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.