Understanding Need

I sit in front of my computer screen starring at medical companies and emails every single day. All of them are filled with potential, but on my side of the screen, I sit feeling needy. The information I need to make things happen doesn’t exist inside my head. I have to ask for help. The resources I need aren’t readily available to me. I have to ask for support. The people I need to reach are not defined. I have to search until I find the right person. My job at Operation Smile, an amazing organization that provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate, and other facial deformities for children around the globe, is to ask for Gifts in Kind. I ask companies to donate medical supplies so we don’t have to purchase them for our medical mission.

I have tunnel vision right now. We are spending thousands of dollars on acetaminophen for every mission. No one donates this simple drug. Bottles of Tylenol are in nearly every household in America. There has to be a way to find a donation. I know I can find the right company. While I researched acetaminophen, while I researched companies, and while I reached out to anyone willing to accept my call, I sat in my chair feeling desperate.

“I’m going to have to get used to feeling needy”

This is the thought that kept echoing in my head. Needy is not a comfortable place for me. Needy is not a character trait I strive to embody.

In the middle of a development conference, I sat in a small room with all my coworkers and our co-founder, Dr. Magee. Tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat is a normal part of my work day. Every single story touches my heart. As I whipped away a tear, a realization washed over my body.

“I am not needy. The children, the adults, the families, and the communities that need acetaminophen as a very small piece of what it takes to make a surgery a success, they are in need.”

I can’t perform the surgery that will fix a child’s life forever. I can’t teach them to speak years after most children have muttered their first words. I can’t provide them information on nutrition so their bodies can thrive. There is a lot I can’t do, but there is even more that I can do. I can carry their need for them. I can sit in my chair at work and turn that need into an honor. I have the privilege of asking. I have the privilege of bringing the mission of Operation Smile to corporations around our global. I get to connect these two worlds.

When I started to feel needy, I could feel myself shrinking. If continuous online searching and dozens of asks to unresponsive receivers could make me shrink in my desk chair, imagine living a life where you’re not accepted or received because of the way you look. That is a real need. When I was reminded that I was advocating for an authentic need of an individual, I sat up a little taller in my chair.

“Love by definition is self-sacrifice. Love is a decision to make someone else’s problem your own.” ~ Dr. Bill Magee

Every single day I love what I do. I love the children around the world that are kept hidden from their communities because of their cleft lip and cleft palate. I love the mothers, the fathers, the caregivers who sacrifice so much to give their child a chance at a normal life. I love every single person who makes this possible. What I do each day is an honor. I will find a company that also feels honored to provide acetaminophen to our patients around the world. I will ask and ask and ask again because this is a real need in our world.

This isn’t needy. This is love.

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Nothing speaks louder than Love

It’s the holiday season. Houses are decorated. We put on our best clothes. We prepare nicer than usual dinners. We surround ourselves with family and friends. We give gifts to show our love. We present ourselves in the best way possible. This holiday has so many meanings for so many people. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or the birth of Christ or Santa Claus, this time of year is meant to be a celebration of love.

If you’ve been any where near the news or social media in the past few days, I think you’ll notice a trend. Freedom of speech is being defended and attacked. Individuals are being defended and attacked. Defend. Attack. Defend. Attack. I’ve done my best to ignore it. I certainly have my own beliefs about homosexuality and Duck Dynasty.

Do I care if your gay? No. This world needs more love and I encourage anyone to embrace love. It’s that simple to me.

Am I gay? No.

Do I watch Duck Dynasty? No. I’ve never watched the show nor do I know what it’s about but I gather that they are a Christian family.

Do I attend church? No.

Do I care if you attend church? No. Again, the world needs more love and if this is where you find it, I encourage you to go.

Do I like the opinions expressed by this character on Duck Dynasty? Absolutely not, but he is entitled to have his own opinions.

Do I care if he was fired? No. The network has every right to have there brand represented however they want. I do feel bad for him for being punished for expressing an opinion though.

I guess my point is this, if I even have one. We are five days away from a holiday that is celebrated by both Christians and non Christians. We may not all agree about the reason for celebrating this holiday, but I think we can all agree that love should be the driving force behind the celebration. We can all connect over love. Our differences don’t matter.

Why aren’t we sharing love? Why aren’t we spreading love? Why do we care about a show and an opinion of a man and a decision of a network? I’m sure there are arguments to be made as to why I should care? And clearly I do care because I’m writing about it!

I care because I will never understand how we can promote and publish and feed into energy that continues to divide an already divided community, country and world. I recognize that I am also giving into this energy, but I hope that by observing, I can witness ways to connect. I can step back and see how this is causing more hurt than good.

All I see is what we are missing? We are missing love. We are missing compassion. We are missing humanity.

I believe we are all deserving of love. If we judge and determine worth by every single life choice made, none of us deserve love.

I’ve married and divorced.
I’ve cheated.
I’ve drank too much.
I’ve been dishonest.
I’ve made some really crappy choices in my 33 years.
I’ve been selfish.
I’ve been mean.

By all means, someone could (and probably has) judged me to be a bad person unworthy of love and forgiveness. But I am worthy of love. We all are.

When did we start turning our backs on people who are different then us? When did it become okay to abandon people when life gets hard? Even worse, when did we start turn our backs on the celebration of love?

We have five days until Christmas. Turn off the TV. Walk away from Facebook. Quit reading my blog. Let us use this time to come together. Spread love. Not to those who you think deserve it but to everyone. Doesn’t everyone deserve love?

We all love differently. That doesn’t make my love better than your love. It makes us equals. It makes us human. I makes us a community. I love my husband, my children, our planet, the color yellow, books, running and yoga. I love grapefruit and avocado. I love the trees and the stars. My love is what makes me ME. Your love is what makes you YOU. This should bring us together not tear us apart.

While we are decorating our house and putting on our best clothes, let us also make sure we fill our hearts with love. Not just for those who fit into your mold but for everyone. There is no such thing as too much love.

Quit attacking. There is no need to defend.

It is important to protect our freedom of speech. Being able to express ourselves, our differences, is what makes us great. If we are going to protect our freedom of speech, we have to protect our freedom to love. Nothing, nothing speaks louder than love.

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I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t free to love him.

Live, Love, Run

By the time August rolls around, I’ve had it with summer running. My motivation to run has been slowly disappearing. I’m sleeping through my alarm clock. I’m dreading the early morning weekend run. Technically speaking, I’m 93 days away from the Richmond Marathon, yet I don’t have the marathon buzz just yet. Blame it on the injury or the absent training plan (although I really do have one), or the weather. My running lows are currently out weighing my running highs.

Or at least that was my story until last night…

Not too long ago, I learned that I had been selected by my favorite race organization to be a member of their Live, Love, Run Team. J&A Racing hosts five local races including the Shamrock Marathon. I applied to be on this team because I truly believe they are the best in the business. No one celebrates running, runners, family, and community quite like J&A Racing. Last night they organized a local 3.5 mile fun run. It included a gorgeous run along the Lynnhaven Bay and connected to a beach run along the Chesapeake Bay. (Living in a town full of water is amazing!) After the run, we celebrated with food, italian ice, and beer. The party wouldn’t be complete without live music too. All of this was free. You just had to bring a donation for For Kids. They were collecting school supplies for kids in the local community who would otherwise go back to school empty-handed.

With a new backpack and a bag full of paper, pencils, and crayons, my entire family (including my mom and dad) headed to the event. While my family walked, I got to run with two friends I haven’t seen since the Crawling Crab (also organized by J&A Racing) last October. I saw an endless stream of familiar faces – a childhood friend and her husband, a long time friend of my sister, fellow Live, Love, Run Team members and blogging friends (The Beachy Runner and The Fit Petite), and friends of my husband. The entire evening (and maybe the two beers) left me feeling giddy not only about running, but also about the adventures I’m about to tackle with J&A Racing. The running community in Virginia Beach is amazing. 

View of the Lynnhaven Bay (taken by The Beachy Runner)

View of the Lynnhaven Bay (taken by The Beachy Runner)

My hip is feeling stronger every day. I feel honored to be working with J&A Racing. And my next marathon is 93 days away!

The cherry on top: this morning I woke up to Fall weather! Low humidity. High of 75. My air conditioner is off, my windows are open, and I have a date with my running coach tonight!

Beach Running

Beach Running

And what about that training plan….I’ve updated my training page. You can read about it here. I’ve also given my blog a facelift. I hope you like it! I’ll be making lots of changes over the next few weeks.

 

Pick-Ups

I vowed after my  17 mile run this past winter that left me completely gutted that I would never run down the Cape Henry Trail again. That run was five and a half months ago, and yet, I feel like a lifetime existed in the winter and spring months since that date. Time has passed, and the long never-ending trail doesn’t haunt me anymore. My feet have led me back to that trail. For the past six weeks, I have returned every Wednesday. My miles are smaller this time, nothing bigger than six miles as I nurse an aggravated hip. They are more focused and full of ambition and excitement. My running is changing.

Running with my coach (on a bike beside me) is peeling off layers. It’s shaking off the rust that has accumulated: rust on these running legs of mine that has been building up since I ran track in high school, rust on this brain of mine that got stuck thinking that I am slow since returning to running a few years ago, and rust on this heart of mine that has needed a little protecting since it was broken this winter.  

Start of the Cape Henry Trail

Start of the Cape Henry Trail

As I made my way through several series of pick-ups during yesterdays run, I felt myself shed another layer. As my stride extended to cover more trail and my arms worked to help carry me, I felt like I was flying. I felt free. For you non-runners, the best comparison I can make is to compare it to a horse. The trot, my normal comfortable run pace, is rigid and bouncy. The canter of a horse smoothes out and a rhythm develops. And the gallop – that is where the flying happens!

My love for running has moved into another category. I now remember why those six-minute miles felt amazing in high school. These pick-ups have shown me  how great it feels to let go and run. My garmin is showing glimpses of 6s again even if they are just for brief moments. These pick-ups are leaving me with a smile on my face, the simple act of putting it out there and letting it go.  They are also extending beyond my Wednesday runs. I’m looking for them everywhere.

That 17 mile run in January left me gutted, but so did life. An instinctive need to guard myself from all big emotions (even the good ones) became my method for dealing with life. This impacts everything. My relationship with Christian became a little more stressed. My interaction with the boys became a little more guarded. Opening up and feeling the big love I have for them all became scary. I started to get rusty.

During my runs I’m choosing to run these pick-ups. I’m also choosing to find pick-ups in my daily life. Instead of shying away from an extra kiss from my husband in the kitchen, I’m hanging on to that extra moment. I’m leaving my side of the living room to curl up on his lap at the end of the day. In the middle of the night last night, I woke up and found myself holding his hand. I’m lingering at bedtime as I tuck Cole into bed instead of rushing through the process. I’m adding an extra block to our family walks because it’s one of the few times Cole loves to converse. I’m tickling Chet more, and letting him pick my nose. We are sharing smoothies on the porch.

Morning run before anyone else was awake

Morning run before anyone else was awake

Our day-to-day life will probably always be the a little rigid and a little bouncy like the trot of a horse. We are a normal busy family. We will get rusty. It’s the small moments in the time that we do get to share,  the pick-ups in our day, when we open up, we let ourselves go, and we commit to flying that matter most. It’s where the real work happens.

 

Loving vs Labeling

In the midst of saying goodbye to Christian’s father, I sought out a fine balance for how much I wanted Cole to know about death and dying. How much did I want him to see? In the few days that my father-in-law was in hospice care and in the hospital, he changed rapidly. He went from being the man I love to a man I didn’t recognize. He was dying. Cole is a very aware eight year old. He feels things deeply, yet his brain is so scientific. He wants answers for everything. X plus Y must equal Z. If they don’t, he will dissect it until it does make sense. We discussed his grandpa’s health. I asked him what he wanted to know. I allowed him to hide behind his book during one of several short visits I made with him. We never took him to the hospital.

After the first visit, Christian was saying good night to Cole. He told him he loved him. He told him he was happy to be his dad even if he was his stepdad. He was proud to have him as his son. Cole responded:

The step doesn’t matter. It’s all the same.

As you can imagine, this brought tears to Christian’s eyes. It made me proud as a mother. It doesn’t matter. It has never mattered in our house. Step dad and step mom don’t exist. Half brothers and sisters are just brothers and sisters. Cole has moms and dads. He has two brothers and a sister. Cole’s Grandpa John has loved him since the moment he met him. Cole has always been his grandson. It’s no different from his love for his other grandchildren. It’s all the same.

The night that Grandpa John passed away, Cole curled up in my lap. He cried. Christian curled up on the other side. He cried. We all sat in a puddle of tears together. My tears couldn’t be distinguished from Cole’s or Christian’s tears. We cried as a family. While Christian went to the hospital and later to his mom’s house, Cole and I laid in his bed. I was reading John’s caringbridge site. Cole asked if he could sign the journal. As I prepared to type his words, he asked to do it himself. He requested that I look away until he posted it:

Written Jan 27, 2013 9:54pm

Grandpa,

He past away on a full moon and high tide.I loved him very much,and i’m happy I got to meet him and he got to meet me and every one else.

But im very sad he past away but he’ll all ways be in our heart

Cole Maute

Sweet words from a grandson to his grandfather. It touched my heart deeply to know he wanted to say goodbye. I read it again and again. On my third reading, I noticed his name. Cole’s last name isn’t Maute. My last name is Maute. John’s last name is Maute. Cole shares a last name with his father. It really is all the same. We don’t share a last name with our son, but he is a Maute in his heart. He is loved by our entire family. He loves our entire family. Because love is such an amazing thing, he shares that same love with his dad’s side of the family too.

He may not share a last name with his grandpa, but he was his grandson. He may not share a last name with Christian, but he is his son. I don’t even share a last name with him, but there isn’t a love that compares to my love for Cole.

Grandpa and Cole burying Christian at the beach

Grandpa and Cole burying Christian at the beach

The labels and identifiers we put on things in life do not matter. Last names. Mom. Dad. Stepdad. Half brother. Runner. Yogi. Writer. Brother. Sister. Doctor. Teacher. President. Boss. Employee. Student. None of these labels matter. They mean nothing if they aren’t rooted in love. It’s the love in our hearts that defines who we are and the relationships we have with those around us. It’s the love that we have for what we do that matters most.

Find love, share love, spread love, and embrace love in everything you do and with everyone you meet.

It’s love that really matters.

The Gift of Giving

Somewhere in the hustle and the bustle of the season, I overlooked taking Cole out to do Christmas shopping of his own. Our Christmas budget was tight this year, so I was focused on stretching it as far as possible. Christian and I decided to skip gifts for each other (although we didn’t stick to the plan), and we tried to shop smart for the boys. I didn’t even think about having Cole do any shopping until he mentioned it.

This year I want to wrap everyone’s gifts from me by myself.

Uh oh. Cole didn’t have any gifts to give anyone this year. I back pedaled, replanned, and asked his grandma to take him shopping. They spent a Monday night having dinner and going all over town while Cole searched for his perfect gifts to give. He came home spilling over with excitement. He dragged me up stairs to tell me what he got Christian. He snuck into the living to tell Christian what he bought for me. All week long, he kept looking for validation that we would love our gifts. He asked questions that were obviously about what he picked out. The anticipation of giving was driving him nuts.

On our Christmas morning together (the Saturday before Christmas since he was flying to his dad’s house on Sunday), he woke up at 5:45am. He snuck down stairs. He peaked under the tree. As soon as Christian and I stumbled out of bed and into the living room, Cole insisted we open his gifts first. Before the stack of presents from Santa, Cole wanted us to open the gifts he picked out.

I went first. A new book that I adore. Love, Life & Elephants. And new slippers. He narrated the opening of the gifts by telling the story of how he picked them out. The slippers: my slippers have a hole in the bottom of them. The book: he knows I love to read. He knows I love nature. So he went to the nature section of the book store. He knows I adore Elephants. He found my perfect book. Although I love the sentiment behind the book the most, I really do love the book and really look forward to reading it.

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Best Gift Ever

Christian was next. A New York Giant’s lunch box and a yo-yo. The lunch box is for Christian since he packs his lunch every day, and together Cole and Christian cheer on the Giants. The yo-yo: Cole got a yo-yo from my parents for Christmas the weekend before. Little did we know that Christian is a yo-yo  master. Christian quickly took over Cole’s yo-yo and showed off all his skills. Cole got him his own yo-yo so he could have his yo-yo back.

This is (and perhaps always will be) one of my favorite Christmas memories. In my desire to give and make Christmas special for my boys during a tough year, I forgot how magical they would feel if they could give too. I didn’t want Cole spending money on gifts for us because we don’t need anything. But what I missed was the pure excitement and happiness Cole felt by giving. I forgot that Christmas isn’t just about me giving them gifts, but it’s also about teaching them to love giving. I’m glad Cole didn’t let this holiday season slip by without insisting that he give too.

Lesson learned. Lesson absorbed. Thank you Cole for making our holiday magical.

Making cookies on our Christmas Eve

Making cookies on our Christmas Eve

Happy Holidays

From our family to yours -

I hope today you were surround by love and wonder. I hope you can find amazement in the all the small things. I hope, no matter what you celebrate, that you have a reason to believe. I hope that this holiday season inspires love, compassion and giving.

Happy Holidays.

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Thank you Thomas Gorman Photography for the wonderful photos with Santa.