Running: A Love Story

I started running eight months ago, not because I needed to lose weight or had gotten a diagnosis from the doctor, but because I turned 39 in February and was feeling a little lethargic. As a work-from-home mom of three teenagers, I spend a lot of time putting out fires while sitting at the computer or driving a kid to rehearsal. I knew I needed to do something to clear the cobwebs in my head and get my blood pumping, or I’d slip into middle age with declining energy and increasing girth. So when my sisters challenged me to train for a 10K this year, something I’d never considered before, I took them up on it. I ran my first race in April and I’m training for another one in the Fall. At this point, as far as running goes, I’m all in.

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But, as wonderful as running is (my sisters and I refer to it as “fun-pain”), it isn’t a panacea. In the last eight months, I’ve sustained personal loss and experienced struggles both in my job and in my parenting. Running, as great as it is, hasn’t solved my problems. But it’s helped me keep going.

When my beloved grandmother lost a protracted battle with pancreatic cancer this past Spring, I ran as tears slid underneath my sunglasses and dripped off my chin. I ran through anger and listlessness and fatigue. I ran like a bear was after me. I was surprised to find that, while I can’t outrun my sorrow, grieving while moving feels better to me than grieving standing still. I’ve discovered I like the wind to dry my tears.

fullsizeoutput_b47As well as being a homeschooling mom, I’m a writer whose current manuscript sits in a (seemingly endless) editing phase. I often fight frustration and, let’s be real, shall we? total despair as I try to coax what’s in my head to reappear on paper for the sixty-seventh time. Running does not give me “ideas” like it seems to for other writers. It does not untwist plot problems or unlock inspiration. On the other hand, the grit and consistency I’m developing in my runs seem to be helping me stay the course in my work, too. When I’m tempted to procrastinate, or to make excuses when I’m stuck in a literary quandary, I remember that I’ve learned to run when I feel like it—and when I don’t. This means I can work when I don’t feel like it, too. Feet on pavement, butt in chair. One kind of showing up helps the other.

 

fullsizeoutput_b4eHave I mentioned I’m a mom of three teenagers? Parenting is hard. Parenting wannabe adults is, arguably, hardest of all. I find myself short on patience and long on irritation, these days. Running does not produce in me a Zen-like serenity that remains unruffled in the face of my kids’ less adorable tendencies. It doesn’t offer ‘aha’ moments when I suddenly see where we all went wrong (see above). Then again, running gives me time to myself, to be quiet and breathe, to pound out adrenaline and fear, to pray. And it must be helping because, if we’ve all had a particularly trying day, or I get a certain look in my eye, my kids’ll say, “Hey, Mom. Maybe you should go for a run.”

And I do.

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On Running

dsc_0613-2I started training for a 10K a month ago because my sisters asked me to run one with them. But now I’m running because I’m hooked. Turns out I love the oxygen blasts, the racing blood, the endorphin breaker waves after. I like how my legs are firming up and how I sleep better at night. I like the extra time outdoors, too, since I suffer from SAD this time of year.

But also, I hurt.

I don’t mean in an I’ve-sustained-an-injury kind of way. More of a someone-whipped-me-with-a-baseball-bat-while-I-was-in-a-coma-but-now-I’m-awake-again-and-have-to-live thing.

If someone were to look at the search history on my laptop, they might find:

Normal to hurt all over after running?

Groin pain common new runners?

Running bad for knees?

Old running

39-year-old women running for the first time. Bad?

But I already know I’ll keep running no matter what because I’ve decided it’s worth it. The good, ultimately, far outweighs the bad, even though I feel achy almost every dang day.

I’m reminded that running is a lot like life–especially the life of faith. It’s hard and painful, sometimes for long periods of time, but there are good things in store for those who persevere. So often we need people to keep pace beside us to remind us that better times are ahead, especially when our lungs burn with exhaustion.

In the end, I want to be like Paul, who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I want to run and not give up.

Beauty for Today, Too

I could not stop crying yesterday even as my kids hung around me and looked stressed, even after I stared into my HappyLight until it felt like I’d journeyed to the heart of the sun. Today my face is an old water balloon, like I knew it would be.

When I slammed my alarm off and opened my Bible this morning, this is what greeted me:

“All flesh is like the grass

And all its glory like the flower of grass.

The grass withers,

and the flower falls,

but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.*

And, friends, that’s truly where my hope lies–and my grandmother’s. It’s not in tightening or whitening creams, not in regimens or good lighting or even temporary good health. Our hope lies in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he purchased forgiveness of our sins, and it lies in the promise of eternal life with him. The promise of himself as the ultimate gift. It really is more than enough for today, tomorrow, and forever.

*1st Peter 1:24-25 (ESV)

Beauty for Ashes

There is something bizarre about staring at your 39-year-old face in the mirror, the one that’s held up ‘til now (more or less) but is beginning to give up the fight, not all at once, but in little slip-ups under the eyes and near the nose, while also thinking about your dying grandmother. She doesn’t want to die right now, but pancreatic cancer doesn’t care what she wants, and you watch the familiar melt away, one day at a time. She doesn’t pencil in her brows anymore or wear the pixie-cut wig she paid so much for during chemo. That’s how you know where things stand.

You look at your own face and think about how you’ll get even older than you are now, older than this. The fat pads that have already begun their Emperor Penguin march down your face will sink further until they hang like chicken cutlets toward the center of your expression—you’ve seen it on others–and you think about the way you plan to hold them up without plastic surgery, like Natural Woman magazine said: Smile even when you aren’t happy.

But you know you’ll keep being shocked at your reflection until you die because your grandmother is shocked at hers and she’s 81. Only in her case, the fat isn’t resting along her jawline, log-jammed and soft and sweet. It’s gone. And you realize for the first time how very good fat is, how much you love and need it to feel normal.

You start crying, again, because you love her so much and because it’s unacceptable to watch her evaporate like this. You think about the futility of everything, of the hair color you use and the tinted sunscreen, of the 10K you’re trying to run. You hate yourself for wondering if your tears are, even now, speeding up the aging process. You dab your eyes with toilet paper (never tug), and you Google medium coverage CC creams that cost a little more than you can afford. Because you can’t not care, God help you, though none of it matters in the end. You notice your eyes get small when you cry, but are nice enough under makeup, what with your inherited good eyebrows. Like her eyes used to be.

All the hanging on, the self-pity, it’s ashes and dust. You’ll end up there anyway, you think, if you live long enough. People say

Embrace your age,

love it,

it’s only a number,

 beauty is ageless,

you’re only as old as you feel,

beauty is skin-deep,

death is natural,

 circle of life,

she lived to a good age,

she’s leaving behind a legacy of love.

Noise.

You want to see your grandmother again in the New Earth, where everything sad has finally come untrue, and you want her to be thirty and strong and sexy with her tiny waist and red lips and shiny black hair. And you want to run to her and grab her up and swing in circles while you both laugh and she raises one arched eyebrow and says, “Hi, darlin’.”

So you’ve decided you’ll wait ‘til then. You’ll watch your own face melt and keep smiling. You may even accept the process of dying after a while. But you don’t have to like it, you remind your reflection. You don’t. In the meantime, you’ll be happy for her, whose glory will soon be more shocking than you can imagine because she’ll bathe in the light of Jesus and he’ll have made her smile forever.

*I said I wasn’t going to blog anymore–or probably not–or not very much, but here I am, posting this blast of grief because of what’s going on in my life right now. So be it. Sigh*

Further Up, Further In

psx_20160512_125110Recently, I went back and read the first post I ever published on this blog, and it reminded me why I started blogging in the first place. I’d just come back to the U.S. after living in India for three years. I was grieving. I didn’t know how I was supposed to be in this new/old culture. Writing helped me to bear witness to the confusion of repatriation and to the eventual clarity that time and distance gifted me.

After a while, cultural commentary/navel gazing snippets morphed into other kinds of posts, some about homeschooling, some about learning how to be a stay-at-home mom without losing myself completely. And then there were updates about the new global adventures I ended up on, ones I didn’t see coming.

But then I wrote a novel. And another one, and then one after that. I still blogged, but it felt different, like digging in a sandbox without a shovel. This summer I attended an enormous writers conference where I thought, This whole fiction writing thing isn’t beyond my reach after all. And I didn’t blog once.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle,

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…come further up, come further in!”

He gave these words to a noble character named Jewel, and he wasn’t talking about writing, but about Aslan’s Country. Still I resonate with them when I think about writing stories.

Which brings me to this: I’ve been thinking I need to step away from blogging. It’s been enormously helpful for me to write about what bubbled to the surface of my brain these last few years, but now my brain is full of fiction. I won’t delete this space, but it may gather dust. Or, who knows, I may come back to it one day when I need it most. But I suspect I’ll probably just keep writing–and living–stories.

Thanks for reading. It’s meant a lot.

The Next Thing

This summer has been a doozy.  I lost a grandmother, rode the rails of the cancer train with another grandmother (still riding), had a grandfather fall and break his hip–and this while he suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s.  I’ve been on an extended family vacation, finished a manuscript, tried to sleep at night (and found myself unsuccessful).  I’ve done my level-best, along with millions of other Americans, to ignore our political candidates and their latest absurdities, but found myself horrified anyway when I peaked through my fingers.

All in a few weeks’ time.

DSC_0690This summer has been a doozy, yes, and I’m almost ready for it to be over, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary.  Everything we go through, each day that passes, is, in its own mysterious way, a necessary part of the whole that makes up our lives.  Our experiences shape us and we shape them (which is what writing is, in the end, the shaping of events into stories we can tell until we begin to understand them a little).  God helps us with the shaping, and that’s a good thing since he’s the one who holds everything anyway.

Still, I look forward to the coolness of fall, the reassurance of routine.  I prepare to kiss summer goodbye this time without a hint of nostalgia.  It’s almost time and I’m ready.

 

 

Since Then

June was insane.  I finished a draft of my third novel by writing every day for thirty days, no excuses, including weekends (I logged about 40,000 words).  During ten of those days, my husband was singing in California, leaving me to parent our 12, 13, and 14-year-old on my own (read: forage for brightly colored foods like pop ice and cheese and binge-watch old episodes of House while the kids played too many video games when they should have been sleeping).

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(Photo by my son, Ivan)

By the time my husband finally came home in early July my youngest sister and her three kids were already visiting our home to celebrate Independence Day.  Then, suddenly, my grandmother passed away, and my middle sister and her three kids drove thirteen hours to join the rest of us during that hard time.  The last seven days are a smear of lipstick and tears.

And, to quote Sarah Mclachlan, I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.

A few things come to mind: 1). Life happens in contractions.  There’s the normal we get bored of and there’s the pain we resent.  2). We don’t appreciate the respite without the strain in-between, and 3). You can still get a lot of stuff done in chaos, but you’re always glad when you managed to work ahead and can somewhat avoid that I-can’t-feel-my-feet feeling.

And then there’s this.  God is always good, even when life isn’t.