Spring Break Then and Now

One Spring Break, not too long ago, Jamie and I spent most of the week bickering about everything and nothing. My expectations for our family time together had fallen short once again. On that fateful morning, I heard Parker crying from his crib and plodded upstairs to retrieve him. He was nearly seven months old and as I lifted him out of his crib, I pulled his tear streaked face close to mine. We matched that morning. I would have a good cry right along with him. I sat down on his bedroom floor and nursed him. His cries ceased, yet mine continued.  

I heard Jackson’s small feet ambling up the stairs and he crouched down beside me on the floor. “Why you cry, Mommy?” He asked. I didn’t have an answer.  

Soon there after, I sat Parker up on my lap and a fierce burp escaped from his mouth, followed by a stream of spit up all over my pants and the rug. Before I had time to think, my sweet two-year-old sighed and said, “@#$%ing @#$%.” I’ll leave you to your own imagination. What ever words you think he said, magnify them by ten and that may be close to the truth. Probably not though.

I hung my head and cried even more. I am home with my kids every single day, and this is the best I can do? My two-year-old just said “@#$%ing @#$%” Not shit or damn. Not any regular ol’ cuss word. I should have known that we were not well right then and there. But I didn’t.

Four years later, we have circled back to the same place in our lives in so many ways, and yet, everything is different.  

Again, we have a seven month old baby. Again we just had Spring Break. Again there was some bickering. But on the whole, we are well. In the space between then and now, I’ve learned so much about myself.

I’ve learned that I need time alone to recharge. I’ve learned that it’s important to ask for help when you need it. I’ve learned that running and the outdoors are my greatest therapy. I’ve learned that everything I need to find wellness is already inside me. I just have to be intentional about carving out the time for it.  

The boys and I have hiked at least once a week since November. I couldn’t bear the thought of being shut in all winter with a baby, so I recreated my own truths about babies and the outdoors. Instead of hibernating, I bundled a baby and kids up and we hit the trails. We may not have stayed out long on the coldest of days, but we did get out.  

They don’t always love it. There is arguing and whining. But there is also exploring and romping and time to play with friends. It’s the best kind of freedom I can offer their curious souls. And it’s not completely about them. It’s about me too. I love my time in the forest, wandering along a lake or creek, talking to other Mom’s about the crazy things my kids do, and hearing their strangely similar tales. I’m always lighter when I leave the forest.    

On this Spring Break, we saw Virginia’s second highest waterfall at Bottom Creek Gorge and got caught in a surprise rain shower. The kids learned that sometimes things don’t go as planned. Make the best of it. 

Bottom Creek Gorge overlook

We had Easter egg hunts galore. This provided an important lesson in learning how to consume excessive amounts of chocolate for breakfast.


We hiked at Green Hill Park with their cousins and grandparents. They saw horses, had a picnic lunch, and enjoyed an afternoon outside with family.  

Green Hill hike

We visited Hungry Mother State Park. I snuck in a run around the lake through awe inspiring tunnels of rhododendron. We hiked to the top of Molly’s knob for an incredible view of the surrounding mountains, and we tried out geocaching for the very first time. Some amazing friends joined us for a few days and it turned out to be an awesome little getaway.

We carried a lot of bodies 3.6 miles
Little mountain baby
Approaching Molly’s Knob
Lake Loop Trail

Two of our favorite friends stopped by for a surprise visit. We laughed, told stories, drank fizzy water and got all caught up on life.  

We ran Mill Moutain Mayhem – a 10k trail race up to the Mill Mountain Star, TWICE (thanks to Jamie and Mike, as Jamie is training for a marathon around Carvin’s Cove in June). Then of course we drank some beer.


And finally, I decided to sit down and write. It calls to me all the time and I struggle to carve out any more seconds from my days, but I decided I can certainly find 30 minutes to do it, just 30 minutes for something I love. Don’t we all deserve this gift to ourselves each and everyday?

I remember what happens when we don’t extend this gift. When we start to feel that life is one long list of obligations to hurdle. When the joy starts to slowly fade away. Eventually it escapes us and we are left struggling to find our way back to ourselves.

This Spring Break deserves another cuss word. Not the sour one from years ago. It deserves a good ol’ fashioned, “Hell yeah.”  

We saw our people, we saw our places, we pursued that which brings us joy.  

“Hell yeah!” roared the parents from the top of a mountain (and then the kids did too.)

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Strength is Within

If you’re one of the estimated 65 million people who embarked on a run in the U.S. in the last 12 months, it’s likely at some point you’ve experienced the mental warfare that goes with the territory of being a runner. The mind is a powerful vessel – it can embolden us, but it can also defeat us.

Your running legs feel like lead or your lungs are achey. Maybe you can’t breathe or it’s just too cold, and as your mind acknowledges these horrible truths, the act of running becomes exponentially more difficult. This is why runners cling fiercely to their mantras. When I’m climbing the final hill after a long, slow 12-miler, there is but one thought that sits in my mind. The words echo behind each footstep. They sing together in a determined rhythm. My jaw is clenched as I recall, “Strength is within. Strength is within.”

I say these words, even though they haven’t always felt quite true. I say them because I know the power of the mind, I know that how we speak of ourselves matters. I know that the more you say something, the more it starts to feel true; when you believe strength is within, you can often find it therein.

There were years that I was a runner working to achieve fitness. I wanted to be faster, to go farther, to achieve a goal, to complete a race. But these days, my running is less about fitness and more about wellness. I’ve learned that running is the best gauge I have for my mental health. When I am able to run, I am able to feel well. And so I’ve made it a priority.

My wellness is tucked away in the fresh air I breathe as I my feet shuffle along beside a frozen creek. It’s in narrow footpaths carving passageways though rhododendron in the forest. It’s in the sense of flow that comes when my legs and my breathing and my mind all move together in a light and easy rhythm. It’s in the endorphins that circulate within my brain thereafter. My wellness and my running go hand in hand. It took me the better part of a decade to figure that one out.  

Study after study outlines the benefits that exercise and the outdoors have on depression. Trail running offers a healthy dose of both so it’s no wonder I find myself drawn to it. 

One afternoon last November, I set out running on Chestnut Ridge Trail with my friend, Mike. As I bounded downhill along a leaf littered trail, my toe clipped a root and for the briefest of seconds I was soaring through the air, arms stretched out before me in true Superwoman style. My eyes closed as my body collided with the hard ground. Mike was up ahead and reported that he heard me yell, “Oh shit,” as I went down. I was shocked I didn’t say worse. I opened my eyes and felt a horrible pain in my knee.

Often, the fall happens fast. It takes our breath away. We feel blindsided, incompetent, and frustrated by the course of events. Yet, these falls are an inescapable component of life. Relationships fail; expectations linger unfulfilled; we make terrible mistakes.  There is unimaginable loss as we cope with death and illness. Falls abound.  

There on the ground I rethought all I knew about trail running. I’m not sure I should keep this up. It’s beautiful, yes, but it can hurt too. What if I am really injured? Is trail running worth the risk? 

I lay in the leaves for a bit and then surveyed the damage. It seemed that my right knee had collided with a rock. My shin was scraped and sore, my knee boasted a bloody gash. It hurt like hell. But we were on the back side of the loop and the farthest possible distance from our cars. The only way I’d get back was by using my own two feet. So I got up and ran onward, albeit quite slowly. Strength is within, a soft voice whispered.

I was shaken. The trail had lost some of its allure – each root and stone seemed less adventurous and more like an obstacle to overcome. Eventually, I made it back to the car, drove myself home and hobbled around my house for a couple weeks with a swollen knee. I took a little break from running to be sure all was healing well.  Honestly, it was awful. I missed getting outside everyday; I missed running tremendously.  

I decided the fall isn’t the important part of the story. Each and every one of us has our own formidable challenges. But what happens after the fall is quite significant. What story do we choose to write? Do we blame the trail or others or ourselves? Do we take responsibility for our actions? Do we find a way to bring forth the strength within? Do we rise and walk onward? 

The trail runner’s dilemma is always with us. Watch the ground too closely and you will miss the beautiful scenery around you. Look up to admire the vistas for a second too long, and a root snags your toe and brings you down. I’m not so sure we can ever master this dance. Maybe all we can do is take in the beauty and make peace with our falls, knowing that more of both are yet to come if we are lucky. 

My feet are back on the trails. My heart is as full as it has ever been. My mind is clear and well. There is no question of if I will fall again. I am quite certain I will. But I’ve fallen before and each and every time that small voice inside has countered, “Strength is within.”

Guess what?

She’s right. 

Keep On Walking

Sometimes, life keeps sending the same lesson my way over and over again. I suppose it’s the world’s way of casually mentioning that I haven’t been paying attention too well. Maybe I think that I’m learning and growing, but the reality is that I’m quick to fall back into old habits. So, life answers my resistance by again presenting a situation that asks me to rethink what I know, to question the person I am or the person I hope to be.

Months ago, my friend Mike and I were running through town comparing notes on our thyroid-less lives when he suggested I write about how it is okay to walk. I knew exactly what he meant – we have an expectation for what we should be able to accomplish, for how it should look as we go about our business. It’s easy to cling to that notion instead of offering ourselves much needed grace in the face of hardship. When our lungs are achey and our muscles are tired, it’s fine to slow down and start walking. The same rule applies to life. Some days, some circumstances warrant a pace that seems less than desirable.

I struggle to accept this, and perhaps that is exactly why the concept keeps showing up in my life.

I saw the coming year as a chance for a little comeback. After running with Mike on and off for six years, we had made plans to take on a marathon together. Not only do we share a love for running, but we are also connected by being diagnosed with thyroid cancer within six months of each other. The marathon was a way to reclaim our old selves, while claiming victory over the cancer that has challenged us. 

But the world had other plans for me. Pregnancy has asked me to get more comfortable walking in my running shoes. My distances have decreased and my pace has slowed significantly. These days, I’m doing more walking than running.

I was asked to walk again when I stopped taking my antidepressant. The very first thing I noticed was that if I were going to stay off it, I was going to have to reshape my expectations for myself. I watched the rush around me; the minutes filled to the brim with constant activity, endless commitments, and it left me feeling overwhelmed by the hustle of life. I could keep up with it all when I took my daily dose of Celexa, but off it, I yearn for a slower pace.  

Thus, I consider all the things I value in this life. I turn each over carefully in my heart and make a decision. Some things stay and some things I leave behind for now. I simply cannot do everything I think I should be able to accomplish. I keep those that revitalize; those that bring joy; those that offer love. I have to accept my limits and know that today, a little slower, a little less to do, is the best gift I can offer myself. I keep walking.

Weeks ago, I was out with our black lab Libby when I wrapped my finger in her leash the wrong way. She lunged forward with full force, crunching one bone into four. If you’re going to break a finger, the middle finger is definitely the best one to break. I get a free pass at flipping the bird for the next few months, which has offered extensive comic relief. I was pissed and slightly amused as I considered that the same lesson was once again revealing itself.

This is gonna slow you down even more, but keep on walking, my mind whispered. 

It seems we are acutely aware of what we are missing, and the truth is that we are always missing something. But even in the absence of one longing, we are in the presence of another. It’s a battle of the mind. Seeing what we have, instead of lamenting that which is just out of reach. 

I remember how the earth slows down during the winter months. She seems to know that going full speed is an unsustainable venture and so in the quiet of winter she rests. She, too, takes up walking in her running shoes. The cold air moves through empty branches. Darkness falls early. Flurries glide through grey skies and settle on the frozen ground. Winter is a season rooted in dormancy. Winter knows me well.   

I still type at my keyboard with my nine working fingers. I still sneak out to Pandapas every Tuesday morning and wander through the forest with some of my favorite people. I still smile and read and laugh and cry. 

Still I walk. 

I walk down uneven sidewalks, over the coarse yellowed lawn, on a soft trail of pine needles, along the lakeshore, uphill and downhill, through an alcove of rhododendron, over stones in a creek. I breath in slowly, deeply, and think to myself, What a lucky, lucky fool am I!


“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” -MLK

      

4 + 1 = Life’s Next Big Adventure

I sat in a familiar waiting room while my foot bounced up and down, releasing nervous energy out into the quiet air. The lab results were taking way too long, and I sensed it. There was no way I’d be on time to my next appointment. What could possibly be taking so long?  

My mind walked through my current to-do list:
1. Visit my endocrinologist’s office to run a few lab tests. Check.
2. Drive to Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
3. Ingest tracer dose of radioactive iodine.
4. Isolate at my parents’ house for two days.
5. Whole body scan to compare current radioactive iodine uptake to last year’s results. Hopefully, it would be low, meaning all thyroid cells, cancerous and not, had been destroyed.

I would never make it past the first item on my list.

The nurse came to the doorway and called my name, “Sarah?”  

I grabbed my purse and walked toward her. If I drove like a maniac, I might still make it on time. She leaned against the wall in the hallway while she explained, “Your test came back positive.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Look, right here,” she pointed at some words on the paper in her hand. Meanwhile, I stared dumbfounded.

“You’re pregnant. Congratulations! I guess you won’t be taking the radioactive iodine this morning.”

“You’re joking,” I stammered. 

“No, I’m really not. You’re pregnant.”  

Life can be so utterly fascinating. I thought I would be taking a radioactive pill that morning, but instead, drove home with a different variety of pills – a bottle of prenatal vitamins. This is how I know that God has one hell of a sense of humor!

I wish I could say that in those first moments, I was struck with overwhelming joy, but the truth of the matter is I was absolutely scared to death. My whole world changed in an instant and I was working to make sense of what it all meant. I had finally come up for air after spending years suffocating below the surface. My mind replayed one thought over and over again: what if I go back under?

It wouldn’t take long for the wave to find me. My thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was purposefully sent over 100 in preparation for the radioactive iodine, and it took weeks to bring it back into the normal range (for me, as close to zero as possible). Additionally, on my doctor’s advice I stopped my antidepressant cold turkey, which I realize in hindsight was not the best strategy. Discontinuation syndrome took over as the increased supply of serotonin in my brain was shut off too quickly. I spent weeks right back in the dark place I had just escaped. Slowly, serotonin levels began to rise on their own, but the waiting game was unbearable. Add all this to the regular pregnancy woes and here’s what you are left with: a crumbling, exhausted mess that once resembled a person.  

However, as the end of the first trimester draws closer, I’m feeling much better. I’ve come back up for air. My thyroid hormone levels are closer to normal; I survived the discontinuation syndrome, and I am almost out of the hardships that characterize the first trimester. I spent weeks uncertain if I would actually be able to stay off the antidepressant. I still worry about postpartum. But the good news is that I know what to look for. I’m not so foolish as to think I don’t need to take care of myself, and I’m learning how to ask for help when I need it.  

For many years, Jamie and I have talked about the possibility of having a third child. We are third children ourselves, and I’ve long suspected the third child born from third children would certainly be one amazing child. However, we were leaning toward being content as a family of four. I’d only recently begun to feel like myself again, our kids were getting older and less needy, and I simply wasn’t feeling all that brave in the Grow Your Family Department.

This little one is helping us to reconsider.  

Each new day, I close the door on all the expectations I have for how my life “should” be and instead, commit myself to all that is real and true. I laugh right along with God. I decide that my mantra for 2017 is without a doubt, “Trust the timing of your life.”  

I’m trusting something bigger than myself. I’m seeing the gift I have been blessed with. And the timing of it all was indeed, miraculous. Had my doctor’s appointment been any earlier in the month, it’s unlikely that my pregnancy would have been detected. I would have taken the radioactive iodine, and I’m sure our baby would not have survived.  

So we are carving out space in our hearts and in our home for this new little one. We are also carving out space in my body. I’m sporting a round pooch that makes you wonder how many times I over indulged at Chipotle this week. I may have already gained 12 pounds. Pants are my enemy. I’m exhausted. I’m starving. Holy moly, I’m growing a baby! 

Jackson wants to go ahead and bring all the infant stuff out of the basement so we’ll be ready. He tells anyone who will listen that we are having a baby. With eyes opened wide in amazement he confides, “It’s the size of a blueberry!”  

At day’s end, I follow behind four feet marching up the stairs. There are books and songs and whispers as I tuck two little boys into warm beds. Kisses are exchanged and then one small voice says, “I need to kiss the baby goodnight.”  

It makes me smile as I reply, “That’s a great idea, Jackson. Our baby is so lucky to have a big brother like you.” He scoots close on the bed and bends down, placing his puckered lips on my growing belly. “Mwah!”  

And just like that, love overshadows all of my worries, all of my doubts and every single last one of my fears.  

Invisible Scars

A year ago, a nurse wheeled me down a long hallway toward Jamie after my total thyroidectomy. He sat with me for a bit before my parents came down to check on me. They stood at my bedside smiling and doing most of the talking. I was a bit groggy as I looked at them and whispered, “How big is it?”  I knew I shouldn’t really care about my incision, but there was a part of me that did. 

My dad moved his pointer finger up to his neck and traced an invisible line as he explained, “It goes from one side of you neck all the way over to the other side.” 

What? Across my entire neck? I had thought the damage would be so much smaller.  

My mom nudged my dad and gave him the marital death stare. I knew the words she was speaking with her glance. “Pete, come on! Can’t you tone it down a little bit? You don’t have to be completely honest right now.”

Today, one year later, this cut that went from one side of my neck all the way to the other side, is barely noticeable. It is a thin white line that has faded over the passing of 365 days.  

This scar I carry with me often reminds me of fear and bravery, uncertainty and grace, hardship and love.

It is a physical symbol of the struggle I went through last year. But not all scars are so visible. Quite often, they remain unseen, hidden away far below the surface. I’ve decided that these are the hardest scars to carry.

Long before my cancer scare, I was sick and I didn’t even know it. I suspect that sometime after Parker was born, I started a long slow fall into depression. The signs were all there, but I missed every single one of them. I was exhausted. I wasn’t running. I was perpetually irritable and overwhelmed. Mostly, I was numb. I tried to explain things away. Motherhood is just hard, I told myself. This will all get easier. I just need to try harder. I just need to keep looking the part. Keep mothering. Keep pushing on. Keep making dinner. Keep smiling. I became an actress by day as I went through the motions of all that I thought I should be doing.  

Days and weeks and months and years got harder and harder. I was completely overwhelmed with the demands of my life. I wondered how on earth people got it all done. I napped with the kids nearly everyday because exhaustion was a constant companion. I withdrew from the people I love. I was wrought with the guilt of falling short over and over again and began to harness a growing resentment toward the people I love most. I was working so damn hard to survive, to make it through each passing day.  It felt like I had to give twice the effort to accomplish only half of a task. I could sense that I was a shell of my old self, but I couldn’t make sense of what I was feeling.  Where was the person I used to be? I wrote her off as having disappeared after the kids were born. Apparently, she had the good sense to get out of town and escape the mayhem that surrounded me.

It turns out, the old “me” was in there all along. She was waiting patiently for the numbness to fall away, for me to walk back into the light.

This summer, I got lucky and stumbled my way out of the darkness.  

It was an ordinary Saturday morning. We had plans to meet an old family friend at Barnes and Noble and so Jamie and I worked through the process of getting clean clothes on everyone so that we could look mostly civilized when we arrived.  

As my feet trod down the stairs, I glanced at the clock and realized we were all ready to go and it was quite early in the day. The sun was shining and blue skies shown through our finger smudged windows. Parker sat in front of the storm door with his right leg bent before him as he worked to fit his small foot into the correct shoe. I felt something odd stir within me. It rose up in my chest. It was light. It was something I had not felt in a very very long time. It was the faintest seed of joy.  

JOY!

“Maybe I’m getting better,” I thought to myself. “Maybe everything is going to be okay.”

I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and walked back into the kitchen. I opened the cabinet and pulled out the medication I’d been prescibed four weeks earlier as I sat before a doctor sharing details that I’d hoped to spare everyone.  

My palm pushed down on the white top and twisted the cap off. One small pill fell down into my palm. I grabbed a small water glass and took an antidepressant. It was the first time I didn’t second guess my decision to do so.

I carried a small hope around with me for an entire day. Maybe I’m getting better. Maybe joy would find me again.  

It was the beginning of my return to life.  

At first I felt intense relief that I would not have to live that way any longer. I was free from the cage that had held me.  Thankfulness washed over me as I reclaimed myself.  But then the shame and regret set in. I had missed years of my kids’ lives. Everything I should have felt when Parker was a baby, I had missed. Even though I’d been there physically, I was numb through it all. The memories felt tainted by my depression, by my irritation, by my anxiety. A wave of guilt swelled around me as I thought about how this has affected my boys and my husband. It was enough to make me cry for a very long time.

There is a saying that happiness is a choice. I used to believe these words. Now I know it’s not always as simple as that. Sometimes the wall is too high, the hole is too dark. Sometimes we just can’t find our way out.

I am learning to make peace with what happened. I can beat myself up over the past, over something I cannot change, or I can start living today.    

But making peace is some hard, heavy work. As I started that process, it occurred to me that while I’ve never once been ashamed of my thyroid cancer diagnosis, there is a sense of shame that I feel at having suffered from depression. It taunts me at times, whispering, “Your life is beautiful. What reason could you possibly have to be depressed?”

I’m a girl who likes answers and it unnerves me that I have no reasonable explanation. My mind walks through postpartum, through a move, through motherhood, through thyroid cancer and knows that one or all of these reasons are enough. But that doesn’t satisfy shame’s torment.  

So I find myself back in familiar territory, typing steadily away at my keyboard. It’s a place that helps me make sense of the senseless; a place I find hope in my heartache. My fingers dance together, bringing a story I have tucked deep within me out into the crisp fall air. I remember the heaviness I carried for so long, the way I struggled to get through the day, the relief I felt when plans fell through because I wouldn’t have to put energy into pretending to be okay.  Depression stole a few years of my life, but it didn’t steal them all. I am fortunate to have found joy again, to have found myself. 

I am alive once again.

For me, this December will be about finding and sharing joy. Our little family will watch the twinkling lights scattered though trees and outlining homes as we drive through town on dark, blustery nights. We will roam the fields at Joe’s Tree Farm with red cheeks and runny noses. We will breathe in the scent of pine that fills our living room while the boys play game after game of foosball. We will drink hot cocoa and build a blazing fire below festive stockings. We will savor the joy of gathering together with the people we love. We will rejoice. And this year, I will bask in the fullness of the season. Joy isn’t just around me; it is once again within me.

Our scars, whether visible or not, tell a story. They are little miracles that show our ability to heal after trauma. They are proof of our resilience; proof that we have stood in the fires of life and walked onward.

May we remember the perspective we have gained, the lessons we have learned along the way.  May we be brave enough to carry each of our scars with unwavering grace. 

Las Vegas and Pick Pockets

I promised myself I would run a marathon after each baby was born. It was a promise I would keep. Thirteen months after Jackson was born, I ran the Ridge to Bridge Marathon in North Carolina. Sixteen months after Parker was born I ran the Huntsville Marathon in Alabama with Jamie. These races were an attempt to reclaim a part of my life that fell away during my pregnancies. I was hoping to remember who I was, to restore my identity.

I first became a runner soon after Jamie and I were married.  I glean tremendous joy from chosing a race, training for it, and then putting myself to the test on race day. It provides a great opportunity for obsessive compulsive micromanaging, which control freaks such as myself enjoy. I’ve been getting ready for the Las Vegas Half Marathon since way back in March. Most of that time was just me thinking about the race, registering, and buying a plane ticket. It was not until September that the hard work started.  

Consistent running has been difficult for me for years. I’ve struggled with it since my children were born and it went from bad to worse after my thyroidectomy last Decemeber. I’ve been tired; I’ve been overwhelmed; I’ve not been myself.  

All of that changed right before my 34th birthday. I found my groove and have steadily plugged away at three runs a week getting ready for this race. My runs have been far from excellent. I’ve started out too fast on long runs and struggled horrifically during the last few miles. I’ve had achey lungs, I’ve plodded, I’ve walked, I’ve complained, most often to Jamie but also to my friend and running partner, Mike.  

A fews weeks back I was having one of those runs that are characterized by too many beers the night before. As Mike and I shuffled down the Greenway, I explained my latest epiphany: it seems that runners must, in some way, like to torture themselves. When we are pushing our limit in pace or distance, it hurts. When we are unprepared, we are miserable. Sometimes it’s the conditions that get the best of us – the heat, the rain, the wind. There is physical pain. There is mental warfare. There is struggle. Yet, I keep coming right back to it.  

Why? 

Running is very much like living. It’s an endurance event. There are long hills we climb and summit. At the top, we stand proudly taking in the beautiful view we are so fortunate to behold. We recognize the effort that went into it all. We are in awe of what was possible on that day – of all that our eyes saw, of strength and ability, of the fine people we’ve shared it all with. Running and life both hold the promise of amazement. 

Then again, there are the moments we struggle through it all. We can’t gain any traction. We are exhausted. We are hurting. We feel like despite all our effort, we are getting no where, making little progress. We fail at an endeavor and grieve what never was. Running and life both hold the promise of hardship.

Yet we go forth. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. We hold onto the hope that the struggle is worth it – that all the good stuff is still out there somewhere, even if we can’t quite see it right now.

Last Friday, when I set out for Las Vegas with two of my sisters, we arrived at the airport in Greensboro and were immediately bumped to a flight that would get us to Las Vegas EARLIER than our original flight.  What?  That never happens!  Then the gate employee gave us three tickets for a free adult beverage.  We were flying high.  All was well.  

Six hours later we landed in Vegas.  Somewhere between getting off the plane and arriving at the rental car depot, my wallet was lost or stolen.  The night plummeted hard and fast.

I first thought I could have left it on the plane.  I had purchased a pair of headphones, so I was certain I’d had it on the flight.  I back tracked to the Delta ticket counter hoping someone had found it on the plane and turned it in.  There was no such luck.  It was no where to be found.  St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes, had far more dire events to attend to.  

My stomach was in knots. Here I was in Vegas with no identification and no money.  The cash I brought with me was gone forever by now. Things were going horribly awry. 

I sat on a bench stewing over it all while I waited for my sisters to pick me up outside the airport. With some time, I realized life will go on, with or without my wallet.  The half marathon on Sunday will go on.  I am well.  We are safe.  It could all be so much worse.

Running and life are a mixed bag. They are candy and cavities, summer and sunburn, Vegas and pick pockets.  Through the highs and the lows we will keep on moving. 

 We will endure.  

This is all I am sure of.

Now, I’m off to spend other people’s money. Thank goodness for sisters. I promise I’ll pay you all back, if I can just get back home without my I.D. 

Saved By a Hot Dog

The course was one hilly beast.  Jamie talked about this excessively in the weeks before the Salem Half Marathon, and boy, was he right.  A wave of hills in the beginning, two trips over the Colorado Street Bridge, and one massive hill at mile 12 made for a race course with 615 feet of elevation gain.  My race strategy stood in grave contrast to Pam’s, from “The Office.”  She planned to run fast at the beginning, fast in the middle, and fast at the end.  My plan was to start out slow, maybe speed up a little on the flat parts, and then make it to the finish line.  

Finish, I did.  There is nothing like it.  When you start training, you have trouble thinking you will ever run five miles, much less 13.1.  As the weeks pass, you add a mile here and there and before you know it, you’ve run 7 miles.  It wasn’t pretty, but you did it.  A month later, you get up to 11 miles and you know that on race day, you’ll be mostly ready.  This is perhaps, the best part of running.  One step a time, one run at a time, you are slowly building stamina and strength.  It’s baby steps.  You run a little bit farther each week, and eventually can run a distance that at first seemed unimaginable.  Tiny steps in the right direction add up over time.  They turn into something big.  

The people you run with also matter, quite a lot.  These people watch you suffer on some long, hot miles.  They pull you along.  They slow down to walk with you.  They distract you from your aches with their conversation.  Sometimes, when you are crumbling, they show up with exactly what you are needing.  

My sister Amy drove in from North Carolina to run the Salem Half.  Once Jamie, Amy, and I were across the finish line, we discussed the crazy hills and then set off on important business: find some beer.  I always get a little excited about a cold beer and that afternoon was no exception.  Smiling, we carried our amber cups and sat down on the pavement to celebrate 13.1 long miles, middle-aged stiff muscles, and great company.  

The beer went down easy.  It was cold, refreshing and nothing short of amazing.  But pretty soon I realized I was not feeling well.  I had two slices of buttered toast an hour before the race started.  Now, it was nearly 1 o’clock and I was starting to fade fast.  The beer probably wasn’t helping.

“I’m not feeling so good, guys.  I think I really need to eat something.”  I explained.  

There was a little problem.  We’d bought a lot of beer tickets.  Nearly full cups sat before us and several tickets were yet to be used. 

We devised a plan.  Drink up, then we’ll head to a restaurant and gorge ourselves on anything and everything on the menu.  I sat on the pavement hoping the feeling would pass.  

“Maybe I can find some food to buy,” Amy suggested.  “I’ll wander around a little and see what they have.”

I waited.  The emptiness was growing.  I felt ill.  I reminded myself that next time, food shall come before the beer.  

And that’s when she walked back carrying the most glorious hot dog I have ever laid eyes on.  “Thank you! Thank you! You are the best!”  I cheered as she passed it into my hands.  She really is the best.

“You want chili on it?” she asked.  “I’ll go back and get some chili.”

“No, no.  This is good.  This is perfect.”

I inhaled it because chewing is overrated when you are starving.  The hollowness in my stomach was giving way to substance.  Immediately, I started to feel better.

My sister saved the day with that hot dog, reminding me that most often, the best parts of life are our people.  They love us, they help us, they celebrate our victories and stand with us in hardship, they notice when we are in dire need of a hot dog and then they go and procure one.  

Thanks, dear sister.  You are a rock star.  I’m so thankful you are one of my people.

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