On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.

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Did you read my blog posts for Compassion during September? I signed up to write because I thought, “Hey, I already write a blog, we already sponsor two Compassion children, and I think rescuing children from poverty is a good thing.” Easy enough. As I encouraged others to think about sponsoring a child, my own husband suggested that we sponsor a third child.

Since Joselinne #1 is the same age as G, and Joselyne #2 is S’s age, we thought we’d let H help us choose another child. H knew exactly what she wanted: a 6-year-old girl who lives in Rwanda. Because it’s heart-breaking to read through all the biographies of the available children, we simply chose the child who has been waiting the longest. And so, 364 days after enrolling in Kigina Student Center, Brenda has a sponsor. While Brenda doesn’t strike me as a typical Rwandan name, we knew we had to choose her. A whole year of waiting?! Welcome to our family, Brenda. (Isn’t she ridiculously cute?!)

Brenda in Rwanda

Now if you want to sponsor a child from Rwanda or another country where Compassion serves through the local churches, this is the thank-you gift that awaits you after you register.

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Another Way to Support JDRF

Type 1 diabetes is near and dear to my heart. In our home, we jokingly refer to S’s diabetes as our fourth child. Let me clarify: we don’t love her diabetes, but constantly checking blood sugar, calculating insulin boluses, and counting carbohydrates is a full-time job!

The other week I shared that you could support the JDRF by purchasing paper shoes at Marshalls. Today I’m encouraging you to get your annual flu shot at Walgreens. (Disclaimer: I am not anti-vaccine, nor do I want to engage in a discussion on vaccines.) Every fall we all get our flu shot (or mist) to help keep the flu virus away from S. Regular illnesses that sideline otherwise-healthy individuals can really wreak havoc on a diabetic person. As an example, S contracted bronchitis this summer from her swim team buddies. She battled high blood sugars for almost a full month as her body reacted to the illness. High blood sugars mean extra finger pricks, extra insulin, checking for ketones, and being extra-vigilant with food choices. See what a pain diabetes is?

So if we can keep S from contracting the flu, we’re all on board to get our flu shot. Okay, 3 out of 5 of us are on board. I bribe the other two dissenters.

If you’re already planning to get this year’s flu shot, why not get it at Walgreens? Save yourself a doctor’s visit (and co-pay) and contribute to the JDRF at the same time. Just print out this flyer and present it at the time of your visit. Walgreen’s will donate $1 for each flu shot.

In other diabetes news, how exciting is this tidbit?! Medtronic has just introduced an FDA-approved insulin pump that used artificial pancreas technology! On Friday, the MiniMed 530G with Enlite was approved for use in the U.S. This insulin pump/continuous glucose monitor (CGM) system suspends insulin delivery when blood sugars start to drop below target levels. Amazing stuff, people! I know that many of you are more interested in the iphone 5, but I’d camp out for a week to get my hands on one of these!

In Just 10 Days….

I will be embarking on an almost-200 mile adventure with 11 other mother runners. Quite a few friends and acquaintances  think that running Ragnar DC is as crazy as deciding to homeschool the girls, but I’m not listening. How many times does a stay-at-home Marine mom get to go somewhere for a weekend sans family and try something completely different from her regular life?!  While I’ll definitely be out of my comfort zone, I think that’s a good thing. Simply click on the title link to meet my 11 teammates, also known as Team Are My Kids Still Chasing Me? Each of us entered a contest sponsored by Another Mother Runner for a spot on this Ragnar team, and each of us apparently thinks that a vacation should include spending nearly 30 hours together in two vans on Friday, October 4, and Saturday, October 5. That’s 30 hours to conquer those (hilly!) miles, eat more carbs than we’ll actually burn, sleep under the stars, and cheer each other on to the finish.

All decked out in fabulous Saucony tee and capris before a recent training run. Saucony is a team sponsor and sent tees, capris, and even shoes!

All decked out in fabulous Saucony tee and capris before a recent training run. Saucony is one of our fantastic team sponsors!

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This is my final post for Compassion International‘s Blog Month. As I posted here and here, the goal is to find sponsors for 3,160 children by the end of this month. Today’s assignment is to ruminate on the following quote.

“The presence of dignity doesn’t mean poverty is absent.”

As I glanced up from my laptop, my eyes locked in on our refrigerator. (Yes, my computer station is in the kitchen; no, I wasn’t looking for a snack.) Like many of you, the kitchen refrigerator in our home doubles as a message board/photo gallery/art display area. An orange laminated chore chart hangs in the middle of a collection of touristy magnets that Ryan brings home from his international trips. A neighbor’s homage to vanilla ice cream sandwiches appears next to S’s National Physical Fitness Award. H’s artwork changes on a daily basis, but today a blue dove flies to a green-leafed tree below a very happy yellow sunshine.

On the front of the freezer door are two clips that hold current photos and letters from our sponsored children, Joselinne and Joselyne. The girls call them #1 and #2 to keep them straight. Joselinne #1 is the same age as G, and we’ve been sponsoring her for almost 6 years. We exchange letters regularly, though her father is most often the letter writer. Joselyne #2 is also from Rwanda, but she–like many African children–lives with her siblings and grandmother. She is the same age as S, and when we saw her folder last year at my parents’ church, I felt a tugging on my heart. (Another Joselyne? In Rwanda? With a birthday a week away from S? Coincidence? No way.) She loves to send us letters and drawings. In fact, her most recent drawings were what drew my eye this morning.

IMG_0001Joselyne #2 usually draws flowers. I think that’s a universal little girl thing to draw, but we never know what else to expect. (Case in point: the semi-nude girl in the bottom lefthand corner.) I’m not sure why she chose to include a cup, but I noticed that the cup is full. The car and the house were also interesting to me. Joselyne’s family does not own a car; she walks to school and church. She walks to fetch water and firewood, and I’m not even sure that she understands that all 4 wheels aren’t supposed to be on one side of the car. Her house, too, isn’t grand, but it has windows and a door. I know that, unlike Joselinne #1, she doesn’t have to worry about finding a solidly-constructed house. In fact, this may be her grandmother’s house.

Joselyne #2 is intimate with poverty in ways that you and I never will be; however, her letters and drawings show me that poverty does not define who she is. As does Joselinne #1, her letters always begin with the same salutation: “I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Always.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it? The average Rwandan, like Joselinne’s parents and Joselyne’s grandmother, lives on less than $2 a day, yet these dear families greet me in Christ and write that they regularly pray for me and my family. That’s dignity staring me in the face. These people know that their worth is in Christ, not in their bank accounts.

This isn’t to say that life is rosy for our Joselinnes. Rwandans face a high HIV infection rate, and their country is still recovering from 1994’s horrific genocide. We don’t discuss these topics in our letters, but I wonder how Joselinne #1’s parents both survived the genocide and why Joselynne #2 isn’t living with her parents. When we send checks for the girls’ birthday and Christmas, we receive thank-you notes telling us about the animals and food they purchased. (And they’re buying milk goats and chickens, not hamsters.)

These two beautiful girls may be the faces of poverty, but their lives are a reflection of dignity, hope, and determination. If you’ve never considered sponsoring a child, consider it today. We’ve chosen to focus on the country of Rwanda, but there are many other countries all over the world where you can make a difference in the life of a child. I promise that it will be a life-changing experience: for a child and for you.



An Afternoon at the County Fair

We live in a county that is mostly rural, somewhat suburban, and definitely not urban at all. The annual county fair is a big deal. So much so that there is no school on Friday and students are sent home early on Thursday. On Friday, students get in to the fair for free and all rides cost $1 until 5 P.M.

Though we homeschool, I’ve quickly learned that it’s pointless to schedule a full school day on this particular Friday. After a quick morning of math and language arts (the 3 Rs), we headed to the fair, too.

Everyone goes to the fair. We saw neighbors, soccer teammates, friends from church, friends from co-op, and our pastor and his wife. Yes, life is good in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Our first stop? The Art building.

H's Honorable Mentions in Primary (1st-2nd) Art. The piece framed in orange is titled "Ping on the Yangtze River."

H’s Honorable Mentions in Primary (1st-2nd) Art. The piece framed in orange is titled “Ping on the Yangtze River.”

S won Junior Grand Champion in for Intermediate (3rd-5th) Art. This is her "Hamster in Ink."

S won Junior Grand Champion for Intermediate (3rd-5th) Art. This is her “Hamster in Ink.”

G's pencil sketch of an Appaloosa took a 3rd prize in Middle School Art.

G’s pencil sketch of an Appaloosa took a 3rd prize in Middle School Art.

G's pen and ink of a Siberian tiger and cub also won a Junior Grand Champion prize for Middle School Art.

G’s pen and ink of a Siberian tiger and cub also won a Junior Grand Champion prize for Middle School Art.

After reveling in their art wins, the girls wanted to visit the livestock. Here’s some of what we saw (and petted).

How can you just walk by and NOT pet the goats?!

How can you just walk by and NOT pet the goats?!

We watched these lambs get baths (power washing and Ivory soap) before they were tied up to dry in the sun.

We watched these lambs get baths (with a power washer and Ivory soap) before they were tied up to dry in the sun.

Piglets, anyone?

Piglets, anyone?

A quiet calf rests in a clean bed of hay.

A quiet calf rests in a clean bed of hay.

Posing with a friendly calf for cow-loving Compassion child Joselynne

Posing with a friendly calf for cow-loving Compassion child Joselynne

Underneath all that fur, there's a rabbit in there.

Underneath all that fur, there’s a rabbit in there.

Poultry amuses me. With these skinny legs, no one is eating this bird.

Poultry amuses me. With these skinny legs, no one is eating this bird.

Finally, we headed to the rides. While I tried to push away concerns about germs and safety, the girls squabbled over whether to ride the Ferris wheel or carousel first.

G and S on their first-ever Ferris wheel ride.

G and S on their first-ever Ferris wheel ride.


Waiting for their turn on the carousel.

H's face as she rides a flying elephant: pure happiness.

H’s face as she rides a flying elephant: pure happiness.

All in all, we had a great afternoon. And thank goodness we have another year before we have to go again.

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A Conversation with My Childhood Self

This is my second post for Compassion’s Blog Month. My assignment? Have a conversation with my childhood self. Here’s what I would want my much-younger self to know:

Laura, you’re going to learn a lot of lessons in the coming years. Some of these lessons will come easily, while others will cause you some pain. But take it from your grown-up, almost-40-year-old self, you’re going to learn plenty!

1. Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’ll have plenty more bad haircuts, and there’s no sense in crying over your hair. It will grow out.

3rd grade school picture, c. 1983. Notice my monogrammed sweater and wings.

3rd grade school picture, c. 1983. Notice my monogrammed sweater and wings.

2. Take some art lessons! Don’t quit piano in 9th grade! Your academic aspirations won’t suffer if you foster your creative side.

3. Do some strength training and put some muscle on your upper body. You’re not going to like what’s in store for your knees.

4. Don’t be so shy. Yes, it’s no fun that I’m saying the same thing that your mom tells you, but you’re going to do a whole lot of relocating in your adult life. Force yourself to be more outgoing so that you’ll know how to make friends wherever you live.

5. Don’t get too attached to the thought that you don’t want to move around as an adult or that you’d never marry someone in the military. Hint, hint.

6. Forget about waiting tables over summer break. You’ll never have a career in the restaurant world, but you will spend a ridiculous amount of time teaching and coaching children.

7. Seriously consider writing at least one research paper farther ahead than the night before it’s due. You’re really going to appreciate sleep when you’re older!

8. Continue to memorize Scripture. Powerful verses are going to come to mind exactly when you need comfort and wisdom the most.

9. Learn to trust God completely. Know that He is sovereign. You might think that you’re going to fall apart at times, but He won’t ever leave you to face your struggles alone.

10. Don’t judge others when you don’t know their circumstances. You’ll be amazed at who your true friends are later in life.

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Don’t Forget Your Shoes!

Paper shoes, I mean.

Want an easy way to make someone’s day? Buy a shoe. Or two. Or three.

If you already enjoy shopping at Marshalls–can I tag my neighbor Sam in a blog post?!–there’s another reason to take your purchases to the check-out line. Buy a paper shoe and help find the cure for Type 1 diabetes. (I told you it would be easy.)

Every $1 spent on a paper shoe goes directly to the JDRF Paper Sneaker Campaign and funds research such as the artificial pancreas project. There are other ways to contribute to this amazing organization, and you can read about them right here. But today I’m just encouraging you to pick up a pair of shoes at Marshalls. (And Sam, you can tell your husband that I said it was okay.)

Need another reason to shop? Here she is. S is our extra-sweet daughter who has been living with Type 1 diabetes since she was 3 years old. You can’t see her insulin pump, but you can see her beautiful smile.

My extra-sweet S with a goat named Jane.

My extra-sweet S with a goat named Jane.


Three Things About One Word: Hope

September is half over, but there’s still time to participate in Compassion’s Blog Month. Better late than never, right? Especially when the goal is to release an additional 3,160 children from poverty. That’s why I’ve chosen to write three things about this one word: hope.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” True words, aren’t they? In the two years that I couldn’t conceive or carry a healthy baby to term, my heart was often sick. The minute that our first daughter G was born, however, I knew the meaning of the second half of this verse.

The sweetest moment for a mom

A longing fulfilled

The children’s author E.B. White once notably wrote in a letter that “Hope is the one thing that is left to us, in a bad time.” Bad times are all around us. Yesterday an angry man senselessly killed 12 civilians aboard the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. It is an understatement to call yesterday’s violence “a bad time,” and yet we continue to hope for an end to the long line of violent tragedies that have beset our country in recent years.

Joseline #1 is 11 years old.

Joselinne #1 is 11 years old.

And hope is what sustains the families of these two young girls–interestingly enough who both share the name Joselinne–who have enrolled them in two of Compassion’s Child Development Centers in local Rwandan churches. The parents and grandmother of these two Joselinnes hope that their girls will receive the educational, nutritional, health, and spiritual instruction to live productive adult lives free of the grasps of HIV and poverty.

Joselyne #2 is 8 years old.

Joselyne #2 is 8 years old.

What about you? For what do you hope? Is your heart sick with longing, or have you found a tree of life?

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Photo Finish

I have yet to master the art of taking a good action shot while running. Or should I say I can’t seem to focus on running and posing. Case in point: This is the photo finish of me (#67) seconds before I crossed the end of the Chaptico Classic 10k. My eyes are, as usual, closed, and the effort of catching a runner whom I trailed for 6.1 miles is all over my face. But I don’t care. I PR’ed last Saturday and ran my first race at 8:00 pace! That’s 49:22 for those of you trying to do the math in your head.


From The Enterprise, September 4, 2013
Staff photo by TAMMY SHOWALTER

I would be remiss if I didn’t include my dad, too. We ran 6.1 together and kept a steady pace. Before we started, he asked me what my goal was. I wanted to break 50 minutes, but the heat and humidity of summer had significantly slowed my training pace. Mile after mile, I was surprised to see us running under 8:00. Once we conquered the hill in Mile 5, I knew he had helped me reach my goal. And while he didn’t sprint to the finish, I knew he wouldn’t mind if I did. So here he is, too–#12 in the yellow shirt. Thanks, Daddy!

Staff photo by TAMMY SHOWALTER

Staff photo by TAMMY SHOWALTER


15 Years: A Brief History

Ryan and I have reached another milestone together. On September 12, we will celebrate 15 years of marriage. I didn’t say wedded bliss because that just doesn’t cover the past 15 years. Perhaps roller coaster or soap opera would be a better description, but I am also reminded of the classic children’s line from Ludwig Bemelmans: “They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.” (That’s from Madeline.) Here are the highlights of our 15 years together.

September 12, 1998

September 12, 1998

Year 1: Honeymoon on the road as we drove from Norfolk, Virginia, to Pensacola, Florida. Somebody had to start intermediate flight classes on Tuesday. Two months later we headed farther south to Corpus Christi, Texas. Ryan earned his wings of gold in July 1999; then we moved to North Carolina where Ryan joined VMGR-253 and I started a new teaching/coaching job.

Outside our 2nd apartment with our 2 puppies

Outside our 2nd apartment with our 2 puppies

Year 2: Life revolved around Ryan, me, and our 2 dogs. We had no idea how easy things were!

Posing for family photos in my father-in-law's courtroom

Posing for family photos in my father-in-law’s courtroom

Year 3: Excitement over our first pregnancy was followed by heartache after Seth and Owen arrived too early at 23 weeks on February 24, 2001.


Year 4: A hard year for both of us as we put our lives back together. Ryan deployed to Afghanistan, and I changed high schools. Here we are enjoying a rare vacation in Charleston, SC.

Charleston, SC, with Ryan's family

Charleston, SC, with Ryan’s family

Year 5 began with great joy: Grace arrived on October 12, 2002. Ryan deployed for 6 months on the USS Iwo Jima, and I navigated single-parenthood.

The sweetest moment for a mom

The sweetest moment for a new mother

In Year 6, we decided to buy our first house. That made our third move just in Havelock, NC!

Ryan lays sod on a (rare) snowy day in Havelock.

Ryan lays sod on a (rare) snowy day in Havelock.

Sarah arrived on December 1, 2004, as we began Year 7, and Ryan left for Iraq. That was a long 7 months for everyone.

picking berries

The girls go berry picking.

Ryan returned home, Year 8 began, and I was pregnant again. (Are you seeing a pattern yet?) As we prepared for a move to Corpus Christi, Lucy arrived stillborn on April 12, 2006. A month later, Ryan contracted viral encephalitis and was helicoptered to an ICU unit. We un-rented our home and stayed in NC so that Ryan could recover. Here we are during a much-needed beach week on Topsail Island.

topsail beach 008

Year 9 eventually brought us to Corpus Christi again, and we rented a house within walking distance to the beach on Padre Island. Ryan pinned on major–despite his wedding promise to me that he wouldn’t stay in the Corps long enough to need $1000 worth of new dress uniforms. And Hannah arrived a little early but in perfect health on May 3, 2007. Our family was complete.

I have no idea how to caption this shot.

Our 3 girls. I have no idea how to caption this photo.

Year 10 was a struggle for us in so many ways. I had postpartum depression, we had 3 small children, and I decided to homeschool Grace for the remainder of our time in TX. Ryan learned what it was like to go through ground school with a newborn, but life got even harder over Easter weekend. Sarah was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

My favorite Marine Corps Birthday Ball picture of us, November 2008

My favorite Marine Corps Birthday Ball picture of us, November 2008

We celebrated our tenth anniversary in separate states due to a mandatory hurricane evacuation. Ryan enjoyed golf in New Mexico while I drove the girls and dog to a crowded ranch-house outside San Antonio. During Year 11, however, we found our new normal. Normal meant finger pricks, insulin injections, and carb counting,

The only ballerina with an insulin pump!

The only ballerina with an insulin pump!

As Year 12 began, we committed to homeschooling indefinitely. Ryan did some soul-searching and resigned from active duty. In a great leap of faith, he accepted a job offer from a government contractor in Maryland. We put our NC house on the market and left Texas–first to stay with my family in Virginia and then on to California, Maryland.

Ryan's last active duty flight

Ryan’s last active duty flight

During Year 13, I was thrilled to be back on the East Coast, even if our address is California. Ryan stayed busy commuting between his day job and a reserve job flying for VMGR-452 in New York. The girls and I visited family and friends and took advantage of our proximity to the Smithsonian.

Team Sarah at the 2011 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes

Team Sarah at the 2011 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes

During Year 14, we settled into the routine that comes with three growing girls, a homeschooling mom, and a dad who works two jobs. Busy best described our days as Ryan racked up flight hours and I somehow kept my sanity in between school subjects, soccer practice, doctors’ appointments, and co-op classes.

A windy hike in Shenandoah National Park.

A windy hike in Shenandoah National Park.

And that brings us to Year 15. Ryan comes and goes and wishes he had more free time to devote to his golf game. I’ve returned to coaching, but running is my true passion now. All three girls are thriving in their schoolwork and daily delight/test us in innumerable ways.

Celebrating my first 39th birthday.

Celebrating my first 39th birthday this year

That is the abbreviated version of our marriage. We’ve lived in 3 apartments and 4 houses; and we’ve owned 2 dogs, 2 hermit crabs, and 3 hamsters. We’ve celebrated our 20th high school reunions, and one of us has turned 40. We’ve been a part of 3 churches and 4 squadrons. We’ve had 6 children together and have the gray hair to prove it. We bicker with each other, but we laugh together, too. We know each other’s faults, but we love each other anyway.

Many of you reading this already know our story. Some of you just know parts of our life, but I want all of you to know that if we can stay faithful to each other for 15 years, anyone can. We like to joke that it doesn’t seem like 15 years; it seems much longer. Our days are full, and we sometimes spend weeks apart due to Ryan’s work. But our marriage works. It’s by no means perfect, but it is solid because we are committed to each other and rooted by the vows that we made before God, our friends, and our family.  I am reminded of the verse that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). And so we will continue to smile at the good, frown at the bad, and sometimes be very sad. And we will do it together.