As I was slogging through my morning run today in this ridiculously toasty weather, I found myself lamenting about my current condition. I was hot, thirsty, my legs were feeling rather log-like, and I was kind of whiny. I was only a little over a mile in when I began thinking. . .
“Running is so hard.”
“This is so damn hard.”
“My legs felt worse today than a week ago when I was out for hours on an extremely tough trail.”
“NO WONDER people always talk about how they want to run, or used to run, or have tried to run–but it’s just TOO HARD, so they don’t.“
Dang, I get it. I get what they are saying. Running is hard. So hard sometimes. Running is one of the hardest things that I have done in my life, especially when I was taking those first steps years ago or on the days like today, when, for a million reasons or none, the run is damn hard.
Knowing I just had a couple of miles to go, I vowed to suck it up and get over myself. I remembered that I would be done soon, and I’d be relaxing on my porch. “Yeah, running is hard,” I thought, “but that hardness is temporary.”
As I kept running and working to get a better perspective about my current temporary condition, the words of a dear friend popped into my head. She once said, “Running is easy, it’s life that is hard.” (This is coming from a woman eats 20-mile training runs for breakfast, mind you.) For the rest of my run, I thought about those words. My mindset shifted immediately. She was so right. Running is easy. Life is hard. So fucking hard sometimes.
Job loss, cancer, mental illness, chronic pain, chronic illness, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, sexual violence, divorce, homelessness, domestic violence, trauma, miscarriage, child abuse, emotional abuse, aging, addiction, separation, depression, anxiety, recovery, loss, death, grief, and all of the other hard things that life brings. That shit is hard. SO. FUCKING. HARD.
Running. . . yeah, that’s the easy stuff.
Running is what has created space in me to be able to face the hard things. I know in my heart that if I hadn’t become a runner when I did, I wouldn’t be writing this now. I’m pretty sure I’d be curled up in a corner, a sobbing, gooey mess most days. But, I’m not–because, I run.
I can be brave. I can face life’s challenges, even when I don’t want to–because I run.
I can grow from my struggles and be a better human. I can heal from the hard shit–because I run.
Because I run. . .
Who are you? What can you do. . . because you run?
Yesterday I surrendered to the Minute Clinic and finally got a healthy dose of antibiotics. It had been a ridiculously long time coming. If I’m being honest, I have been feeling rundown for the last several months, it just happened to be that December 12, 2017, was the day my body said, “I give up. I’m taking you hostage until you get your shit together.” Unfortunately, it has taken me until now to get it together. Well, mostly get it together.
It all started with a gastrointestinal bug that took eight days (as opposed to my usual two days) to “recover” from. After the bug, I had a window of a few days where things were looking up. Then, the frigidness set in on the holiday weekend. My nose got stuffy, my throat got raw, and my overall rundownedness flared again. I chalked it up to the weather, crappy holiday eating, and a long pre-Christmas week at school. But alas, I was wrong. A sinus cold soon set in and I spent the last days of 2017 sucking on cough drops like they were candy, with a box of kleenex attached to my hip to catch all the drips. By the new year, I thought I was over the hump. I was so crazy wrong, AGAIN.
Nine days ago, the sinus cold morphed into a full-blown, wickedly painful infection. I thought it would subside in a couple of days so I loaded up on OTC painkillers and toughed out the days. Instead, it got worse. Way worse. Until I just needed it to not be worse anymore. So, I surrendered. And I went to the clinic, something I rarely do. (Besides, my very wise friend gently suggested that it was probably time for antibiotics. And she is a nurse so I figured I better listen.)
Today, I impatiently wait for the antibiotics to begin working their magic. I’m staying in bed all day and doing a whole lot of soul-searching. The pain is annoyingly present but I’ve cut back on the OTC drugs, so I’m pretty sure I’m getting better, even though it doesn’t quite feel like it yet. The doctor said in 2-3 days I should be 50% better. I can’t freaking wait, although right now, I’m having a hard time believing what she said will come true.
Through it all, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons of the last month. While I am extremely grateful to be a healthy person most of the time and while I know that my current state is temporary, I can no longer dismiss being ill for a month as no big deal. I do that a lot, try to pass things off as not important because what I have going on isn’t a big deal in the big picture of life, and it isn’t. Until it is. And I need to stop doing that. One month of being ill is something that shouldn’t be dismissed. I know that now. At least I’m working on believing it.
Physical pain shuts me down mentally so I’ve been in my own little bubble for the last week, saving every ounce of mental and physical energy for the most urgent of things. I’m kind of exhausted from being exhausted BUT from this moment on, right now, I’m vowing to listen to my body when it begins to whisper to me, instead of waiting until it is desperately screaming at me to pay attention. Self-care should always, always, always be our first priority and I know that. But so often, it isn’t. And we have a billion excuses as to why taking care of ourselves shouldn’t be a priority. And the majority of the time all the reasons are bullshit.
So, while I’m healing, I’ll be refocusing and I will be working on making my health-mind, body, and spirit–a priority. ONCE AND FOR ALL. No more half-hearted attempts or making up excuses. For starters, I’m going to try very hard to manage unhealthy stress (which involves not taking on things that are not mine to take on), to clean up my eating, and to make rest a priority. I am not exactly sure how I am going to wholeheartedly accomplish this yet, but I’m going to be working on it. Very fucking relentlessly. (Incidentally, this will likely entail a mental unraveling of sorts so stay tuned for more on this matter. Insert evil laugh here. Muhahahaha.)
How about you? Has every viral illness of this weird winter knocked you down? If so, why do you think that is? What are your best wellness tips? What are your best excuses?What do you do for self-care? (Sorry, bubble baths, wine, retail therapy and all of the other fluffy things don’t count.) What changes do you need to make in your life to move forward in a way that is more healthy for your mind, body, and spirit? What whispers should you be listening to? What is stopping you?
“Choosing to nurture joy does not mean turning a blind eye to pain or difficulty or injustice. It means holding positive possibilities while looking deeply into pain. Deep truth about what is and recognizing joy can exist side by side.” ~Circle Forward
I read those words and I was reminded of the phrase finding joy in the mess. And then I was reminded of the times in my life when there wasn’t much to be joyful for, yet, somehow opportunities to choose a moment of pure joy would sneak in, despite the current state of messiness. A sudden eruption of pee-your pants laughter in the depths of unfathomable grief, a beautiful ray of sun appearing from the clouds when all hope seemed lost, a heartfelt hug from a dear friend in a moment of despair. Life-saving snippets of joy in the midst of struggle. Joy and pain. Side by side. How can we know one without the other? Kind of a mind blow, right? Always the paradox. Always the struggle. How can they co-exist? Yet . . . how can they not?
Choosing to find joy in the midst of difficulty is one of the most courageous acts a person can take–although we rarely give ourselves permission to do so. What if, in the midst of your struggles, no matter how big or small, you gave yourself permission to choose joy for just one day, or for one hour, or for even one minute or one second? It’s SO okay to take a break from your pain. Choosing to nurture joy does not dismiss or diminish our hurts, but instead creates space for hope to seep in. And with hope, all things are possible.
Let yourself choose joy and then nurture it. Let it live side by side with your sorrows. Let hope create the space.
It was the fall of 2012, a couple months after the crash. For the past month or so, I had been reading a daily devotional that I had found on my mom’s bookshelf. I had given it to her for her last birthday and I had been reading it faithfully since finding it. The passages had become a source of comfort for me and I looked forward to the brief moments of solace from my intense pain and grief that reading those words every morning brought to me. The devotions seemed to fit everything that was going on in my life at the moment, just like they had for my mom when she had started reading it.
Then, just like life can suddenly go from beautiful to broken in the blink of an eye, the devotions on those pages did the same. In an instant, I was frustrated and angry at the words I was reading. Why, you ask? Well, I can sum it up in one word. Gratitude.
The devotional had themes and that week’s theme was gratitude. Because, really, how dare a devotional that is meant to be healing and uplifting, share a message of gratitude? Right? Didn’t they know that grieving people would be reading this book? What do people smack dab in the grips of intense pain need to know about gratitude? I’d be lying if I said a few choice words didn’t fly out of my mouth.
Day in, day out. The message of gratitude seemed to drag on F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I argued with the devotional every morning. “Surely, this wasn’t meant for grievers” was the core of the one-sided argument I had become engaged in. “Really,” I would think. “Easy to be grateful when things are good. Surely, you can’t expect me (or any others that are hurting) to be grateful after experiencing profound loss.” And on and on it went inside my head. Finally, after a few days of the reading about gratitude, I had had enough. I read the day’s passage and in a fit of desperation, I looked to the heavens (from my bathroom mind you) and screamed (yes, out loud)–“FINE! I FUCKING GET IT! I’LL BE GRATEFUL!” (Yeah, God has gotten to witness some stellar moments from me over the years. Gratefully, he is patient, kind, loving, and forgiving.) Another gut-wrenching moment of surrender had befallen me (one of many in my life) and I vowed–half-heartedly, of course–to give practicing gratitude a try. Long story short. . . it worked. Even in my deepest moments of hopelessness and despair, I began to find moments of comfort and peace when I viewed the world through a lens of gratitude and not my own pain. Go figure. Maybe God was on to something here.
Some thoughts on service
Some time later the devotional moved to a theme of service. Yeah, cue the first part of this story here. “Really,” I thought. “You want me to serve others when I’m grieving. Surely, you can’t be serious. I can barely take care of myself at the moment and you want me to help somebody else?” Again, on and on it went. Although slightly less dramatic this time around, I experienced another moment of surrender in my bathroom and vowed (yes, half-heartedly again) to find some way to serve others. I wasn’t capable of much, but I dug deep and did what I could–I said a prayer for somebody other than myself, sent words of encouragement to somebody in need, or donated money to causes I supported. Again (surprise, surprise). . . it worked. Viewing the world through a lens of service had given me small moments of reprieve from my grief, just like practicing gratitude had. Through each new moment of comfort and peace that I experienced, I began to gain some hope that healing would be possible. I remember thinking how good God was at this stuff.
A few more thoughts
I’d like to say that it was my grief-fogged brain that kept me from listening to those first few messages in that devotional, but I don’t think that would be entirely truthful. Besides my own stubbornness in not always listening, I came to learn that much of the traditional literature out there surrounding loss and healing doesn’t always talk about gratitude and/or service as part of the arsenal of tools that we have at our disposal as we begin to move forward. After all, it seems paradoxical to practice gratitude and serve others when we are suffering from incredible pain ourselves. Or does it?
Since those darkest of days in the beginning of my grief journey, I have learned more about the power of gratitude and service than I ever thought imaginable. And. . . I’m still learning. I’d like to tell you that my grief journey is done but I really feel like in some ways it’s just beginning. The numbness of the first year slowly faded and life got very real for me in year two. VERY REAL. I still find myself feeling like I am going backwards some days even though I know in my heart that I am always slowly inching forward. It’s in those real times, those painful times, those times when I feel like I am heading down the rabbit hole of despair that I focus even more on being grateful, for everything. I have found that as time has gone on, gratitude and service have become innate functions of my very being. I have been so transformed on the inside from these practices that I can’t imagine not viewing life through the beautiful lenses that I have been given–even on the worst of days.
Start simply and grow
If you are reading this and you are in the early stages of healing, it’s very important to note that you might not want to hop right in and tackle things new things right now. Those first few weeks after a loss are so extremely difficult. Just getting out of bed (or not) is hard enough, let alone trying to add anything else to your plate. In time, though, you will want more. You will want more than simply surviving, you will want to thrive. That’s when gratitude and service will eventually come in. Start simply where you are at and grow from there.
As we head into November you will see an explosion of all things gratitude–challenges, journal writing, Facebook memes etc. If you aren’t practicing gratitude regularly, now may be the perfect time to start. If you are already mindfully practicing gratitude (or trying to), think about how you can move your gratitude practice into one of service. If you are already practicing both, I challenge you to kick it up a notch or ten. The most important thing to remember is to do what you are capable of. Some days, it still takes all I can muster to get through the day. Other days, it would take kryptonite to bring me down. Remember, even on our best days, we can’t do everything all of the time. Learn your limits, use your gifts, and serve accordingly. . . all the while giving thanks. Then, be prepared for your life to change. God is really good at this stuff.
Not the first time I’ve written those words on these pages for the world to see and probably won’t be the last. Luckily I don’t blog for a living. Whew!
My hiatus from the blogosphere started unintentionally, of course. Then one day, I realized that it had been a while since I had written. By then I had so many things on my mind to write that I didn’t know where to begin.
So, I didn’t.
Then, the pile in my mind of things to write got bigger and bigger.
And I became a little lot overwhelmed.
So, I stopped. . .
And I wondered why I was struggling to create space in my life for something that I love to do?
Then, I realized. . .
Sometimes life comes at us so fast that we barely have time to breathe. It’s in those crazy times that we need to just hang on and stay present so we don’t miss a thing.
So, I did. . .
And a funny thing happened when I simply stayed present–in the midst of this crazy, amazing, beautiful, chaotic time–space had been created for awakening, change, and growth in my life. The uncomfortableness I wrote about a couple of months ago? Yeah, well, it settled in, created some angst, then finally allowed me to follow my heart and to make some tough changes. Even though some things have been messy, I have had faith all along that I am heading in the right direction. After all, God has yet to lead me astray.
Staying present throughout the insanity of the last few months has also allowed me to fully embrace the life I have before me and the person I have become. Life is SO completely different than I could have ever imagined it could be. As much as I have tried to compartmentalize my life, especially when it comes to writing about it, I can’t. Life for me isn’t about family, or friends, or faith, or grief, or joy, or loss, or running, or serving, or weight loss, or healing, or even about orphans in Uganda. My life is about ALL of those beautiful things wrapped into one. Even though there are parts of my life I would have never chosen, I couldn’t be more grateful for the beauty that has risen from the ashes. I have come to fully understand that life is truly what we choose to make it. We can’t change what happened a second ago, let alone yesterday, and we surely cannot, with any sort of certainty, know what the future has in store for us. We only have now.So, take a deep breath, stay present, and hang on for the glorious ride. You won’t want to miss one crazy, amazing, beautiful, messy, awesome moment of this incredible life.
One that will go on long after I am here to write about it.
Rising from the Ugandan dust. . .
An orphanage grew.
That doesn’t just happen.
Orphanages don’t just appear.
But this one did.
Beauty from the ashes. . .
An orphanage born of redemption and grace.
But most of all LOVE.
Because love never fails.
It shows up.
Even in death.
Even when we are brokenhearted.
In a few short days, I will be boarding a plane to Uganda to visit the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home. I will be traveling with some very special people. At the moment, I feel like I am about to burst from pure joy and excitement.
And yet, I can hardly believe it. . . even though I’ve been there before.
I’ve seen it.
I’ve hugged the children.
I’ve touched the red earth.
I’ve felt joy and grief simultaneously flood my heart. . . until I thought it would explode.
It’s all very real. . .and yet, still so surreal.
I sometimes can’t help but wonder if this all a really long, tragic-yet-beautiful, neverending dream.
Some days I think that maybe this will be the day that I wake up.
I’ll call my mom and sister-in-law and tell them about this crazy dream I had about an orphanage.
And they will listen as I recount every detail.
I’ll chase butterflies with my niece and tell her that I’ve met a whole bunch of her 100 kids.
And she will tilt her head back and laugh wildly!
Then I realize that I am awake. . . and I remember that they already know about this orphanage.
Because, when I was there, I saw their spirit everywhere. . .
In the faces of the beautiful children and in the butterflies that would linger.
I saw them gloriously looking on from above.
Their love reigning over us.
Love is like that.
It shows up.
It builds orphanages.
It transcends death.
It heals the brokenhearted.