy to have some sort of real movement, it did kill the excitement and stamina I had for running. So much to the extent that, when I vacationed in the US this summer, I went from being a marathoner to barely making it 10 minutes. It’s as depressing as having an injury that hinders you from doing the sport you love.

Therefore, my goal for the next 5 months is to get back into the shape that I was pre-Saudi. This past Saturday started my marathon training…mostly by treadmill! I know you’re wondering “How in the world will you practice 20 milers on the ‘dread’mill?”. Well, I may have found one outlet. This past weekend, I …ran… outside! Although pricey in terms of transport, and quite inconvenient, the Diplomatic Quarters is heaven-sent. The DQ is a city of embassies, international schools, parks, and are ‘free-zones’ where most of the cultural Saudi laws do not apply. Therefore, I wasted little time shedding my abaya and hijab; finally being able to be out in my run-gear!

 

I really didn’t have a plan, not even a place to put my stuff. But after scoping out the area and making sure I wasn’t in a restricted zone, I walked a few dead end paths through boulders and sand, until I found a distinct path. For once in my lifetime of running, I could care less about my run/walk ratio, mileage, or pace. It was so unearthly silent out that I didn’t even want to ruin it with music. Perhaps the silence would have alarmed some, but it was such a peaceful escape that it almost felt Godly. The only sounds I welcomed were the rare songs of birds and the occasional “Hello” of another runner escaping his treadmill. Two hours later, I climbed up as high as I could on a boulder, while eating my energy chews and watching the sunset. I got to use my hydration belt and my Body Glide. Not because any of this stuff was needed, but because it’s as good a time as any. Right in the middle of a dry rocky ravine, was a random cluster palm dates. The contrast was oddly beautiful and kept me for another 30 minutes. As my ride called out from a distance and echoed my name, I made my final 10-minute jog to the car. This time it was effortless ..

You Would’ve Loved Her Too

Elegant, enchanting and well-spoken.. most called her “Bernie”, some “Queenie”. All of her qualities fit the perfect description of a “Lady”. So that’s what I called her.

Prom queen, Bernadine Kelley, of Morehead Nursing Home.

As a child, Lady’s house was the last place I wanted to go. Her place was filled with fancy white chaise lounges and plenty of breakables that she teasingly had out on display.  I was a 5 yr old who simply knew not to touch anything! This included the decorated marbled eggs, chiming capiz shelled chandeliers, and the life size asian doll made of fish bone.

At age 8, we packed up and moved to NC, with Lady in tow. At that moment, all I could think of was how I’d be constantly force-fed and assigned endless chores. Little did I know how critical she would be to hold our family together.

Lady knew how to intrigue and made an excellent teacher. How do you get kids to memorize scriptures of the Bible? With a challenge, a deadline, and a dollar. My little cousin and I were in such intense study mode.  Still to this day, Psalm 23 is the verse I recite when I’m anxious.

Her sister, son, and grandkids

Lady could strike up a conversation with anyone. As an introvert, I studied her fluidity. If your conversation lasted longer than 15 minutes and it happened to be around the holidays, you can count on her gifting you a lemon bundt-cake for Christmas.

In my pre-teen years, when everything was measured by how cool you are, I thought it was so un-cool when she’d randomly burst in song at church. She’d make her way to the front, hand someone a tambourine, and get the whole church into a Jericho march. Lady knew how to get a crowd going. Secretly, I wanted her courage.

I always thought of my Lady as brave. My bedroom was nestled safely in the center of the house. But I constantly worried of how her corner in-law suite had 3 doors that led to the outside. I asked her one time, if she was scared of someone breaking into one of these doors. “Well baby, if they get me, the Lord got me!” was her response.

Me and my Lady

I’d hear stories of her younger days, when she’d pack up her family and travel the world at the drop of a dime. And how she never returned without a collectable. Slowly, our house turned into a museum; a museum that she painstakingly taught me how to polish every Saturday morning. I grew to hate the smell of lemon “Old English” oil. Its thickness acted as a tattle-tale, letting her knew if a spot was missed. She’d start taking stuff off tables to reveal hidden dust and say her patented phrase, “Don’t be nice/nasty!”.. and then tack on another hour of polishing. I did polish some interesting pieces, though. All of her unique décor and travel stories played a huge part in how I saw the world. Whether it was wanting to be a cruise ship worker or moving 30 minutes from the North Korean border, she supported and bragged on all of my dreams.

Lady stretched out with her sister, in Jamaica

She filled the house with gospel music and threw her own personal service before church on Sundays. This was always the reason why she was the last one ready… that … and her picking out the right feathered hat to match her heels. Lady knew how to piece an outfit together. Even at the nursing home, Lady remained fancy; having her outfits matched up for the week, getting her nails and makeup done. You wouldn’t catch her in a hospital gown in the middle of the day!

Her advice was never really deep. But sometimes a simple “pray about it, baby” is all the advice you need. I always admired her prayers. I silently prayed at night that I could make mine flow as easily, filled with thankfulness, with such care for each individual, and never rushed.

Lady was one of a kind.

She spent her final 4yrs in Morehead Nursing Home. Her constant questioning of when she’d be able to come home was heart breaking. But the care that they provided, the genuine love that she got from nurses and volunteers, and the friendships she made was more than we could hope for her. With every visit, there was a new gift sitting on her desk. Each morning, my grandmother would thumb through her devotional and pick out a scripture to be posted on her door. Random strangers would stop by to read her messages and then she’d make yet another friend. She made her mark on that nursing home as the lady with “The Word of the Day”.

That’s the kind of person my grandmother was. Loving and loved.

Brother showing his grandma some love

She comfortably passed away in the peaceful setting of the hospice, August 29, 2012, with the most diverse cluster of family and guests visiting every 15 minutes.

The family supporting Lady’s “Rock-a-thon” (rocking chair, instead of walking) to raise money for cancer awareness

I am comforted with God’s timing of it all…

These last 2 weeks kind of came as a surprise to us all.

I was technically not supposed to receive a vacation this summer, but I did. I originally wasn’t going to vacation in the U.S., but I did. I wasn’t supposed to be on vacation throughout all of August, but with a few mess-ups from my company, the Visa expeditors, AND the Embassy.. I did. I was supposed to fly out this weekend, and once again, my time was extended. God allowed me to be by her bedside all the way up until her final passing. He’s allowing me to attend her service and reconnect with family members that I haven’t seen in years. Just like her placement in the nursing home, I believe that we all are where we are, when we are, for a reason.. whether we like it or not. And for that, I’m thankful that He dismisses a lot of our plans.

 

Go Hungry for a Change

I am a Christian living in an Islamic country. It would have been totally ignorant of me to enter Saudi Arabia and not read up on the basics of what Saudi Muslims believe. Without personally knowing a single Muslim, I had to find my information in the most random of places. I browsed blogs, camped-out in Barnes and Nobles, FaceBooked public Saudi profiles. These attempts were made mainly because I try not to offend, if I can help it.. Of course there will be slip-ups; like crossing my legs with the soles of my shoes up, or mentioning how much I’d love a piece of bacon.. but I try to be respectful with the knowledge I’ve acquired so far.

I’ve come to find so much love for two fabulous ladies in this country. One happens to be Muslim and the other Atheist. We make a VERY interesting trio, to say the least .. We all exchange our beliefs and why, but we never end in a heated conversation; always in respect, and often cracking a slight joke in the end. Although none of us will probably ever convert to the other, we are friends who’ve offered and listened to sound opinions, great entertainment, and a have been a shoulder for homesickness. They’re good people, in my book!

Last week was the ending of the Islamic month of Ramadan. I’ve heard of it, but honestly only knew that I’d be vacationing during that time. So, to gain a little understanding on what a good percentage of the world was doing, I interviewed my friend, Amaal, about this time of the year.

1) So what exactly is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a period in which all Muslim adults ‘fast’, or abstain from certain activities. It is one of the five basic tenets/pillars of Islam. It lasts for 30 days, and each day we fast from sunrise to sunset. It’s the month of mercy, blessings and forgiveness. During this time, Muslims are completely immersed in their connection with God. They persevere in doing righteous deeds, pray often and read the Quran (Muslim’s holy book) as much as they can.

2) What must you refrain from?
Food, drink and sexual activity

3) Does it last only certain hours of the day?
Yes, it lasts for a range of hours depending on which country you’re in and what time the sun rises and sets.

4) What is your favorite Ramadan memory?
Ramadan is a beautiful way of bringing family together. I love breaking fast with my family, sitting down all together to eat. I also love going to night prayers. These are special prayers that occur only during Ramadan. You go to the mosque and pray for about an hour, and read chapters of the Quran. This is truly a spiritual booster.

 5) How is Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, in comparison to your home country?
Well I come from England and that is extremely different. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and therefore it abides by Islamic law. I’ve been in a Muslim Country 3 times for Ramadan and every time it always feels like it’s Ramadan. People are all doing the same thing. They are unified in their worship and acts. People are extremely charitable, they give each other goods, they pay for the needy to be fed in Ramadan, and they share whatever they have. Whilst in Riyadh, what I’ve witnessed consistently is the constant giving of food and water to anyone and everyone. One time I was in a car and we were just about to break fast and people came around to our car window and gave us water and dates. This moved me. I’ve been taught that nothing is free in this world so to be given free food is shocking. But these acts aren’t even one of a kind; they happen constantly throughout the Muslim world.

6) How do you celebrate the breaking of fast?

At the end of the day, we actually mourn the end of fasting because it signifies the end of our spiritual detox. A good Muslim’s heart longs for the next Ramadan to come quickly and prays to see the next one.

At the end of the 30 days, however, we have a celebration called Eid. This is where all families come together, get dressed in their new attire and have a good day out or within their own houses. On the morning of Eid, we go to mosque to pray the ‘Eid prayer’. People exchange greetings and children are given sweets and money. Communities come together and celebrate. We also pay a charitable sum of money on that day. This goes towards feeding the poor and needy.

7) How is the environment around you during fasting and non-fasting hours?
Riyadh is quiet because during fasting hours not much is open. Food outlets in Saudi are usually closed, people stay in their homes and wait for the break of fast. They use their time to involve themselves in acts of worship. The beauty of Ramadan is that it pushes you away from the worldly things that often distract you from worshiping God. So during fasting hours, Muslims are meant to use that time to be productive. Non-fasting hours in Saudi is when everything and everyone ‘wakes up’, so to speak. Shops and restaurants are open, people come out and the city comes to life again.

8) How has normal daily tasks been affected?
Well, people can still go out and shop and go with their daily tasks, the only thing they aren’t allowed to do in a Muslim country is eat in a public place. Pretty much anything else can be done during the day.

9) How are non-Muslims handling it? Have they changed their activity hours?
I’m sure they are finding it hard. They aren’t allowed to eat in a public place, so I guess the less tolerant of them are annoyed. Most non-Muslims are very respectful, though. In fact many are happy because their hours of work are reduced during Ramadan.
10) Now that Ramadan is coming to an end, how do you feel?
In all honesty, I’m upset. This month is like a beloved friend that departs from your house and you must wait another 11 months for its goodness to return. Many think fasting hard and draining but it’s the opposite for a practicing Muslim. Knowing that every deed you are doing is exclusively for God can only make it an easy endeavor. I almost cried at the last sunset, signifying the end of Ramadan. But the celebrations of Eid somewhat eased the pain.

 

 

**I wrote this post, not only to be educational. But also so that different religions can learn to be more  tolerant of others. Many religions practice and find importance in fasting. By knowing the of similarities that we have, perhaps individuals wouldn’t be as quick to judge. With that being said, any disrespectful comments/responses against any religion will be deleted**

The ‘Post-It’ Note Syndrome

I think we all know a person who is extremely stringent on planning! Not only will they keep a basic calendar of birthdays.. but there’s the daily to-do list, timing of meals and water, and even scheduled times to read certain books and lectures. They wake up from a dream and immediately must write it down, in case it means something. Their purse is crowded with little post-it notes with lists; groceries, money calculations, calories, speed they need to run to finish in ‘x’ amount of time. You may call them an over-planner, a control-freak, excessively attentive to dates. Or take a positive approach of it being far-sighted, methodical, and prepared…

I just described myself. And I’ll say the definition falls somewhere in the middle. There are 3 things that I do to find that challenging balance.

1)   Find out the root to why you’re excessive:

What is the purpose of doing this? If it is to seriously keep you rolling effectively through your day, good. But you do not need to write the grocery list 5 times, especially if you haven’t lost the previous 4. If the total is $1.06 over your expected total, will it really be that big of a deal?

2)   Pick up good management books/podcasts:

*Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, is a great time management book. It teaches you how to make smart moves with limited time, and promotes using outsourcing to save you on the stresses of planning.

*The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, is a Christian-based book, that teaches you how to focus more on God’s plan, instead of solely your own. During the 40 days of reading and journaling, you slowly start to chill out when things don’t quite go your way.

*YouTube podcasts of Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar, and Brian Tracy. These three, I consider the ‘greats’ of time, money and business management. They’re not all ‘wordy’, either. Their comprehensible lectures are really worth the ITunes buy!

3) Keep your “words to live by” handy, when your inner control-freak rears its ugly head. Pick one that you truly believe in (when you’re not stressed). Sometimes this small reminder, is all you need to get back on track… Here’s mine that I go back to, and can always manage to make me smile..

*Listen here:

Or

*Read here:

 

Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’98: Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Sometimes my Students Teach Me

Topic: Jobs

 

“What is teacher major (vocab word) in university?”~Eman

 

“Well, I had 3 majors. French, Forensics, and Diplomacy.” (describing each) ~Me

 

Eman: “So why are you teacher?”..~Eman

 

Then they give me the Saudi “just one moment” sign, before I answer. They argue back and forth in Arabic, and come to the conclusion…

 

 “Teacher, because you are woman..?”~Eman

 

 

At that moment, I felt like crap of all the times I felt my job prospects, coincidences, and paths in life have seemed unfair.. I run into these girls, who are automatically disqualified and have their paths set for them, simply because of their gender. Our current status is more or less our fault.. determined by the moves that we were or were not willing to make in the past. We could’ve studied more to pass a test. Or could have taken an extra course to stay competitive in a job. We can commit to the full plan, to lose the weight. Yes, some things are a crap-shoot.. and simply happens. But today, my girls taught me to be a little more thankful that I’ve at least had a chance.

 

So, here’s to my Eman (future psychologist), Faten (future business woman), Afrah (future teacher), and Bashaer (future professional soccer player)… My few motivated ones, who are such hopeful dreamers to do something different. I pray that your country will see that you have more potential than any man..

 

What learning moment have you had while teaching??