A lighted match

Anytime I think I don’t need to go so frequently to the therapist, I’m proven wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Sometimes I internally measure my need for therapy by how long it takes me to start crying in a session. I get a cup of tea from the Keurig that’s provided in the practice I go to, get settled on the couch (yes just like the movies except I’m drinking tea so ya gurl is sitting, not laying down) and let out a big breath.

My therapist sometimes has knitting in her lap when I come in, or meditation beads, or just a pen and her leather bound journal. This time she had beads, and I envied the fact that she had, for all intents and purposes, a fidget. I want one.

Anyway, something had been bubbling up for a few days before that because when she asked me, “How are you? What’s been going on?” I felt a huge release. And that’s because she actually means, “How are you? How is your life? What do you want to explore today?”

And I broke down in tears, not quite to the ugly cry stage, but it was a cry from my soul that I didn’t realize was there until it happened. But I was glad she had the good Kleenex.

“I want my life to have meaning,” I said through tears and exaggerated gestures.

And that’s what we explored… for an hour.

She told me that when people have experienced mortality in some way — through suicide or loss of a family member, or through a different kind of loss like infertility — they begin to think about these things. And I’m two for two on that list.

What I pictured in that moment was that I had been in a dark room, completely dark, so that I couldn’t see even my hand in front of me. I wasn’t even fumbling around; I was just standing in the dark room.

Then, someone lit a match. It doesn’t matter who. But the weak glow from a singular match started to illuminate the dark room, and now I could see things.

And those things I can’t un-see. 

Even if I stand in the same room, pitch black where I can’t see anything in front of me, not even my hand, I will know what’s there.

And that for me is like seeing mortality.

Now that I’ve seen it, I can never go back to not knowing.

I can’t go back to living a life that’s not headed somewhere important. I may not know where that is, but what I’m learning is that the journey is the important part.

We’re all going to arrive at the end of earthly life. The destination is not a mystery. But what we’ll be wondering about is the journey that started with a single match.

Who Am I?

This question makes me think of the character Jean Valjean in my favorite musical of all time, Les Miserables. Prisoner 24601. That’s how he was known for years and years. And I think up until his dying day, it’s an identity forced on him that he carried to his grave.

We all have identities that are either chosen or forced upon us. Up until I was about 30, there was always an epithet after my name… Elizabeth the oldest daughter of Jon and Melissa. Elizabeth, Eileen’s granddaughter. Elizabeth the honors student (again and again and again). Elizabeth the piano teacher. Elizabeth the college student. Elizabeth the wife, and then Army wife.

Alternate identities can be a welcome invisible shield from who we really are, especially if the underlying being is of an unsure form. Like me. I grasped onto any positive or powerful or proud name I could through my childhood and early adulthood. I really wanted to please people, anyone: my parents, my grandparents, my sisters, my teachers, and then my boyfriend now-husband.

I wanted to look good on social media, on Christmas cards. I wanted to convey a sense that I had my life together because it was much easier than being honest with not only myself but everyone. It hurt to be honest, to myself especially because you have to live with yourself.

So for years I hid behind my shield, and I had an acute awareness that hiding was exactly what I was doing. But I didn’t know how to put that cloak on the floor. I’d be naked. I’d be seen for who I really am. (FWIW I know this all sounds cliche but guess what? I don’t care. It’s honest.)

I remember a distinct moment when all my alternate identities no longer were serving me. I was “home” in Illinois visiting for Christmas. Earlier that year I’d just graduated with a Master’s degree (a welcome accomplishment and identity to add to the list) and I’d landed a job as a professor.

I made sure that everyone knew I was a professor and not “just” a teacher, like I’d started my career years before that. I felt I had really made in the world. Even if during my ridiculously short tenure as a professor I felt like an imposter the whole time. I didn’t even had a PhD. I wasn’t “Doctor”. Hell, I’d barely even studied much of the subject of the department I was a part of. But I was all of a sudden an expert in my area. No pressure, right? But I clung to that identity as Professor as tightly as I could.

The tidy list of accomplishments that I thought made up who I was began to really unravel for me when we were trying to get pregnant and couldn’t. If I’m honest, my whole life all of my identities were just placeholders for when I’d be a wife. And then they still stayed tight in their places until I would become a mother. But in the same time of about six months, I lost my title of Professor due to moving and having to resign from the job, and then I really lost the possibility of being a Mother when we decided to not pursue treatment and live without children.

That moment during a winter break, I was just Elizabeth, Elizabeth who was loved and who loved her family. Elizabeth who barely wore makeup except mascara or changed her earrings or went on runs before Christmas dinner or watched silly movies with the kids while the adults played games. Elizabeth who likes to read and play music and drink wine and talk about deep things. Elizabeth who’s been in love with the same man for almost half her life. Elizabeth who loves deeply and a little recklessly and takes almost everything personally. Elizabeth who is generally anxious and has a penchant for situational depression. Elizabeth who has big opinions about a few things and doesn’t care much about the rest.

When I realized all the other identities, or rather, qualities that made me up as a whole person, it began a search for truth about who I am, what’s important, and why I’m on the earth. And the answers to any of those big questions really don’t have much to do with my alter egos, my other identities I hide behind in order to not face the fact that most days I am confused about my purpose on the earth. And least of all it doesn’t have much to do with whether my uterus will sustain a child or not.

At first taking off the cloak of epithets was difficult. Painful. Soul-wrenching. I grieved. And then after awhile it was freeing, and now I’d never dream of putting the cloak(s) back on.

 

Remember

The best way to crawl out of a pit of depression and doubt is to remember what God has done for you. Even if you’re not 100% sure he’s in the day-to-day goings on, there have to be clear marks that he’s done something good in your life. Not that he’s cause something to cause you good, but that he’s actually personally done the good thing.

You can’t always think on the things he might do in your life, because those things have yet to be and let’s be honest.. Most of the time hindsight shows us that they’re not the things we thought they’d be anyway.

Don’t strain to think of something.. Whatever comes first to your mind is the thing he’s done or the promise he’s kept. It’s salient for a reason.. It’s obvious exactly for when you need to remember in order to keep going.

Fulfilled

For the past couple years I’ve been on a quest to find out what on this earth makes me feel fulfilled. What can I do, where can I go, that makes me feel the best kind of emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. I haven’t quite found the pot of gold yet but I know for certain one thing that fills the gap is long distance running.

I never wrote a Philly Marathon race report, partially because I was busy, partially because I was lazy, and lastly because the last three miles of 26 shifted my perspective in a big way and I didn’t quite want to share it yet.

It’s not a secret really: do what you do because you’re motivated to do it, and the only person stopping you is you. Thats it. But it’s something I’ve been battling within my soul.

Once I gave myself permission to break through the confines of pain, exhaustion, and basically any physical barrier, my mind was free to control my body instead of the other way around.

I no longer felt dread or like I was slogging my unwilling body through the mud step by step. Instead, I felt like I was truly free and fulfilled for the first time in probably 2 or 3 years.

The high lasted for little more than 12 hours. When I came down, I came down hard but I knew what to expect. My first question was how to feel like this not just again, but always. I think I might spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out.

A bigger promise

I have failed miserably at writing here every day. But I do that some thoughts that have emanated from my daily devotional on the YouVersion Bible App.

The current plan I’m going through now with a friend is all about devotions that speak to real-life. Really, that’s what I look for in any devotion. But one day so far struck me in particular.

Waiting is a tough thing. It can try the most patient person, and the type of waiting can really make that period of time hard to bear.  In the midst of it, we have to remember God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises.

This is a noble thing – and we should take hold of it, remembering God’s promises. But the way it was presented in the devotional text was not pleasant. It discusses different life events that can cause us to wait or question God’s promises, including infertility:  “When there’s no pitter-patter of little feet, remember Genesis 30:22: ‘Then God remembered Rachel; he listening to her and enabled her to conceive.'”

This sounds like a nice thought in theory, but I think it’s where much of the ‘Christian narrative’ says that if you just pray enough, or wait enough, or remember the promises enough, God will give you what you desire. That the happy ending is coming. And I’m sorry to say this in case someone hasn’t heard it yet, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen.

I can’t tell you how strong my desire was (is…?) to have our own biological children. It was (is…? still working this out) immense. Overwhelming, all-consuming. Even as recent as a few weeks ago, I would be bee-bopping along in my actually really great life, then all of a sudden see a little girl with dark brown curls marching down the hall with her adorably too-big backpack and BAM. I was hit with that desire and emptiness that is sometimes so strong it could knock me to my feet in tears. I wish I were being dramatic.

So, considering our infertility, according to this idea in the devotional, did we not pray enough? Wait long enough? We have to look at this promise of God in context, as it’s specific to one woman, one situation in all the history of infertility.

The attitudes and apparent words of reassurance around the subject of infertility need to change, not just in the world, but especially in the church. There are probably millions of hurting women that instead of finding understanding and solace in the church when they confide their fears or feelings about their infertility are met with these one-off quotations of Scripture that really do nothing but cause more pain, at least for me.

We need a bigger promise. More than just God will enable us to conceive, because as I’m a first-hand witness to, sometimes it doesn’t happen (and maybe there is not some mysterious reason.. it could just be), and I firmly believe that our failure to procreate has nothing to do with our level of faith.

My promises from God have to be bigger to encompass and devour my fears, my emptiness, my sorrow over children lost, however intangible those children may be. My promises from God have to ensure that He holds me, He knows me, He loves me and has important and impactful work for me to do that does not involve being a biological mother or spreading my ‘maternal instinct.’

I will quote another part of the devotional that I found to be the most comforting: “When hope is scarce, remember Luke 24:6-7: ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you,… ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” That is the bigger promise. That is the promise.

NCR 20-Miler Recap

I should probably be lesson planning right now, but meh. It’s Wednesday. It’s rainy, windy and cool outside. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and not roasting. It’s finally fall.

And what better way to welcome fall than some running through the woods this weekend? The trees haven’t really started changing yet, but it was a lovely 46* starting out on Sunday.

I didn’t know even 24 hours before the race started that I’d be running it. I have to say I’ve never been so impulsive about signing up for a race. However, I’ve been training for the Marine Corps Marathon coming up in only a month (!!!!!) and I needed to do a long run anyway.

The NCR 20 Miler was on my radar a few months ago as a good way to get in a 20-miler without having to go it alone, but I forgot about it until I saw a post on Instagram. So if you’re wondering if advertising on Instagram works, well, it does. I drove down to Timonium to the running store to sign up and pick up my packet all in the same day. I mean, who wouldn’t want that awesome shirt?!

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My husband and I got up around 5:15 on Sunday morning, not too much later than when we wake up during the week. I have to say, that’s one thing I’ve really gotten disciplined about: getting up early and running before the sun even peeks over the horizon.

We got coffee on our way out of town (naturally) and drove up to Freeland, MD, just off I-83 and about 2 miles from the Mason-Dixon line (Pennsylvania border). It was a beautiful drive, mostly country roads, and we watched the sun rise.

The race was a point-to-point, so he dropped me off and drove down to Cockeysville, conveniently 20 miles south of Freeland. 😉 He hung out and drank coffee and did a little writing of his own while I ran.

I had my sights set on running a 12:00 pace, which would put me at 4 hours. That’s much slower than I’ve run long distance races in the past, but this is a new day. I’m heavier than I was 5-6 years ago while training for my first marathon. I’ve been dealing with this nagging calf/soleus pain in my left leg. I suspect that it might be caused by my shoes, but I’d like to not shell out a buck fifty for another pair quite yet.

Per the website, there were no headphones allowed on the trail. I ran the first 10-11 miles with no music. Just me, the trees, the sounds of nature, and the occasional cyclist or runner coming the opposite way. Let me tell you, it is a major victory for me to be able to run and enjoy it without headphones. After about mile 11, I turned on some music on my phone in the front pocket of my Nathan hydration pack. It was the perfect boost I needed between miles 10-15.

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20 miles of this? Yes, please.

My fuel for the race was a small iced coffee and pumpkin donut from Dunkin (apparently Dunkin is a big thing on the East Coast.. they’re everywhere…) and a couple Gatorade chews. For some reason, I have not been favoring GU gels, or really gels of any sort, this training cycle. The texture and taste are generally unappetizing. So I’ve been picking up these Gatorade chews from Walmart. They’re very similar to gummy candy, which I love, so it’s a good choice. I filled my Nathan pack with water and Nuun tablets. I’ve been using Nuun for about a year now and have never had any issues.

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Monkton, MD, a stop along the trail

Once I hit mile 17, I knew I had it in the bag. I saw lots of people who had passed me early on walking and looking like they were hurting. I told myself, “I’ll be damned if I come out and do this run and not finish strong.” So I did.

The last mile came out onto a road that was pretty hilly. Since I’ve been running hills since I moved to Maryland, it was no big deal. I powered through and had my second fastest mile (11:11). I finished in 3:59:33, pace 11:59. One second faster than my goal pace. I felt awesome.

It was the perfect confidence booster for MCM. I did an 18-miler just the week before, and a 17-miler two weeks before that. I’ll do around 12 this weekend and push for one more 20-miler October 10 before a three-week taper.

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Maryland Half Marathon –> NCR 20-Miler. Find the differences between these pictures: a hot, humid summer,  10-12 lbs, and loads of confidence.

I’ve treated this week similar to a ‘zero week’ (more like a 15 mile week) and taking it easy on my nagging calf. I’ll ramp it up next week and then move into the taper. Next I’ll start thinking about spring races…

April 11 | Refuge

Now that I’m back home and back to a normal schedule after the TESOL Convention last week, I’ve returned to my regular Bible study. It’s something I need to work on – Bible study should never be ditched even when life goes awry – but I found today’s readings (or rather, the week’s) especially touching.

Psalm 23 is so well-known. Many of us can quote it in our sleep. It was one that was recited at my grandmother’s memorial service, and its common words brought comfort to me. It’s part of the lectionary texts for the week per Alive Now. I prefer it in the New American Standard version.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I read the footnotes in my Bible, and it talks about how David wrote this while he was running and hiding from Saul, who was hot on his trail and wanting to kill him. Despite this, David found refuge even in the darkest moments.

Something I have been more cognizant of this calendar year has been to keep God at the forefront of my mind throughout the day. I get anxious very easily about my daily schedule; if something doesn’t go as planned I tend to start freaking out and complaining. One small change can send me over the edge, which can quickly form a dark downward spiral. It’s in those moments where I find calm, not in my ability to rein in my thoughts, but in declaring that God is the God of everything… even my daily mundane life. My goal is to seek refuge in Him whenever I’m feeling especially anxious to the point of an anxiety attack (thankfully attacks are rare for me now but still can happen*).

It grieves me to think of all the suffering and loss we have left to endure on the earth, with no escape that we can see with our human eyes. Therefore, we have to find refuge in the eternal. In this psalm, David is sure about goodness and lovingkindness following us throughout this life, and then he ends with our eternal hope. He writes in the present tense, reminding us, the readers, that God is here right now. At the juncture of this life and the next, we don’t just get glimpses and moments of calm in the midst of anxiety and confusion – we will walk into eternal calmness with absolutely no memory of our anxiety and confusion.

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