We're celebrating our first Christmas tomorrow. "We" as in me and Paul.

We've been sharing tales of Christmases past doing our best to morph them into something that is our own. Paul has been exploring traditions of Santa and the Christian meaning. I am trying to break free from the notion that Santa gifts are left unwrapped, fresh out of the red velvet bag, under the tree. Paul grew up with wrapped Santa gifts. The Santa that came to my childhood house was in a hurry, and probably pretty tired, so the gifts were just left as is.

Christmas seems to give a different lesson every year, no matter what your age. It's a time of remembrance, reflection, and restoration (I love alliteration!).

  • The faces, smiles, hugs, and laughs of loved ones.
  • What it was like to be a kid at Christmas.
  • Shaking gifts without breaking them trying to guess the surprise.
  • Not sleeping very well.
  • Different dishes that remind of us of relatives. (Aunt Mischelle's taco mound; Uncle Charles' fruitcake; Aunt Connie's broccoli casserole)

  • Thinking about what went right and wrong with past Christmases.
  • Gleaning out the truly important parts of the past.
  • Confessing my past attitudes on unmet expectations.
  • Reading the story of the birth of Christ in Luke.

  • Leaving behind grievances.
  • Looking ahead to new beginnings represented by the hope of baby Jesus.
  • Accepting Christmas as a gift not of just presents and the presence of people, but as a symbol of God's ultimate gift of the sacrifice of His son.

Merry Christmas. And God bless us,  every one!

In high school, I called myself Beth the Great. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I mixed a World Civilization lesson with my old teenage self-absorption.

But on this eve of the eve of Thanksgiving, I pronounce myself, Beth the Grate-ful!

It's easy to focus on the have-nots of the world. As humans, we're more likely to be looking at the greener grass or what is missing instead of the abundance we have.

I am grateful.
I am grateful for the love of Jesus Christ in my heart that gives me a peace that passes all understanding.
I am grateful I know there is life beyond this life.
I am grateful for those that love me.
I am grateful for those that let me love them.
I am grateful for laughter.
I am grateful for the beauty of God's creation.
I am grateful for breathing and living this day!

My prayer is to stay grateful! I pray not to let grumpiness get in my gizzard (I really don't know what that means, but it seemed like a Thanksgiving saying). I pray to see things in the right perspective under the microscope of Christ, rather than one I've fashioned myself.

I have mixed excitement and fear about watching Blackfish, a documentary about orcas. I took a trip to SeaWorld in San Antonio several years back, but we weren't able to get into the Shamu show. After I got back, I watched some videos about when the Killer Whale shows went wrong. I never thought about times when Shamu wasn't happy to wave and splash and be rewarded with fish, but those times happen.

After I heard about a trainer that died because of being attacked by a whale, I did some Internet research on the specific whale involved in the attacks, and I was a bit disturbed. The same whale has been involved in a total of three human deaths. The whale always seemed to have an alibi. This whale is still an active part of SeaWorld today. There are just more rules for his handlers.

I am little too passionate now about killer whales in captivity. I never saw the movie Free Willy, but I visited Keiko, the actual whale who was portrayed in the movie. I saw him at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. At one point, my brother and I had to tap on the glass, because he appeared to be floating too easily in the tank. We thought his ship may had sailed!

Now, my views are that whales should not used in shows to entertain humans. I read a quote today from the creator of the Blackfish documentary that said she didn't think people needed to be able to see an orca do the macarena, and I agree.

I hope that one day our society will wake up to many things, and this is just one that has sparked my heart. I do believe God gave us the responsibility of caring for animals, and by capturing them for our entertainment, we're putting not just the animals at risk, but humans as well. It's not worth the cost.

(note: this post is for non-Houstonians)

[Beth's creative phonics: Kah-loche-eee]

I discovered something amazing in Houston. I discovered it years ago, and often forget that it is pretty much a regional thing.

Unlike the title of this post suggests, "kolache" is not a tribe. It's actually a delicious Czech-American breakfast treat or dessert. Kolaches can be savory or sweet, but they are always wonderful to eat.

The dough of a kolache is like tasty sweet bread, and the sweet kolaches have filling that is sometimes fruity or cream cheese. The savory kolaches are pretty creative. It could be described as a "pig in a blanket," but I would describe it as a dough pinata--inside are the goodies! I have had sausage and egg, potato and egg, ham and cheese--the possibilities are endless.

There are entire stores dedicated to kolaches. Their hours follow doughnut shop hours. When a co-worker brings kolaches, it's just as amazing (or better) as when they bring doughnuts.

Do you eat fruits and veggies every day? When is the last time you've consumed a piece of fruit or a serving of vegetables? Sometimes it can be hard to remember.

I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable, but I only ask these questions, because I ask them to myself. And, because I care for you. I really wish things like pizza, doughnuts, bread, and cheese helped keep my ticker in tip-top shape, but that's not how God made us. What is kind of ironic is that when you start eating good foods, you begin to crave them. But when you start eating bad foods, you can start to crave those, too.

One of my staples is an apple a day. I've started to add in carrots when I can. Some may say this is a horse diet. Perhaps I shall add hay. (kidding!!) I have a tough time adding in lettuce without accompanying it with some ranch or blue cheese or some other rich food to wash it down.

I have this dream that if I was really skinny, then I would need to eat cupcakes and doughnuts. I don't think that is a proper view of nutrition or diet. Skinny people that can seem to eat everything bad only perpetuate this improper thinking. But my secret thoughts are that those skinny people have horrible cholesterol readings, or their metabolism will slow down one day and they'll join the rest of America's reality.

But the real question is do I consume food or does it consume me? Hmmm. Deep thoughts for the weekend.

It's important to breathe. For humans, it's vital. It's also important for sanity. Breathing helps oxygen get to the brain and extremities so all the body can work in unison.

I'm married. And I probably should have breathed more during the wedding, but sometimes life goes so fast, you forget it you were breathing or not.

We had a lovely, lovely wedding. Our main mission was accomplished: we got married. Our favorite part was driving away from the reception. At that point, it was like we both took a huge breath and said, "We're married!!"

Now, we are still taking moments to pause and breathe as Paul finishes up grad school, and we figure out how to create a home together.

We are blessed. So blessed. We thank God for the life He has given us. We thank Him for our union. And we thank him for giving us life and enabling us to breathe.

I'm getting married. I've been praying about being married for about 100 years.

When I was pre-twenties, I assumed I would be married by about 25. I never had dreams of my wedding, but I thought I would be married one day--not sure to who that was going to be, but I thought it would just happen.

In my early twenties, I had many friends get married. Most of them married college sweethearts. I never had any college sweetheart of sorts, but I had a great college life. God took me on many adventures.

In my late twenties, I was recovering from my dad's death and heartache and thought about marriage, but didn't obsess over it. I had moved to a city with lots of single people where being single as a late-twenty-something was not abnormal.

In my early thirties, I started thinking about things a bit more seriously, and wondered if I would ever be married. I started a SWPW group (Single Women Prayer Warriors). Our goal was to pray for our husbands each week, and the ultimate goal was to have no one show up because everyone would be on a date. Through the next several years, it felt like most of those ladies in the group married--minus myself.

In my mid/later thirties, I would ride the wave of doubt, acceptance, frustration, jealousy, and contentment. It was hard. Do you give up a desire you have to make the hurt go away? Or is your view supposed to be more of acceptance and thankfulness for the blessings of where you are?

When I was 20, I had a attended a missions conference where a speaker stated she had married at 40 and was so glad she waited. At that time, I said to God, "Please, Lord, no!!!" As I've gotten closer to 40, I thought maybe God was having me wait.

The last few years, God has refined me even more. He taught me not to make marriage an idol. He showed me how He could use me as a single in ways He could not if I was married. He has given me some amazing Godly women that helped me remember I wasn't single still because I was unwanted or ugly--because the single ladies around me were very much worthy and beautiful and loved the Lord deeply. He taught me that my relationship with Him is always first. I should not look at myself as unworthy, but I should be careful with the men that I let in my life. If they didn't respect my God or know Him and love Him, I did not need to flirt with letting them close to me. Nothing is worth sacrificing my relationship with God.

The days before I got a text from my now fiance, I spent them with a dear friend who had a special love for her recently deceased spouse. I also spent time with a friend who is a young mom and witnessed her youngest child's first steps. And I spent time with a couple I knew as they were newlyweds and got to see their family function with their three children. It was a great time. It was kind of like God revealed to me that the idea of love and family didn't have to be foreign to me. Sometimes as singles it seems like a very far away concept. It doesn't take a special degree or revelation, but it does take great commitment, patience, and prayer.

I was able to spend some time praying and confessing the desires of my heart while being thankful to God for where I was. And knowing that no matter what the circumstances, the Lord, my maker, is my true husband and protector.

Like God does best, He blessed me without me being able to predict His steps. He has lovingly provided me the gift of a fiance. And in one month from today, I will be married. A new adventure with my Savior and my husband will begin!

I will keep praying for my husband, but now he has a face, a name, and stinky socks (sorry, Paul!). :) Thank you, God, for bringing me, Paul. Thank you, God, for sustaining me single, married, or whatever. I love you, Lord.

I kind of wish I had one of those circle stickers with the number inside on the back of my car. But instead of the miles I ran, it would be my commuting miles. I think it would help people driving with me on the highway to be more compassionate to me and one another.

"Oh. Look at that guy! He's a 54.6 miler! Go ahead and let him in. Even without the signal!"

The Bridezilla part is a joke. :)

But sometimes it does feel like being a bride-to-be is overwhelming. Whatever. Bring it on!!

My goal is to be married to Paul. We might not be able to have the perfect ice sculpture or balloon artist at the wedding, but the most important part of the wedding has been promised--a groom who loves the Lord.

We have been so blessed over the last couple of months of engagement. We've had so many congratulations and so many good wishes and even prayers prayed over us. I've heard stories of people that jumped up and down and cried when they heard the news! Even in Kenya! That touches my heart very deeply.

It is a very exciting time. I've been trying to stay very ingrained in the Bible understanding the true meaning of a bride and also understanding how God is a god of details, and also grace.

Since the meeting, dating, and engagement have all happened semi-quickly (it depends on the time-keeper's perspective), we've had to have a quick shift of perspective. When I see bride-to-be items, I say, "Why, hey! That's me!"

I'm very excited about our special day, but I am also very excited about my life married to Paul. We're also soaking up each of these days of preparation as we continue to make ready our hearts and minds and lives. It can be a bunch to do. But it's a sweet, sweet task.

Thanks so much for your continued prayers and for the encouragement.

When you have a Valentine, the whole Valentine's Day thing takes on new meaning. No longer are the red and white hearts an annoyance--the whole day was more about reflection. It was also about thankfulness.

My thankfulness wasn't just for the my special sweetheart; it was also for all the other people in my life that love me. All those people have taught me how to love wisely and unconditionally--preparing me to be a better sweetheart.

I also am thankful for all the examples I see of love--for family, friends, and marriages. And for the ultimate sacrificial love of Jesus. Without his love, I would drain my sweetheart and everyone else in my life dry trying to be filled. Only the love of Christ can truly fill and complete and bring peace.

I am loved! And so are you!

and there is a ring on my finger! I am very happy to announce my engagment to Paul Dawson, Jr.!

He is the love of my life and joy of my heart--2nd place to Jesus, of course! :)

I am a very unique person, and I didn't know that it was possible for me to find a match. But at 30 and some change (not saying how much change)--I was shown that nothing is impossible with God.

I twisted my knee on the treadmill yesterday. It was immediately after praying God would guide me through my training. Perhaps God knew I was on the verge of getting psycho about trying to ensure I was 10K ready.

I am still going to the Hot Chocolate 10K, but now my focus will be more on the Hot Chocolate, but less on the 10K.

Bum. Mer. :(

But I am so excited to see my Asheville peeps! This might just call for a new winter hat!

So many things can go wrong when I run. I can get dehydrated or I can over hydrate and have a swishing belly full of water. I can eat too little and feel faint, or eat too much and have stomach cramps. I can over run and stress out my muscles. I can under run and not be prepared for long distances. It's a delicate balance with much room for error.

I've been running off and on for several years now. But I have still not mastered it. Running has to be consistent. You can work up to a good mileage--and after a week off, be at square one again--which pretty much sums up my running career.

In about three weeks, I will be running possibly my last race beyond a 5K. I'm doing a 10K in the sweet city of Asheville, NC. I'm running to be with my friend, Peggy, who went through chemo this past year for ovarian cancer. She and her family have always been sweet inpirations for me--including their amazing running abilities. Peggy has a few years on me, but I know she will still leave me in the dust. My goal is to make her not wait for me too long at the finish line.

Even though running is a tough chore for me, sometimes I do enjoy it. I do feel pretty cleansed after good runs which could be because every pore of my body released about a tablespoon of sweat. (I'm not a pretty runner.)

If you have made a New Year's Resolution this year to run a bit and need some running "not-to-do" tips, let me know. I have stories which range from passing out in a stranger's yard to tips for why you should not wear anything but black shorts for finish line pictures. I also can give a very moving speech about protecting your toenails.

Happy New Year!
and Happy Trails!