Running · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Finding the Balance

Sometimes my pride gets ahead of my common sense and I have to pay for it. This happened a few weeks ago when I committed one of the cardinal sins of being an older runner – I ran a 10K without being ready for it.

A group of staff and students from my school was participating and I’ll be honest to say I was showing off a little. Although I had been pretty regular with my weight lifting class and my legs felt strong, the route for the race was hilly and I was not in good shape. I pushed through, however, and actually shaved a few minutes off of my 10K time – but aggravated my IT band and now I’m in pain if I run.

Our group at the Bill Gregory Race

Younger runners can “gut it out” at a race, but now that I’m closer to 60 than 50, I have to listen more closely to my body. In my mind I’m still in my 30’s, but my muscles and tendons remind me otherwise! As an older runner I have to remember to stop before I’m hurting and that I have to slowly build my mileage. If not, I end up sidelined, which is the opposite of what I want to be doing.

When I started training for a marathon many years ago, I had to learn to listen to what my body was telling me. My training partners and I followed a strict plan that slowly increased our mileage while adding in rest days. I found that the rest days were just as important as the hill repeats, speed sessions and long runs. Working out actually causes tears in our muscles and rest allows them to heal and become stronger. Finding the right balance between hard runs and recovery times is a challenge for athletes of any age, but especially us “master” and “grandmaster” runners. Of course I knew all of this before running the 10K, but my pride told me I could do it.

The same principles apply to my spiritual life. Pride comes along and tells me that I can get by on my own, that I don’t need time alone with God to build my “spiritual muscle.” And before long I do or say something stupid and set myself back. Just as I have to continually listen to what my body is saying, I have to work on hearing what my soul is telling me, and it is usually “Slow down and be still!” My spiritual muscle is built when I rest in God.

So it is a continual balancing act. The last few months have been busy with lots of good things, but my soul is telling me now that it needs some rest. Just as my body needs a break from pounding the pavement, my soul needs a break from people and deadlines and busyness. I’m blessed to work for the school system where I get extended time off and the opportunity to be quiet, spend time with God and listen for His voice. I had time at the beach last week with wonderful Christian friends and I was able to just bask in the beauty around me. My soul felt restored!

Sunrise over the bay at Cape San Blas

I often think about how Jesus had to get away from the crowds to be quiet, even letting people down who wanted something from Him.  Even as the Son of God, He had to have time to hear what His Father was saying to Him.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”Mark 1:35-37

Can’t you feel Jesus’s exasperation trying to have a few private moments? Throughout the Gospels we see Him going off by Himself or with a few of the disciples to rest from the crowds pulling at Him. How much more do I need it!

For now I’m trying to recover from my injury by doing some exercises and walking and rolling away on my foam roller. The Peachtree Race is just a few weeks away and I need to be able to get up Cardiac Hill! But I’m working on my spiritual muscle also. Resting, sometimes translated waiting on the Lord, will be my strength.


Mother’s Day Guilt

My son and his wife treated me like royalty for  Mother’s Day a few weeks ago. We went out with some of their friends, then came back to their house in Decatur where they cooked a delicious scallop dinner for me. The next morning I sat at their kitchen island drinking coffee and talking while Jess made thick slices of French toast. I loved having time to them all to myself and seeing them so happy as they are finishing up their first year of married life.

Mother’s Day has not always been a happy day for me. With an apology to my pastor friends, I admit that I usually try to miss church that day. I just can’t take the emotion of it. Even before my mother passed away a few years ago I didn’t care for Mother’s Day. I struggled most of my life  with my relationship to my mother – not because she was a bad mother, far from it. She was such a good mother and homemaker that I always seemed to fall short. I felt many times that I was not the daughter she wanted. Mother’s Day services just seem to bring on more guilt.

Mama, me and Anne on our annual trip to North Myrtle Beach

Mother/daughter relationships are always complex. So many expectations, voiced and unvoiced, cloud our everyday interactions. I was never close to my mother in the way I would have liked and she probably felt the same. But deep down she always knew me.

For much of my life I felt I could never measure up to her. I grew up with stories of how popular she had been in high school where she had been a cheerleader, swimmer, and tennis player. Unlike me, she ran with the “in crowd”.  All she ever wanted to be  was a wife and mother and she worked very hard providing a beautiful house, delicious meals and a stable home for my father, sister and me. She drove Anne and me to our Girl Scout meetings, taught GA’s at church and made sure we had fun birthday parties. She was the epitome of the Southern woman of the 1960’s.

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Our perfect family!

Mama was outgoing and loved people and my sister Anne took after her in her easy way with people. Anne was self confident, had a steady boyfriend and was always on the phone with her friends discussing the latest hair and makeup. I, on the other hand, was a rambunctious, smart child, who was a little chunky and very talkative. The social norms of junior and senior high were hard for me. I never had the self assurance that seemed to come so effortlessly to Anne.

Over the years I began to feel Mama liked Anne best. Mama was thin and stylish and always wore pretty clothes and she and Anne loved to shop. I would rather be running around the woods or riding my bike and often our shopping excursions ended up with me at the bookstore. I never fit into the “popular girl” image that I felt Mama expected of me.

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My glamorous parents going out to the Cotillion Dance.

After Anne’s death from cancer, these feelings festered inside me for years and I let little things bother me. When I would do well at my studies in college, but was asked by Mama who I was dating, I felt diminished. When Keith and I chose to live in an old house in the country instead of a nice subdivision, I felt she was disappointed in my station in life. And even though she loved Adam and doted on him, her comments about how “she just didn’t know what to do with a little boy” made me feel I had somehow failed by not producing a girl.

Still, deep down she always knew me. In that difficult year after Anne’s death, she understood that my sanctuary was sitting at the piano and losing myself in Mozart. When I spent a semester in Venice my junior year of college, she sent canned cakes and breads to make me feel at home. And I remember many a time after I had moved away that I would leave her house with a fistful of daffodils wrapped in a wet paper towel that she had fixed for me because she knew they were my favorite.

In her last years, a lot of the old inadequate feelings fell away. I made the 7 hour drive to Greensboro many times and she always told me how much she appreciated what I did for her. She leaned on me more and more and was always glad to see me. Those times are precious.

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In the week before she died, she was in and out of consciousness. One day as she lay on the hospital bed in her nursing home room she said,”Millicent, I’ve always loved you. I know you didn’t think so, but I have.” She always knew me.

Her words comfort and haunt me now. I grieve for her laughter and love of people, for the way she bore the pain of her losses in life, for her wry, sometimes snobbish views. And I grieve the relationship we could have had if I had not focused on my insecurities and shortcomings.

We all do our best as mothers. I look back now and see the struggles my mother had with her own mother who expected perfection. I think she never felt she was quite good enough, and perhaps those feelings rubbed off on me. I’m sure I’ve passed my hang ups and problems onto Adam, but mostly I look at him with awe and I wonder how the heck he turned out so well. Maybe that was what Mama felt too, but never had the words to tell me.

Gardening · Middle school · Parable of the sower · Uncategorized

Stuggling through the weeds

I came back from my spring break trip to New York to a mess – in my flower garden. After several cool rainy weeks, and then a warm week-end, the weeds had gone crazy, covering all my little flowers trying to come out to enjoy the sunshine. Despite my best efforts at putting down mulch during the winter, the nettles and crabgrass and something called ‘henbit’ had sprouted.

But amazingly, my flowers were still there under the invading predators that threatened to snuff them out. My butterfly bushes were putting out new growth, the Lenten Rose Bush was beautiful and lantanas that I cut back over the winter were putting out some tentative greenery. The early irises were blooming tall and proud.


After spending almost the whole day yesterday on my hands and knees pulling up the invaders, the garden is looking better. I found a few plants that were hidden under the weeds and more that are coming up from their winter sleep underground. They are like old friends that I haven’t seen in several months.

My flowers that are pushing their way up to the sun remind me of some of the young people at my school, kids that fight their way past weeds and debris in their lives, both metaphorically and physically. These are young teens who have to worry about whether Dad remembered to pay the electric bill or if Mom will wake up in time to get to her job because she was drunk the night before. Lots of them sleep on couches because there are not enough beds to go around and may not have much to eat on the weekends. Some of them may be afraid of their dads or uncles or Mom’s boyfriend.

Yet some, not all, of these kids survive and even thrive. They see a life beyond what they have known and they work to get there. Many have a natural intelligence and love of learning. They want to go to college and study and get a good job and have a comfortable house and a decent life. Those are the ones that keep us going as educators – the flowers that keep struggling to survive, despite the odds that are against them.

Each spring I’m amazed at the miracles that come up from the soil in my garden. Like the flower bulbs and seeds that hold so much potential, these middle schoolers impress me with what they can do. Just as I pulled away the weeds to let the flowers in my garden have room to expand and blossom, I do what little I can for the students I see, whether it’s a listening ear, a compliment or a book that I think they will like. Others do much more than me -teachers who work with them daily and administrators who find money for growth opportunities – so hopefully, prayerfully, all of us working together will make a difference in the sun coming in or the weeds taking over.




Times Square · Uncategorized

In search of a bull and a little girl

I just returned from a Spring Break trip to Gettysburg, New York City and Philadelphia with a group based out of Whitfield County Schools. I haven’t done a group trip since I was in high school, so I was a little apprehensive. Keith, Adam and I always took off on our own and I tend to be pretty independent, so I wasn’t so sure how I would do on a bus full of folks for 6 days. But happily the group was very congenial, I made some new friends and had a blast.

The definite advantage of a group trip was having someone else worry about traffic, tickets, timing and all of those things that take up so much energy when traveling on your own. We had a remarkable driver and trip leader, (who actually had to step in at the last minute when the original leader was in a very serious wreck the week before we were to leave) who added lots of humor. I loved riding in the big bus and looking out at the scenery going by,  relaxing and reading on the long trip up and back and having the driver drop us off at our destinations. Our days were jam-packed.

However, group traveling has its disadvantages. Like a lot of things in life, some of the good things – riding in the bus, having everything pre planned – were also the things that bugged me.

My son Adam and I went to NYC ten years ago when he was a senior in high school. It was a celebratory trip for both of us, since I had just finished my specialist degree and he had been accepted into UGA. We planned the trip around seeing Spamalot on Broadway, the hilarious Monty Python play that had just come out. We stayed near Central Station at the Roosevelt Hotel and walked or took the subway everywhere. We had a great time exploring.

So I was frustrated that on this group trip we spent a lot of time inching through the New York streets on our big tour bus. Even though the weather was not the best, I was itching to get out and walk. We finally got a chance outside of Rockefeller Center and that’s when I felt the famous “rhythm” of the city, the noise and smells and the crush of the people all rushing and pushing down the sidewalks.

Our Group at Times Square


On our second night in New York, one of my new friends, Rhonda Gazaway, was as excited as a little kid to be in Times Square. We had spent our money in the tacky tourist shop, taken lots of pictures and climbed up on the steps in the middle of the square with all the other gawkers. Rhonda said that what she really wanted to do was not on the itinerary – go to the “Charging Bull” statue on Wall Street. We had about two hours before having to be back to the bus, so our little group decided to go for it. Rena figured out the subway schedule with her phone and we took off for an adventure. I felt like we were playing hooky – it was the most fun of the trip.

Five Northwest Georgia ladies with “Out of town yokels” practically emblazoned on our backs managed to to get the metro tickets out of the machine, maneuvered through the labyrinth of subway tunnels, got directions from several friendly New Yorkers, talked to most everyone on the subway car and made it to the bull without getting mugged. Once there, we all had to take pictures with the bull’s “jewels”, which are supposed to give you good luck when you rub them, and with the little girl statue who is now there standing defiantly in front of the bull, saying “I can take you!” We laughed and cut up like a bunch of kids.

Rena with the Little Girl


We decided to take a taxi back, since our time to meet the bus was getting close. I pulled over one of the yellow Prius taxis. The driver, a neatly dressed Indian man, said that he was only supposed to take 4, but that because we were tourists, (gosh, how did he know that?) he would squeeze us in, even though he could lose his license. I got in the front and Kelly, Rhonda, Rena and Kayla piled in the back. The driver said that since we were breaking the rules he was going to turn off his meter and if we were stopped we were to say we were friends of his. Yeah, like that would look plausible! And he added that we would be sure to give him a good tip for his trouble, and we were paying cash, correct?  After staying off the main drags for fear that a cop would see him, we made it back to Times Square in plenty of time. We rolled out like we had been hitting the booze all night (which we had not!) and made it safely back to our group.

I learned something from that outing. Sometimes we sit back and watch life go by the bus window and sometimes we have to get out and be a part of it. I had resolved to do things this year that scare me (see my blog here) and this bus trip, as well as the subway ride to the bull, were out of my comfort zone. As I’m getting closer to 60 I find myself worrying more and more – “Can’t do that, it’s a school night,” “Can’t go there, I might get too tired.” Next time I feel that way I’m going to remember leaving the relative safety of the crowds at Time Square and going on a quest for a little girl and a bull.

If you are interested in learning the story of the little girl statue, watch this video from NBC Today.


Whose are we? Lenten Devotional

This is a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional at my church, Calhoun First United Methodist. If you are interested in reading more of our devotions during Lent, please follow us at Enjoy!

Saturday, March 11
Spiritual Questions: Whose are We?
Matthew 4:1-11
Millicent Flake

We have been asking ourselves this week who we belong to as Christians – and if we answer, “We belong to God,” then the question becomes – “What does that mean in our day to day life?”

Jesus was trying to figure some of this out for himself when the Holy Spirit led Him to the wilderness immediately following the “mountain top experience “ of his baptism. There the Devil was waiting to tempt Him, to try to win Him away from his goal of saving humankind. This was a high stakes battle.

What I notice about these verses in Matthew 4:1-11 is that in each of the three instances, the Devil offers Jesus the easy way out –
“Jesus, you are hungry, just turn these rocks into bread and you can eat!”
“Jesus, you know deep down you don’t want to go through the pain of the next few years, as well as death on the cross – just jump off of the temple and God will send His angels to catch you – then everyone will believe in you!”
“Jesus, you can live in splendor like a king should – Just worship me and I can give you all the wealth and power you want!”

Yet Jesus, even in his weakened state, digs deep into the Scripture on which he was raised and finds the strength to tell the Devil NO! I can’t imagine how hard this would be after fasting for 40 days. If I miss even one meal I’m so cranky I give into most anything. But following Christ isn’t about taking the smooth and well-worn path. It involves climbing over some rocky and steep trails, often not being able to see the way ahead.

Sometimes I feel that if I am having a hard time being loving and kind and “Christlike” that it is all my fault, that I just have not spent enough time in prayer and Bible study, and many times that’s true. But the Devil didn’t just go away and leave Jesus alone after their time in the wilderness, and he doesn’t quit trying to pull us down and away from the truth. He keeps after us and often that can make our journey difficult.

Jody Bryson recently shared a quote from C.S. Lewis that struck me and relates to these verses from Matthew:
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

So if you are looking for a quick fix, instant gratification, or an immediate answer to all your problems, don’t come to Christ. If you do not want to feel empathy for those who are suffering, don’t want to give your time and money to something outside of yourself or have no desire to share your burdens with others, stay away. But if you crave a fuller, deeper and more multi-faceted life, with the Holy Spirit in you each moment to guide and comfort you, and the promise of eternal life – then I recommend Christianity.

Dear God, we pray this day for the courage to follow you, even when it is difficult. Thank-you for your Holy Spirit, who is always with us to give us strength against the temptations and trials that come our way.