Rio Olympics: Inspiration in victory… and defeat(!)

The Summer Olympics in Rio are winding down, but what a thrilling ride it’s been as athletes pushed the envelope of what’s possible, crushing world records with physical acumen and dedication, that we, the world watching, can hardly fathom the countless preparatory hours spent for those few minutes on the global stage. Defeat and injuries have also shared our TV screens, the decimation of dreams at times hard to watch.

Yet in victory, defeat and even disastrous mishaps there have been some truly inspiring moments this year in Rio that will be hard to forget.  Watching Michael Phelps come back after hitting rock bottom a few years ago to lead the U.S. swimming team to incredible feats – his maturity in and out of the pool something to behold.  Seeing Katie Ledecky in her quiet joyful way smash world records, having fun (her words), lifted our spirits.

Then there are the Simones. What an absolute treat to see Simone Biles (and all the U.S. gymnasts) excel, but there’s something about her exuberance that makes her excellence as an athlete all the more inspiring.  I’m not one for watching lots of swimming, but I caught the women’s 100-meter freestyle race – the fact that Americans actually made it to the final seemed like quite an achievement.  Then Simone Manuel WON!  Her look of surprise after touching the wall was priceless. Still gasping for breath out of the pool, her immediate response to NBC was: “All glory to God…”

Simone Manuel is the first African American to medal in an individual swimming event. What a great cause for celebration considering the context of segregated pools in our painful American history.  In that initial interview, you could see that significance hit her – so much now overcome.  What a powerful influence and impact she has achieved in her sport, our country, and to the world – to be more, and do more Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Since my brother likes beach volleyball (something about those uniforms?) we avidly followed Kerri Walsh Jennings with Misty May-Treanor in her previous three Olympic gold medal endeavors.  This year when Kerri Walsh Jennings teamed up with April Ross, we tracked their progress through the first week of matches. For sure, we were a little nervous when they struggled a bit with the Swiss, but they prevailed.

Watching Kerri Walsh Jennings succeed again (& again) has been inspirational, but nothing, NOTHING, like watching her reaction this week to defeat by one of the Brazilian teams that kicked them out of gold medal contention & into the bronze medal match.

In the previous three Olympics Kerri never lost a match.  That’s a heck of a lot of wins.  But, I must say, watching her reaction to her first Olympic defeat inspired me so much more than all of her victories.  When the NBC interviewer asked about the word ‘joy’ she had written on her hand, she responded, “In all moments, when life is tough, when life is great – always be grateful. I am a blessed woman and today doesn’t make me any less blessed.  It makes me more determined.”

Determination that drove Kerri Walsh Jennings & April Ross against the #1 seeded Brazilian team, Talita and Larissa, in the bronze medal match to come from behind to win one of the best beach volleyball matches we’ve ever seen.  The next day Kerri Walsh Jennings said that this medal will have a special place up there with all her gold: “we earned this bronze medal!”  Indeed, they did.

Getting third place, or not getting a medal at all seems tough after so much hard work.  I understand this a bit.  Years ago I ran the two-mile for my high school track team, a challenge since the best girl in state ran in our district, plus my best friend also ran it – always ahead of me! For two years the best I managed was third place here & there, but not enough points to earn the track pin for my varsity letter.  My senior year as I debated the grueling training (10-15 mile work out runs) & whether it was worth it (or not!) Coach Zanka said, “Hey Virginia, we need a high jumper. Since you’re a cheerleader & jump a lot, why not give it a try?” Try I did — and made it to districts, and even regionals, finally earning my track pin, much cherished after three years of trying.

For many athletes just getting to the Olympics is a a BIG DEAL.  Making into a final is also a BIG DEAL, especially in track & field where over 120 teams competed this year. There’s a great deal of pressure in the heats & semi-finals to win to move on to the final. One of THE MOST inspirational moments from these Olympics came in the women’s 5,000 meter heats when Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand fell, tripping American Abbey D’Agostino who immediately stopped to help Nikki up.  As they both started back to run, the New Zealander returned the favor when Abbey fell down from a knee injury. Both finished the race… and hugged.  Abbey blew out her knee, so most likely she won’t be competing for months, but what an inspirational legacy she leaves from these games — reflexive “small acts of kindness.”  May we emulate her example when others stumble and fall around us (literally & figuratively) to lend a helping hand.

Oh, then there’s Ashton Eaton. Earlier last week we saw him fully supporting his Canadian wife Brianne Thiesen-Eaton as she took bronze medal in the heptathlon. Watching him compete this week in the decathlon definitely caused a few heart palpitations. It’s certainly a tremendous physical feat over two days of so many events to win gold, but what touched my heart is how Ashton and Brianne really supported each other (even on different teams.)

And what the Eatons support off the track is also inspiring …

Supporting one another is also a take-away from these Olympics. In the team events it’s a bit more obvious (soccer, basketball, volleyball, water polo…) but it was also evident with American sprinter Allyson Felix (i am such a groupie) and the 4×100 relay team. When things didn’t go well after the dropped baton in the qualifying heats, they hung together, moving on to qualify by themselves, and then win the gold medal in the final. Even from brief interviews, it’s easy to see how they support each other on & off the track.

Most of us will never win a gold medal – or any medal for that matter! But we can be inspired by these amazing athletes, the winners AND the losers: all those brave enough to compete.  We don’t have to be defined by our defeats and failures. We can learn from them and draw determination to try again… and again, if necessary, to reach our goals. Sometimes we may need to take a circuitous route to reach them (like doing the high jump to get my track pin.) Other times it’s just the journey that matters, how we do what we do.  With joy?  Open to opportunities to help others? To take a seat supporting the success of others?  Or, as we can, blazing a path for others to follow…

Olympic_flag_bordergrace, peace & Olympic inspiration

Virginia : )

“Have you thought about the talents God has given you? Have you thought about how you can put them at the service of others? Set your stakes on great ideals that enlarge the heart, that make your talents fruitful. Life is not given to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in return. Do not be afraid to dream of great things!”   Pope Francis

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Martha, Martha …

Today we remember Saint Martha – Martha so busy in the kitchen while her sister, Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus.  Later we encounter Martha and Mary as Jesus dines with them again in Bethany.  Since this visit comes after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we can imagine Martha worked long & hard in the kitchen preparing a special feast.  In the Gospel of John we don’t hear any complaining from her then, just “Martha served” while Lazarus reclined at the table with Jesus.

Martha’s sister, Mary, is once again busy at the feet of Jesus. After dinner, “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.”  (John 12:3)

Martha sometimes gets a bad rap. When she huffily asked Jesus to let Mary help her during a previous dinner party, Jesus said Mary needed to stay where she was: learning at His feet.  Then later when Jesus headed toward Lazarus tomb, Martha cautioned Him about the smell.  She was definitely a detail oriented, ‘make-it-happen’ kind of person. Since she obviously managed the food prep for the family, she most likely was intrinsically involved in the household budget.

If Mary blew a whole year’s wages on perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus, don’t you think she would have run it by her sister, the budget queen? Yet, we don’t hear any objections to this extravagance from Martha.  I can picture her next to Mary, holding a cloth (so the perfumed oil won’t stain the carpet : ) … this costly anointing, costly worship of Jesus came from them both, because they both loved their brother Lazarus… and Jesus.

… We hear much about costly worship, those who have laid down their lives for Christ, and those who live sacrificially for Him in places where fumes of death, destruction and devastation permeate the air.

But there are all kinds of perfume pleasing to God. Imagine the sweet perfume of Martha’s sweat in a Middle Eastern kitchen making a delectable feast for Jesus (preparing many dinner parties during my 5-year stint in Bethlehem, my most fav offering was a 7- cheese veggie lasagne — it was very HOT for the cook!)  Imagine the perfume of Mary’s heart, to wipe dirty feet with her hair … part of her very self.

Sometimes our perfume literally takes what’s messy & makes it clean.  Like a double diaper change for a baby, a messy bed clean-up for a caregiver, or laundry duty…

When love sometimes gets messy – we can offer (by the grace of God) the perfume of our forgiveness, compassion, understanding… and love.  When life is at times very hard – we can offer the perfume of our joy (by God’s grace) amidst suffering.

Perfume comes in all shapes and sizes… small things done well, God-given gifts shared, big sacrifices that cost, but all done in love, for love, by love — fumes of love anoint the fragrance of our perfume.

perfume 2As we move through these challenging times, remember Martha & Mary’s examples: Mary physically pouring out costly perfume, Martha helping foot the bill & prayerfully supportive (after offering her perfumed sweat in the kitchen…)

grace, peace & fragrant perfume(s)

       Virginia : )

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small acts of kindness

What does it mean to be kind?

Kin” and “kindred” connote family. Kindred spirits are of like minds and hearts.

To be kind means to treat others like my kin, like family, with respect, care and compassion. To be and do something nice for them.

With all the derogatory, divisive rhetoric going on now in the U.S.A (& around the world), we could use more acts of kindness.

A smile.  A warm greeting. (In the south where I’m from, that’s a given…)

A look in the eye that says, ‘hey you, we may look different, but I value you – you are precious in God’s sight and precious to me.’

Folks are scared these days.

African Americans are afraid.  Police are afraid. Red-headed white chicks are afraid!

But we are all kin – whatever our hue – human kindred.  Human beings of human doings that sometimes leave us undone.

Looking around it might all seem too big for one person to do anything that matters.

Big acts begin with small acts done all the time.

Small acts of kindness …

Today I experienced an act of kindness when I went to get the mail.

Kindness mailerEach month I receive a devotional guide that I read every morning & evening. For some reason my August issue went astray, but a kind person took the trouble to mail it on to me.  This required an envelope and new postage ($2.20).  I was so touched & grateful to receive this (it would have been missed!)  There was no return address to send a thank you.  Whoever did this act of kindness, THANK YOU!

There are so many ways we can make small acts of kindness that benefit others. Holding doors open? Not rushing to close elevator doors when others are coming but here’s an idea, holding them open?

Returning from our Canada trip, I wrote many Trip Advisor reviews to recognize excellence, but also to help family owned eateries, businesses, hotels.  It gobbled up a bit of time, but blessed to do it.  Local restaurants appreciate a good word, too – taking 5 minutes to write a review can make a difference.

Is kindness a reflex?  After taking care of my Mama, it has become a reflex to offer assistance when I see an elderly lady struggling with packages, or getting across a street. It’s an honor to help because it’s like helping Mama.

I still have a ways to go (running late for appointments I’m the one who tends to zap the elevator doors closed like lightning.)  But there are always opportunities if we’re on the lookout for them – like the act of kindness that touched my heart today.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  Mark Twain

grace, peace & kindness grooves

 Virginia : )

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climb every mountain (or maybe not)

Virginia has been off the blogging grid awhile, but this week marks 5 years here at Roses in the Rubble (drum roll!) so she’s getting back into blogging grooves.   

Canada Rocky Mountaineer mountainMy brother and I recently returned from a two week visit to Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff & Calgary.)  We saw some spectacular mountains and experienced a few high moments – high, as in ‘very high up,’ and high, as in highlights of trip.  (A danger of traveling with my brother – he puns it up regularly!)

I’m not usually one for climbing high mountains (the altitude definitely debilitates this red head) or watching others tackle such tasks, but last week I watched Everest, an inspiring film based on a true story that hooked me with personal triumphs & tragedy… and cinematography that just, wowed!

Everest refers to Mount Everest, one of the tallest and hardest to climb mountains in the world located in Nepal.  In 1996 New Zealander Rob Hall, who founded Adventure Consultants, successfully guided a group of climbers from a crowded base camp to the summit but they got caught in a blizzard-like storm on the way down. Inspiring story from start to finish (especially how Texan Dr. Beck Weathers fares) that moved my heart.

Lots goes into a climb like that (besides grit and determination): Oxygen, weeks of altitude acclimation (after months of training), knowledgeable guides, teamwork, trust (the ropes? ladder bridges?) … but then there’s The Mountain.  Great takeaway line from movie as discussions about competition between various groups erupt, “it’s not about us vs. each other, it’s about all of us vs. the mountain.”

As the movie so aptly demonstrates when the going gets very tough.

Everest is a BIG mountain, a bit complicated to climb, but mountains of all sizes (even much smaller) can challenge us as my brother & I discovered while zooming around the majestic mountains of Banff National Park with our hired car.

Enjoying a scenic drive down the Bow Valley Parkway (sighting bull elks & a grizzly bear near the road) we decided to stop for a hike in Johnston Canyon to see several waterfalls.  A 3 mile hike – how hard could it be?

I have a thing about heights (my knees & head wobble) but I also have a thing about waterfalls (they bobble my heart!)  So we set off enthusiastically.  Trudging along, we made it to the lower falls. Beautiful. But it was another mile to the upper falls, mostly up steps and a winding path.  My in-shape-brother was a little surprised that we kept on going, but I was determined to see the upper falls.

(Bad knees, bad back, bad ankles, as in previously fractured, along with previous neck surgery for discs that occasionally misbehave..)

Huffing, puffing, I was quite pleased (& relieved) to reach the Upper Falls.  We pushed hard and we made it!  (Of course, we had to hike all the way back down and out – carefully!)

Legs, knees and back felt like jelly afterward (but hey, that’s what hot tubs are for!)

Photo: Banff, Johnston Canyon, lower view of Upper Falls (VLW)










Maybe we aren’t all cut out for Mt. Everest, but we can be inspired to tackle what challenges us close-by (& maybe not quite so high.)

Check out the movie Everest (on DVD or movie channels) & get your climbing shoes on!

Grace, peace & mountain-highs

Virginia : )

p.s. Here’s a trailer for the movie ….


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Love is a Verb

Our hearts are sickened and saddened by the senseless violence and killings over the weekend at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Shock.  Disbelief.  Anger.  Despair.

How do we respond to such reckless terror and hate? And perpetuated upon the LGBT community that has suffered such prejudice and malicious intent from so many, for so long (even Hitler during WWII.)

Everyone has their opinions – more gun laws (probably a very good idea to ban assault weapons & make stiff sentencing for those who use guns in acts of violence) or should more folks procure more guns to protect themselves?  Or should we focus on strengthening the battle against extremists (remembering that they do not represent a whole religion of over a billion people!)

It’s a complicated issue requiring complex thought – not name calling and more divisive antics that push our fractured country even further apart.  At a time like this we don’t need more Democrats or Republicans to divide us, we need AMERICANS to unify us.

As a groupie of late nite host, Stephen Colbert, I was moved by his challenge that we can change the script as these acts of terror continue.  Here’s a video  (it’s just 2 minutes to watch..)

Love gives us hope that change is possible.

Love gives us the courage to act.

Love is a verb.

My heart and prayers are with all who are suffering the loss of loved ones, struggling with injuries, with the city of Orlando in the aftermath of this violence, and especially the LGBT community in our country and all over the world.

Love gives us hope that change is possible…

grace, peace & love


p.s. here are links to two moving tributes, one from Lt. Governor Spenser Cox, a ‘white, straight, Republican politician’ in Utah, and the other from CNN’s Anderson Cooper reciting the names of the victims, (so many so young!)  I was particularly moved by the name Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, aged 49, the mother of 11 children,* a two-time cancer survivor, who was at the nightclub hanging out with her gay son. What a cool mom!  Her son survived.

(*my father was one of 11 & I am close to her age…)

Here’s Lt. Governor Cox: My Heart has Changed (click below)

And click below for Anderson Cooper’s moving tribute:

CNN Anderson Cooper: Tribute to Orlando Victims

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Mother-less on Mother’s Day…

Mama bday flowers (2)After a whole week of rainy days it was great to just be outside today absorbing sorely missed sunshine. Couldn’t help but remember the many hours spent with Mama last year on the deck lounge chairs, enjoying the trees, the breeze, and the birds tweeting about us. Tweeting around us (not sure if they noticed us enough for bird discussions) but maybe we caught their attention.  Papa always called us his two Virginias: the elegantly angelic Virginia, “Ginny” his wife (with lovely white hair), and Virginia, his daughter (with flaming red hair.)

I hope I didn’t cause too many of Mama’s white hairs, but for sure, with five children we all probably caused a few (equally distributed, of course, since my siblings read this blog!)

Contemplating these memories, suddenly TWO BLUEBIRDS flew near our birdbath. A pair – a bright blue male and an almost disguised female, but yes, as she flew away the blue peaked out from under her wings.

Mama loved bluebirds, a sighting was always cause for celebration.

It’s so hard, missing her.  I miss Papa… but we had Mama all last year to hug on when our hearts hurt. We tried to pamper her (after her 30+ years of looking after our wheelchair-to-bedfast-bound Papa, she surely needed it. Add the preceding 28 years of raising 5 children, there could never be enough pampering in the world for our Mama!)

I keep finding notes she wrote to me over the years.  When I worked overseas she sent many small cards with encouraging words, written in her precious script. I put them in books & all sorts of places, but what joy to uncover them now. It’s like hearing her voice across the divide.

And then I remember the embrace of her love.  A few weeks before she died, Mama and I sat on the loveseat in the living room and huddled a hug of comfort that lasted awhile. I know she missed Daddy each and every day – they were like glue, stuck together (but oh what joy & fun they made together.)  In his absence she let us love on her, but she loved on us, too.

Every night tucking her in, I’d say, “Mama, we love, love, love you!” Repeating it loudly so my brother Dwight would hear his cue to come in.  He’d kiss her on her left cheek while I’d get the right.  Then she would say, “you know, I love you!”  We have her notes, often slipped stealthily under our doors.  It was painfully hard for her to write, but how precious now her words, like gold.

When she couldn’t even speak that last bedridden week of Hospice, at one point she reached her spindly skinny arms up around my neck into a hug – a final embrace of her love that I will never forget.

It’s hard to be mother-less on Mother’s Day.  But I am grateful for the gift of my precious Mama’s love, and the legacy of her love – the love of God in and through her – shared in so many ways over so many days and years of faithful mothering.

Mama, we miss you!  We love, love, love, love, love you!!!

Z Great Grand kids Dean May (2)Mama last May with Dean & the great-grand-kids (Joy’s foursome : )

grace, peace & Mother’s Day blessings

Virginia : )

p.s. Here’s a poem I wrote for Mother’s Day years ago while working overseas.  I sent it to my sister who printed it out & put it in a frame as a giftie for the actual day. Several folks requested a copy after Mama’s Memorial service (where I read it under sibling pressure that all of us should share something!)

The Mystery of Magnificent Motherhood

On Mothers Day we celebrate the mystery of Motherhood. From the outside, Motherhood doesn’t seem so mysterious but just simply the mastering of responsibilities and physical tasks.  Responsibilities that include raising children to know right and wrong, not to hurt themselves, to study, and to grow from turbulent twos through the terrifying teens into functioning adults.   Physical tasks involve delivering babies (washing them, carrying them, helping them walk) cooking, cleaning…

These, admittedly, amount to a great deal of work.

Magnificent Motherhood, however, is a mystery that involves more than just responsibilities and tasks.  To understand this mystery, special qualities are required:

Magnificent Motherhood is SACRIFICE.

Selflessly sacrificing (all the time) & the last piece of chocolate cake.

Magnificent Motherhood is JOY.

Joy even when illness strikes, the pots overflow, & we act unruly..

Magnificent Motherhood is BEAUTY.

Beauty seen in us (even with pimples) & nurtured in our surroundings.

Magnificent Motherhood is GENEROSITY.

Generously sharing special gifts, checks, and Mr. Madison’s fudge.

Magnificent Motherhood is MUSIC.

Music composed in a heart overflowing with the joy of Jesus.

Magnificent Motherhood is ACTION.

Hugging us, holding our hands, and helping us through each crisis. 

Magnificent Motherhood is PRAYER.

Unceasing prayer – faithful communion with God (often on our behalf.)

Magnificent Motherhood is FAITHFULNESS.

Faithfulness to God (1st),  and 58 years (!) with the Fabulous Fossil.

Magnificent Motherhood is LOVE.

Love shared from an inner spring that never diminishes…

It’s actually very simple.

The Mystery of Magnificent Motherhood is


Virginia Francis Johnson Woodward

With love  & appreciation from her daughter,

Virginia Lea Woodward

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…a beautiful spring day…

Even though we’ve had some frosty nights this week (& one Canadian buddy posted photos of snow in Ottawa yesterday) it’s SPRING!  Flowers busting out all over make it hard to stay on the road when cherry blossoms and majestic dogwoods divert attention from the boring pavement.  Oooops.

One of my favorite spring-is-here happenings in Williamsburg has come –  the wisteria  is ‘in’ at our downtown Regional Library (of course, lots of books are also ‘in’ our library to be checked out, figuratively and literally! : )

It’s a gorgeous sight — a gigantic arbor with lavender wisteria twisting in & out & all around exuding beauty to be enjoyed…

wisteria WRL april 2014Add a blue sky, fluffy white clouds:  voila, a beautiful spring day!

So maybe the internal scenery of our lives is not so sunny right now… maybe even downright CRAPPY — but it’s still a beautiful spring day.  And hey, if we take time out from the doldrums dredging us in despair (or variations of crap), we might notice that, yes, it’s a beautiful spring day.

And if we get up off our tushies to go see the wisteria at the library, it’s interesting to note that after several months hiatus the MAD ABOUT CHOCOLATE SHOP has re-opened with all the old goodies on the menu — chocolate ganache brownies, griffin bars, cakes, cookies – the whole works.

It really is a beautiful spring day!!

“And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

IMG_3648grace, peace & beautiful spring days

Virginia : )

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