Thursday, December 20, 2012

Living in the Gray

Ten weeks ago I was living in the now. Today I'm living in the gray. Well "now" is "gray," so maybe it's all the same.

I grew up seeing the world in black and white. Maybe all kids do, but I think my robust church-going and Bible-reading youth especially instilled in me a comfortable association with rules and the "right and wrong" ways to live. My Type A, perfectionistic personality also contributed to my embracing a life lived inside my own carefully constructed box.

I realized this week that recently I've stepped out of that box, discarded some of my longstanding rules, and said good-bye to the certainty and safety of a black-and-white existence. This has nothing to do with my moral code and little to do with my faith. Instead, it's about how I think about life today and in the future.

Perhaps this is another part of growing up. As a youth, you have this vision of what your life is going to look like, where you'll be in 10 years, what job you'll hold, when you'll get married, at what age you'll have kids, and so forth. But then inevitably you realize those dreams and all of that idealism and your picture-perfect perspective is not real life. And that safe box of predictability and contentment cracks...or shatters.

I think this happens to all of us as we gain life experience and human wisdom. But for me, this box-shattering and black-and-white blending is about accepting that I do not know what the future holds, and coming to terms with the discomfort that creates within me. Some days I'm content with not knowing, not having a plan. Some days I'm so uncomfortable with the absence of certainty that I either obsess or disengage—neither of which are constructive.

I continue to realize how far my people pleasing nature reaches. Not until I allow myself to be influenced by others' opinions or questions do I begin to think that I should feel a particular way, or that I should be charting a a specific course of action. Even if I feel a peace in the process, I am easily swayed by your voice.

And that enrages me about myself.

Because your voice will always be there. But this is my journey, not yours. Your box may be intact, but don't try to fit me within your lines, please. You may have a lot of unanswered questions, appropriate concerns, and well-meaning opinions, but please keep this in mind: I, and I alone, have to answer for my own happiness. I have to chart my own course. To you, it might be simple—it might be black and white.

But me? I'm living in the gray. And I'm OK.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Forgiveness, Part 2

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately.

Recently I wrote a post about it. I believe this was a genuine experience and that I knew real forgiveness in that moment—and beyond. But lately, I've begun to ask new questions and really search my heart.

One question I've considered: Can true forgiveness occur in the absence of change? Can one really forgive another unless that person who wronged her shows remorse and evidence of change? 10 weeks ago, I chose forgiveness without seeing change, knowing if change had or was going to occur, or even understanding how exactly I had been wronged. I simply knew that I was full of anger, hurt, hatred, and bitterness. I knew it was destructive to allow those feelings and emotions to fester. I knew they would choke me out, and I wanted freedom from it all.

So is that "selfish forgiveness?" Did I forgive because I wanted to be free from my own pain, because I hoped that in choosing to surrender my malice, I would move forward toward peace? Maybe I wasn't really loving another person well in that moment, but trying to love myself better? Or maybe both. Perhaps you can't remove one from the other...

Last weekend Joel and I talked about forgiveness. He shared his belief that change is required for real forgiveness to be extended. He thinks often true forgiveness is mistaken for a mere "letting go" of the pain one feels because time and distance eventually bring peace. While I understand his perspective, I (currently) don't agree. I think a person can forgive another without condition. I don't think it's easy by any means, nor do I think it happens often. But I do think it's possible, and I'd like to think that I chose such forgiveness last summer.

However, today I don't feel so free in my forgiveness. Right now something is holding me back from really, truly letting go. Maybe forgiveness, like love, is an ongoing choice—an action that you choose to walk out on a daily basis, rather than a momentary feeling, or an epiphany of sorts.

Is anyone out there a forgiveness guru? :) Or just have some experience or insight to contribute? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 18th Mile

I feel like I'm running a marathon. And I'm (slowly) passing the 18th mile marker.

I used to roll my eyes when people would talk about "trials and tribulations" (usually in religious circles), as if life were so difficult and unbearable. I would think, "Buck up! It's really not that bad. Get over it. Life is grand! Be positive...blah, blah blah." Clearly I had never faced a real trial of any kind.

I've always been generally aware of how good my life has been, of how easy a road I've traveled through my 28 years. I used to think that I was due for a circumstance or situation to knock me off of my pedestal where I was living high and happy above the masses, with no real cares or concerns or hardships. But I thought that scenario would be something of a physical nature—like cancer or a major car accident (my mind is so optimistic, no?).

Well recently my life took a turn, and I fell flat on my face at the bottom of the damn pedestal. I'm happy to say that my cardiovascular and respiratory systems are still intact, although my nervous system has taken quite a beating... 

However, as much as life is hard, life is also very good. Which is why I feel like I'm running a marathon.

The past 3 months have felt like a 26.2-mile trekk to a yet-unseen finish line. I've enjoyed some exteme highs—moments when the endorphins are coursing through my veins, my breathing is steady, I'm mentally in the zone, my body is buzzing with adrenaline, and I feel as if I could run forever. And then there have been some pretty awful lows—times when I'm not sure I can take another step, when every muscle in my body is cramping and my IT band is throbbing, when I feel nauseous and defeated and wonder why the hell I ever started running.

But that's when the endurance kicks in. That's when I muster up the little strength I have left, tap into the encouragement from those slogging beside me and the energy of those cheering from the sidelines, and ultimately, seek the source of divine strength to keep...on...running.

So. I think I'm at mile 18. I'm getting quite tired. And I'm realizing there's a good chunk of this race left to go, which makes me feel even more exhausted mentally. But I'm over halfway fact, I'm almost three-quarters of the way to the finish line. I'm just not sure what's waiting for me on the other side...

I'll let you know once I get there.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Art of the Walk

Running is my first love. Has been since I was a freshman in high school who ran the 1600-meter track event and finished in last place every single meet. (To this day being on an outdoor track evokes feelings of pure dread.) So while I quickly realized 14 years ago that speed isn't my thing (have you seen the length of my legs?) I discovered that this little body can keep moving for a while. And that's where I thrive—in the distance.

While running will always have my heart, lately I've discovered a newfound appreciation for the art of the walk. I used to view walking as an activity for the elderly, the injured, or the breast cancer aware. But these days I've enjoyed walking for walking's sake. I may not be working up a sweat or burning a maximum amount of calories or feeling that pure euphoria that running provides, but walking has a few perks that running—and most other forms of exercise—do not.

1. Real reflection. I have used many a run to pray and think and talk to myself (and even scream and cry), but I have yet to master steadfast and deep reflection while on a run. For me, running allows a spurt of ephiphanies, quick revelations, and bursts of cognitive and emotional release. On the other hand, walking provides the space to relax my mind. I can practice deep breathing. I can release pent-up energy and anxiety through movement while simultaneously exploring the thoughts and feelings I am experiencing in that moment. There are no breaks in my meditative flow because of a particularly steep hill, belabored breathing, or a cramp in my piriformis (seriously, what is with that?) After most walks, I find myself dashing to my journal to record the fruit of my reflections.

2. Sensory engagement. I like to think that I'm very in tune with my senses. I've been told that I have a keen sense of smell (not always a good thing). Eating is one of my favorite things to do (really). I relish in the beauty of nature and the sights and sounds it spins. And touch is my love language (hold me!). I find that walking engages each of my senses separately, yet simultaneously. I can focus on breathing in the crisp fall air and listening to the leaves crunch under my feet. I can feel the sun shining on my face and hear the children playing down the street. And I can taste the pumpkin bread waiting for me on my kitchen counter (OK, that was a stretch). But there truly is something spiritual that happens to me when I walk and allow my senses to soar.

3. Social time. Last weekend I went on two walks that were especially meaningful. The first was with my dad, and the second with my parents and brother. Conversation flourished. Laughs ensued. Questions were asked and thoughts provoked. To me, regular physical movement is essential for a positive mood, productivity, and overall well-being. I am also a social person and thrive when spending quality time with the people I love (and like). So put those two together, and I am at my best.

Maybe I'm just getting older and lame. Or maybe I'm getting older and wiser. (Or maybe both.) But I'm not a walking hater anymore. It has its place, and lately it's been very good to me.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Living in the Now

Three years ago I wrote this post.

Yesterday I took the same walk to the same marina, sat on the same dock, and looked at the same trees. In a few weeks their leaves will be a rainbow of reds, oranges, and yellows.

While I have fond memories of that young 25-year-old version of me, she seems a little unfamiliar now, and very distant. She's naive and innocent, trusting and full of anticipation.

One thing I've been learning lately is how to live in the present. I'm a planner, and deft at trying to control my future. I'm also given to frequent bouts of nostalgia for the good times had. But this month, instead of fixating on the past or worrying about the future, I'm going to live in the now. I'm going to take life one day at a time, and give each day my all. I'm going to enjoy the people I see, the places I go, and the happenings I experience today. (For once) I'm not planning ahead, and I'm committing to very little that will occur beyond this week. I'm not thinking about Thanksgiving or Christmas...hell, I'm not even concerned with Halloween. The holidays will come - and go - in their time.

This is not an easy way for me to live, but I'm finding greater freedom in this perspective. I'm focusing on personal growth, which requires me to create space in new ways. I'm learning to say no, to unapologetically speak my mind, and to be nothing less than honest.

So today is new, and I am different, and that is OK. In fact, it's good. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is my life's purpose, which I realized has remained the same regardless of the year or season or month. This goal has guided my yesterdays, will lead my tomorrows, and is my reason for living today. As 25-year-old me said years ago:

"I realized that my purpose in this ever-changing life is to simply join Him in glorifying Himself. To love Him and love others with wild abandon. THAT feels so fulfilling, so satisfying, so right."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What I'm Learning Lately

Life looks and feels much better after a good night's sleep. (Conversely, everything looks and feels much worse after a scant two hours of sleep.)

Sunshine makes everything better, too.

Oh, and a little diphenhydramine never hurt anyone.

I actually have the ability to lose my appetite. (I used to think my love for food would never allow this phenomenon.)

But farro is still so yummy. It's the "new quinoa" least in my pantry.

I can make decisions...and stick with them.

Having a job to go to every day is a sweet, welcome blessing. Having a job that I enjoy is a bonus.

Post-Labor Day traffic in Northern Virginia is the worst. (Where did all of these people come from?)

Facebook is evil.

I love to run. It is my sanity.

My parents are the best. Their love for me is as Christlike as mortal love can be.

Scripture is my daily bread. (Psalms 27, 29, and 30 are current meditations.)

This too shall pass.

God is worthy of my praise always, regardless of my circumstances or feelings.

He makes beautiful things out of the dust. He makes beautiful things out of us.

What are you learning lately?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Doing What I Want

Some people have no problem saying "no." Or saying "yes." They do what they want.

Some people can't say "no." Or they say what they think others want them to say, and then back out at the last minute because they're overcommitted. I've fallen into this category before.

Some people weigh every decision they have to make with the utmost care, afraid to make a choice that will offend or anger someone, but very aware of their true feelings on the matter, which (often) may directly oppose the assumed expectations of the other(s). I fall into this category every day of my life. Welcome to my head; it's a scary place to be.

It's no secret that I'm a people pleaser. Always have been, always will be. I'm also a perfectionist. In kindergarten I still remember an incorrectly circled picture on a worksheet—the only answer I got wrong all year. Yes, I'm aware that I have "issues."

And I'm controlling, but this is something I'm working on. (I believe people can change, and I've seen some measurable progress in myself in this area.) My favorite person to control is me. I'm fantastic at controlling what I eat and drink, how much I exercise, and how meticulously clean I keep my house. The problem is, it takes a lot of mental and physical energy and time to be controlling. So when people pose requests that don't fit within my well-planned weekly routine or perfectly crafted daily schedule, an internal dialogue ensues in which I must decide between saying "yes" to my own carefully calculated desires, comforts, and needs or saying "yes" to the other person whom I so desperately want to please. (Again, welcome to my head.)

(I realize that if I have children, I will receive a crash course on letting go of personal control. Hopefully I will not project said control onto my kids. But let's be honest, they'll probably be in therapy for years.)

Usually I maintain a decent balance of doing what other people ask/expect of me, and doing what I want. Sometimes I ignore what I want in place of pleasing others. Rarely do I say "no" to someone in lieu of making myself happy...until recently.

Lately, I've felt like doing whatever the hell I want. And I'm not caring what others think—as much. It's a weird feeling, I must admit. A new phenomenon. And I think I'm gonna roll with it for now...

No, I don't want to go to the movies with you, even though that would make you happy. Instead, I want to sit on my couch with a glass of wine and read my Marian Keyes novel. No, I don't want to run that race for the third year in a row. I don't care that we'll wear glow-in-the-dark tutus and do post-run tequila shots, or that it will be "such a blast!" No, I can't travel out of town that weekend. It just won't work for me, my impending freelance project deadline, or my wallet.

Maybe I'm merely feeling a bit antisocial these days, and this mood shall pass. Maybe I'm making wise choices and protecting my time, my finances, and my "margins." Maybe these are all just lame cop-outs, and I really need to get out of my comfort zone, stop being self-indulgent, and start saying "yes." But for now, I really don't care. I'm gonna do what I want and will try not to make excuses.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How He Loves Us

How He Loves has been on repeat for the past few weeks because a dear friend sent me a surprise care package that contained a mixed CD with 13 life-giving songs (as well as Scripture and chocolate, also life-giving. :)). She knows what I need and she knows what I like. Fifteen years of friendship will do that.

As I was driving to visit my family in Pennsylvania last weekend, belting out the lyrics and buzzing from my Starbuck's grande bold, I had a moment of incredible clarity and overwhelming thankfulness about how I have tangibly experienced God's love in my life during the past few weeks—through relationship.

You see, I have the best family and friends. Truly, the best. They are full of sincere generosity, intentional thoughtfulness, undying compassion, and abundant wisdom. I do not deserve them. I thank God for showing me His love in small, huge, sweet, extravagant, and powerful ways through them.

She calls me every day just to talk. To check in. To hear my voice and so I can hear hers. To tell me what she ate for lunch, share stories about her crazy co-workers, and update me on her thriving social life. She is my soul sister. :)

One friend recently lent her "jack-of-all-trades" hubby not once, but three times, to offer his expertise with some house issues. She texts me regularly to share the moments that comprise daily living.

Another stopped by on a random weeknight with supplies for rossinis. We camped out on my couch and talked all night long—about good sweat sessions, about the tough stuff life relentlessly throws at us, about love.

She offers her home—mere miles from our office—as a place to crash after a night out, when my A/C was busted, or "just because." We've shared many a pepperoni/banana pepper/crispy shallot pizza and bottle of Chianti and never run short of conversation or laughter.

Last weekend I spent an evening with these two, whom I've known since I was 13. They are some of the wisest women in my life, know me better than most people, and never fail to make me laugh until my stomach hurts.

My sister, one of the busiest women I know, used her weekend off (she only gets one or two a month) to drive through the armpit of the DMV and visit me. We enjoyed two beautiful days of sweet, quality sister time. She is my rock, she is my inspiration, she is part of me.

Although I am nearly 30, my parents continue to be steadfast, nurturing, provisional forces in my life. It's like I know everything will be OK after hearing their voices say "Annie" or "Punk." They are my safe haven, my home. I can be utterly real and honest with them knowing they will listen and love me no matter what, but also tell me the hard truth and ask me the tough questions.

To me these friendships are gifts from a God who allows me to experience his goodness through relationship. I am at a loss for words when I catch a glimpse of understanding about how much he loves me and how rich my life is because of these people.

Thank you.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Guess what I did yesterday?


I haven't been to a church since Christmas Eve...wait, no, I don't think I went to church last Christmas. I was too tired after baking dozens of Kris Kringles and drinking glasses of red wine. Both of which, by the way, are very spiritual experiences. (I'm not kidding.) And last Easter I was walking the streets of NYC with the fam, so I didn't go then, either. So I can't even call myself a ChrEaster Christian! (Good.)

In the spirit of setting personal goals, doing things for myself, and ridding my life of anxiety, during the next few weeks I'm church shopping. Just to try it on for size again, so to speak. And yesterday I was a Presbo for a day! Er, an hour.

I went to a local PCUSA church. Growing up in Pentecostal/Evangelical church circles, I must say that the worship at this church was a little tame. And I even attended the "contemporary" service! There were no raised hands, no closed eyes, no waving flags (thank God for that). But a few of the songs were good and meaty, with words I could recite with conviction and lyrics I could sing heartily to my God. And that's really what worship is all about for me. (Although I'm definitely an expressive one...just not into the flags, is all.)

After "meet and greet" time (does anyone else inwardly groan when told to greet your neighbor?), the pastor delivered his sermon. And something funny happened. I had one of "those" experiences, when the pastor's message was exactly what I needed to hear. I've heard about such experiences from others before, but I can't recall if they've ever truly happened to me. But yesterday, it was so powerful, personal, and poignant (those could be the three points of a sermon—bonus for alliteration!) that I was in tears. Some may call it coincidence that I chose this church to attend on this Sunday at this time and heard this message, but I call it divine.

He talked about forgiveness. He is in the middle of a series on The Lord's Prayer and unpacked verse 12 of Matthew 6: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

He talked about both sides of forgiveness. First, for the one who feels he is carrying a burden because he has wronged another.

Second, for the one who feels she is carrying a burden because she has been wronged. That's me, I thought.

The concepts are simple, really, the truth is plain: Unforgiveness causes bitterness, resentment, and malice to grow in your heart. Forgiveness is about freeing yourself from hurt, anger, and pain as much as it's about extending grace to another. God wants both—freedom for you, and grace for the other.

As the pastor expounded on this passage, I felt my heart open, hungry to hear and receive these simple truths. And the rage simmering right below the surface, the malice threatening to choke me out, the bitterness sour in my mouth, and the gnawing hurt burrowing deeper and deeper in my heart...slowly, I felt a sweet release from it all. This revelation spread like a quiet peace through my soul: I have a choice to forgive, and regardless of the choices others make, I can walk above the anger and pain and malice in grace and forgiveness and peace. This doesn't mean I allow others to continue to take advantage of me or ignore their toxicity in my life, but it does mean—as so very difficult as it is—that I allow myself to forgive.

I know forgiveness is incredibly foundational to faith. But for me, that's the beauty of Christ: seemingly simple truths that are life-changingly profound. Yesterday, today, and forever.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Farewell, Facebook

I'm on Day 11 of a little Facebook break. I never had a "goal date" in mind, but I'm tentatively planning on six weeks. It might extend into more, or I may cut it short. We'll see.

Yesterday I "cheated." Since I stopped logging on to my account, I've received two emails from Facebook alerting me to a slew of notifications and a flourish of activity that I am "missing." It's like the Facebook gods are trying to convince me that my world isn't complete without knowing what John Doe thinks about Romney's VP selection, or what Jane Smith's baby bump looks like six months (excuse me, 24 weeks) in. So while laying in bed last night, I decided to clear my notifications to get Zuckerberg's crones off my back. And naturally, I didn't stop there. I spent a couple of minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed on my phone. (Next I need to take a break from that damn smartphone.)

Although I felt a little guilty after indulging my curiousity, I'm glad I did. I've learned a lot about myself, my friendships, and my social life from the past 11 days coupled with that brief re-encounter with "The Facebook."

I don't miss it. I thought I would have "Facebook withdrawals" and experience very intense urges every day to log on. So far, I have not. In fact, at times I've actually forgotten that Facebook exists. How liberating! 

The world goes on. It really does. You can survive, and even thrive, in a Facebook-free world. And a lot more people do than you think.

It's not real. The status updates, pictures, and postcards (those are the worst) do not a true life make. People choose their online identity by these posts, and often their Facebook persona is not their real self.

If it's that important, I'll find out eventually. Last night my activity stream told me that one of my favorite people from college is 16 weeks pregnant. I was thrilled for her. And a little sad that I didn't know this exciting news on Monday morning at 9 a.m. when she alerted the rest of her social network. But I realized that I would eventually have found out. One of my other college friends would have shared the news with me in a real conversation, in a natural environment. Like we did in 2004.

It feeds false perceptions and unhealthy anxiety. If I don't know about your latest beach trip with your friends, then I don't know. If I do know because Facebook is telling me so, I might a) feel rejected and neglected because I wasn't invited, b) feel depressed because I have no vacations coming up and will be sitting behind a desk for the foreseeable future, and/or c) feel jealous of your life, relationships, and model bikini body as portrayed by your mobile uploads.

My real relationships remain strong. I  have talked to one of my best friends every day on the phone since my Facebook "fast." I have also talked to both of my parents more the past 11 days than I have in years, probably. This could be due to a number of different factors, but I have realized that I will stay closely connected to the people in my life who really matter. In fact, our interactions will probably grow even more meaningful as we share our daily happenings, discuss our political opinions, and disclose our ongoing emotions through frequent texts, regular emails and calls, and occasional visits.

So a Facebook-free life is a good life. And please hear me - I am not judging anyone who is a Facebook fanatic. I have no intention of swearing off the social network forever. But just like the periodic sugar or booze fast, this Facebook break has been so cleansing for me.

Oh, and if you get engaged, find out you're pregnant, or score a new job, please let me know asap. ;)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Self Investments and Irish Car Bombs

What is something you've always wanted to do, but never have? Go sky diving? Take a Mediterranean cruise? Apply for the next season of The Bachelorette? (I don't judge.) What about the smaller stuff - the day-to-day? What is something that you could feasibly do to treat yourself today? Or this weekend, even? You know, like chug an Irish car bomb.

My counselor asked me this question yesterday. She charged me to really live the day-to-day. She said that whenever I am consumed with anxiety or obsessive thoughts, whenever I compusively worry about someome else or things I cannot control, to instead think about what I'm going to do to treat myself, today. I think we could all take advantage of this advice.

So I thought about it on my drive home from work. What's one thing I've always wanted to do, but never have? One of my first thoughts: I want an Irish car bomb! I don't know if it's because I'd had a long and stressful day, or because I was thinking about those four months I spent in Ireland, or because I have a drinking problem (kidding, Mom). But for some reason, while cruising south on 395, I determined that soon I'll redeem my tame and sheltered college years and try this intriguing concoction for myself. I'll probably hate it. But that's ok.

I decided chugging booze on a Monday night was probably not what my counselor had in mind, so instead I went home and "treated myself" to an episode of The Bachelor Pad, which is probably just as destructive to my insides.

Today I'm buying a new whole grain - like amaranth, farro, or millet - to experiment with in the kitchen. Cooking - and trying new food - makes me simply and sweetly happy.

What about you? What's one thing you can do for yourself - today?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Ode to Wine

I was looking through my phone pics yesterday and realized that I have quite a few random photos of wine. Clearly, I love the stuff. I drink it regularly. And apparently I like to visually capture my bottles and glasses...and kitchen counter.

Red, white, (dry) rose', bubbly - I love it all. And I'd like to think I'm more than just a wino. I honestly enjoy learning about wine. Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World is perched on my coffee table. I jump at any opportunity to visit a winery or try a new label. Tannins, residual sugar, oak or steel...I'm into it. This interest is due in part to my dad, a self-educated wine geek with a contagious zeal for the nectar of the gods. I still remember the first time we visited a winery during one of my parents' trips to Northern Va. Dad sprung for the reserve tasting and we spent 45 minutes in the cellar with the "wine bitch" (I wasn't the one who came up with that nickname). By (large) tasting #6, my mom was getting giggly and chatty, much to the chagrin of the WB. Meanwhile, my dad was listening intently, hanging on to every word, asking detailed questions (and evoking an eyeroll or two from Lo). When I think back on memories like this, I realize that some of the best times in my life involve a glass (or bottle) of wine shared with dear family and friends.

My friend Allie once asked me, "If you could drink only one varietal for the rest of your life, what would it be?" At the time I said Pinot Noir. Today I'd choose Red Zinfandel.

What about you? What's your favorite wine? (Oooh, the first time I'm asking for a comment! Please throw me a bone. :) )

And as far as champagne + Doritos - don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I Love Runners

Runners are strange. They really are. I guess a bit of "crazy" is necessary to dedicate months of your life, hundreds of dollars, and a hell of a lot of discomfort to spend another morning, day, or even weekend running a race that you (most likely) will never even win.

Of course there are different levels of crazy. I'm sure some people think I'm a nutjob for actually wanting to run a marathon, and for considering those four hours of sweat and tears (thankfully no blood!) one of the top five best experiences of my life. Yet I talk to ultra marathoners and think they've truly lost it, and that I could never mentally or physically embrace 50, 60, or 100-mile races.

But if you're a runner (and by "runner," I mean someone who actually likes to run, or who has had at least one incredibly positive run that forces her to keep chasing that endorphin and adrenaline surge), it doesn't matter how experienced or inexperienced, you're part of the community. Marathon? Half? 5k? No ks? We don't care. The races don't define you, the miles logged don't make you. It's all about the shared experience, the community created around a common love for the best form of exercise around. (I may be a little biased.)

We geek out over running shoes and fuel, swap race experiences and insight, and live to share newfound tips on how to gain a physical or mental edge. We knowingly describe the first time we stopped in the woods to relieve ourselves during a long run and show off our latest blisters with pride. See, we're strange.

Some of the best people I know are runners. They are a fun, quirky, determined, disciplined, adventuresome lot. And kind - so very kind. We look out for and cheer each other on - even complete strangers.

This morning, as I pounded out 6 miles next to Nina on our weekly running date, I felt a rush of gratitude for her and for my running group, my little slice of the larger community. Two years ago they were just a bunch of strangers, yet so quickly they've become cherished friends.

And we're going for three in a row: Ragnar DC 2012, here we come!

My Ragnar teammates and I before running Old Rag, an 8-mile hiking trail in the Shenandoah Valley

At the top: 2,500-foot elevation gain

Finishing the run: Nina, Gina, and me

The Night Owls after Ragnar DC 2011: "Hoot, hoot!"

Jim and me (with "cry face") crossing the finish line of the 2012 Shamrock Marathon

The Three Musketeers: me, Nina, Jim

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Dance

We've always had a special relationship, he and I. It began when I was very young, too young to remember many details of our first meetings. I remember being timid at first, hesitant as I talked to him, trying to figure out what he was all about and who he really was. But then I got a real taste. A brief encounter, but that was all I needed. He became an addiction, and time spent with him only fed the fuel for more. I was barely a teenager when I first said the words, "I'll never live without you. I'll never let you go."

That love between us only grew as I did. It took form and shape and wove itself into my identity. All I wanted was to know him better, to be more like him, to love him more. And for everyone else to know him the way I did, too. To "get him" as I so simply and sweetly understood him.

I remember the night I was talking to him and had a moment of clarity about the unique nature of our relationship. I envisioned he and I as partners in a dance, my hands in his, my ear on his chest, his feet guiding our steps. We danced fluidly and in synch, he always half a step ahead, showing me what was next and leading me there.

Over the years, our dance has taken a variety of forms. Sometimes I've felt so close that I can hear his heartbeat, and others so far I fear he's let go of my hands...or I'm certain I've dropped his. Yet through each season and stage of this journey called life, through changes and stagnation and twists and turns, through joy and victory and heartbreak and defeat, I've never lost faith in the sweet dance we've shared.

Life is Hard

I was with my mom this past weekend, driving to visit Gam, my grandma. I said, after an anxiety-stricken deep breath, "Life is hard."

She answered: "Yes. Yes it is. I was thinking recently about how inadequately parents prepare their children for this reality. Because life is hard."

The truth is, even as terribly hard as my life is right now, even as I struggle and ache and hurt and grieve and question and wonder and doubt and fear, even as my anxiety levels threaten to consume me and my nerves feel frayed to a point of no return, even as exhaustion - whole-person exhaustion - has become a way of existing, life is still good. I have friends who would do anthing for me. Who text and call and email and ask the tough questions because they really, truly love me. I have a family that is not just beside me, but holding me up, lifting my arms, supporting my head, being the proverbial shoulder to lean - and cry - on.

I have a job that I like to get up in the morning to do, that provides above and beyond what I need to survive. I have health, and hobbies that promote health: a love for exercise and desire to cook nutritious, comforting food. I have a house that I love, that makes me feel safe and warm (or cool), that enables home-cooked meals, book-reading and wine-drinking, and sweet nights of sleep.

And I have a faith...a faith in a God who is bigger than I am. Who feels distant at times, whom I may drift from quite often, whom I doubt and question and don't really get. But who makes me feel hopeful, who makes me feel whole. Who really does provide peace that passes understanding. Last night that peace was more than enough to soothe my nerves, to calm my soul, to lull me to sleep...and I didn't even need a Xanax.

Yes, life is hard. But life is so, so good.