Running, cheaper than therapy. . .

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(photo from http://palpableperfection.tumblr.com/post/3800319358)

My running story begins a long time ago, pretty much at birth. I believe my soul has always known I was a runnerI’ve always felt like I should be a runner, and I’ve always known I would be a runner some day, it just took my body 42 years to figure it all out. And thank goodness it did because over the past year, running has literally saved my life.

     I began running as part of lifestyle change (aka “the I’m tired of being a heavy weight” weight-loss program) in late January of 2012. Little did I know that running would not only become an integral part of my fitness routine, it would become lifesaving therapy for me just a few short months later. On August 17th, 2012, my mom, sister-in-law, and 8-year old niece were killed when a drunk driver crossed into their lane and hit them head on.  My then five-year old nephew survived the crash after being rescued by brave bystanders from the wreckage. Needless to say, this unimaginable tragedy shook our family to the core.
     I noticed upon my attempt to return to work and some sort of semblance of a “normal” life about a month later that I began experiencing bouts of acute anxiety, seemingly for no reason. I wasn’t a person that had suffered from anxiety prior to the crash so these feelings were new to me. I found there wasn’t much I could do to alleviate this new-found angst, despite the many tools (i.e. journaling, grief-work, talking, massage therapy, etc.) I was using to cope. Finally, one night in the midst of a very stressful, grief-ridden moment, I decided to go for a run. To my surprise, I felt much better and much calmer after returning from my run. It took a few more grief/stress-induced runs for me to really make the connection, but when I did, my life completely changed. Not that my grief had really begun to subside much but I knew as soon as I felt the anxiety creeping in that I could go for a run and my stress would temporarily subside.
     Over the Christmas holiday, a couple of weeks of super cold weather coupled with a very hectic holiday schedule had left me without my usual runs (I had some exercise but no running). I found myself anxiety-filled and my sleeping patterns were more disturbed than usual. Chalking it all up to the usual holiday stress (especially because it was the first Christmas without our loved ones), it finally dawned on me when I got out for a run after the new year that the added stress and lack of sleep wasn’t so much due to the holidays but it was because of a lack of running. I have a couple other similar stories to this holiday one but each one ends the same, as soon as my regular running schedule is resumed, my anxiety subsides. 
     During the past year, I have run through blinding tears, heart-wrenching pain, deep-seeded anger, extreme sadness, and the mental fog that settles in after traumatic loss. But, as I have slowly begun to heal from this tremendous pain, the focus of my runs have begun to shift. Instead of always running through tears of pain and sadness, I find myself still running through tears but they are often tears of joy, gratitude, and love. I spend many of my runs remembering my mom, sister-in-law, and niece and more recently, I find myself running and praying– for peace and for healing for my family and friends.
     Throughout the past year, running has been one of the few constants (besides family and friends of course) in my life. No matter what my mental status was pre-run, there isn’t a SINGLE run that I have returned from that I didn’t feel better that when I started–not a single one. That is better therapy then I could have ever thought possible.
     Since I began my running journey, I have lost 62 pounds, 20 of those pounds since the crash. I don’t run fast or far, usually not more than three or four miles, but when I run, I run with my whole heart and soul. In September, I will be participating in my first marathon. Although I am excited to tackle this race, that day, as too many have been in the past year, will be so bittersweet. My mom and sister-in-law were my biggest cheerleaders in my quest for better health. I will miss the well-wishes from my sister-in-law but I will especially miss my mom’s smiling face at the finish line. Thankfully I will have 26.2 miles of beautiful therapy to carry me through.
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All things Africa: Our day at the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home

If you would have asked me at that moment if I thought that this was real life I would have told you NO and meant it.

If you would have asked me at that same moment if it is possible to feel your heart breaking and mending at the same time I would have shouted a resounding YES, and meant it.

If you would have asked me at that moment if it was possible to feel terribly heart-wrenching grief and the most immense joy ever–simultaneously– I would have screamed OF COURSE IT IS and meant it because that is exactly what I was feeling at that moment.

If you would have asked me in that same moment if I ever thought God’s redeeming grace could be SO GOOD, I would have shook my head in bewilderment and mumbled no, and truly meant it.

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The first building we saw when we arrived at the Michelle & Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home in Njeru, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of True Impact Ministries.)

Driving up to the Michelle & Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home was one of the most SURREAL moments of my life. As I had on so many days prior to this one since the crash, I felt like a bad actor in an equally bad Lifetime movie. Nothing around me seemed real, yet I knew it was. Every sight, sound, and emotion were so very real. But how could it be? How? I have yet to wrap my head around this. Maybe I never will. It was just a year ago when our family was locked into group hugs at the MSP airport welcoming Mike,  Michelle, and the kids home from another school year abroad.  And now? Just months later? We were about to spend the day at an orphanage in Uganda that was named in Michelle and Julia’s honor? How could this be real life? How could it be?

There are still days that I think that we will all wake up from this nightmare of the last year and our family will be whole again. Then? I actually wake up and realize that this IS real life. I wake up and realize that the pain and heartache of the last year are very real and there isn’t a single thing we can do to change it. Thankfully though, God’s redeeming grace is so wonderfully amazing. 

The blessings that are beginning to rise from the ashes of this nightmare are good, SO VERY GOOD. There is a beautiful little orphanage, rising up in love, that brings a hope of healing for so many. For that, I am so very grateful.

Here’s a few pictures from our day at M & J’s. . .

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Most of the 51 children that will be living at the orphanage came out to meet us when we visited. Just over half of the children have sponsors already and the rest are waiting. . .
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Enjoying some sweets!
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This little sweetie’s name is Harira. She is six-years old and is in need of a sponsor.
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Dressed in their finest and happy to have a soda. These guys were so full of life and love that day!
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The children were rather quiet and shy at first. It didn’t take long though before this beautiful place was teeming with laughter and love.
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And there was even some dancing!
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We were blessed to have the chance to meet our little sponsored guy Mayanja! 

To see some video from the opening ceremonies click here http://youtu.be/KRQN-VOWZHY and here http://youtu.be/v5ZZ1vQ18J0.

For more from our day at the orphanage you can check out the True Impact blog here–http://www.trueimpactministries.com/blog/michelle-julia-hoffman-home-day/.

You can keep up-to-date on the progress of the home by following The Michelle & Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/HoffmanHome and by following True Impact’s page here https://www.facebook.com/pages/True-Impact-Ministries/289875141039444.