I have feelings about this word. I was thinking about it today while driving through beautiful and scenic western Maryland. Almost everything I lay eyes on becomes beloved to me in some way. But who calls me beloved?
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.
Passages from the Common Lectionary :
Psalm 103, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
My yearly journey of reflection through Lent continues for the third year in a row. I think last year I fell off the wagon.. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. Faith has proved to be a hard road to travel in recent years.
Lent will always and forever be an even more somber time than it usually is. Two years ago I was in the middle of Lent when my grandmother died. I really learned what ‘from dust you were created; to dust you shall return. Conversely, I also saw through new eyes what it meant to be resurrected in Jesus. My grandmother’s faith became more real to me in her death.
Today’s word is spirit. Tonight I’m thinking about what is said in yoga, that our spirit is our breath and vice versa. I like that thought, especially when we talk about death. When the breath is gone, so is the spirit. There cannot be spirit without breath. God created man and breathed into him, and so man was incomplete and unalive until that moment.
Running, specifically long distance running, has a way of stripping a person down to the inner grit and grime of who she is. The effects of using all the body’s energy and breaking down muscle only to be rebuilt stronger don’t discriminate between man, woman, young, old, affluent, poor, elite, not elite (read: me).
Today’s long run was more of a mental feat than a physical one. I’ve had this habit of doubting myself lately and what my body can accomplish. It’s still probably leftover from feeling an ultimate betrayal from my body, but what can I do besides keep pushing through it?
It wasn’t the number of miles that got to me today. It was the utter horrible, bitter, angry thoughts that found their way into my head during the last third of my run. For about 7 miles, I saw who I really can be sometimes at my core – jealous, envious, certainly not well-wishing. Something I realized though is that while I don’t generally feel that way anymore, it brought to light some interesting or surprising revelations about myself that are hard to confront.
I think God wants to reveal these things to me so I can be forgiven, but I push it down most of the time. It’s only on a 20-mile run that I’m a captive audience with little distraction but passing cars and music.
The truth is, I need redemption and love and to not feel lonely in the world. I need to feel like my life matters and that I can do something that counts. I need reassurance that the decisions I’ve made in my life have brought me to this place for a reason. I need to know that any and all hurts I’ve experienced haven’t been in vain. I need to know that even as a broken, hurting soul I still have love to give.
This morning I was mad, angry, jealous, upset. Those emotions felt to my soul like brushing off rough salt felt on my sweaty face. I felt exposed to every person I painfully strode by, not wanting to meet their eyes because I knew I couldn’t muster a fake smile. Surely they could see how grimey and gritty my soul really was.
Today’s run was wholly about the journey, not for one second about the destination. In life the destination is death, and then the afterlife.
But I’m not living (running) to die – I’m living (running) to live.
I couldn’t hear one more platitude as I shared my story. I couldn’t stomach one more look of pity, or even worse, blank space behind the eyes. It was just too painful.
I became exhausted listening to all the things people said to me. And I say me specifically because for some reason the man’s role in reproducing just isn’t on many people’s radars. And for some reason the questions about kids – whether we had them, why we didn’t have them – were directed towards me.
It seems that the ‘thing’ these days is instead of being present with people as they’re rocked by the waves of grief, we try to fix the pain. We’re uncomfortable as a society to see people in pain. And it needs to stop.
I experienced this with the death of my grandmother, Jane, who I absolutely adored and loved. I found myself justifying my grief at what to our whole family came largely as a surprise – how ridiculous is that?
“My grandmother passed away, but she lived a long life.”
“My grandmother died last month, but now she no longer suffers.”
“My grandmother died suddenly, but she’s with Jesus now.“
These are things I said, and I so longed to just allow the discomfort of the heart-wrenching loss and let people join me in my grief.
We look at the other side as greener. It’s the American way, right?
“We can’t have kids, but now we can travel and do whatever we want!”
“We could have gone through IUI or IVF, but it just would have had a horrible impact on my mental state.”
These “but….” phrases are dangerous. Not only do they not satisfy us and make us feel better, but they allow us to completely drive by the very real grief a person is going through. I don’t owe anybody an explanation or a platitude to make them feel better, for God’s sake. When we’re grieving, we have a horrible propensity to do unnecessary emotional labor for others.
I was (am) desperate to just say, “We couldn’t have kids.” and allow that truth, however uncomfortable, to settle in. I wanted to say for once, “I lost my grandmother and we were very close.”
I had to do this on my own. Even my church community seemed to be at a loss, more about the intangible loss of parenthood than about losing a person who was lucky enough to live 87 years.
There is a lot of work to be done in the area of grief, death, dying, and trauma in this society. But those of us who have been afflicted can’t stay silent. We need to be willing to compassionately educate others – to have the difficult conversations,
To let the uncomfortable truth of loss fall where it may. To allow space for discomfort. To reject platitudes. To accept our grief. It is only in this acceptance and space that we as a society can get closer to the hard things and be okay with it. And from there, we can better comfort those in need and in grief.
Last year for Lent I wrote a little bit everyday about a given topic and related it to my walk with Christ. Instead of spending time on social media, I spent time writing, praying, and reflecting. I will take time this year as well to write about a topic a day. I found the practice to be healing and introspective. Over the next few weeks, I hope to stay true to the spirit of freewriting by not editing or revising much.
MARCH 1: HEAL
Twenty sixteen was a year of grief. I hope 2017 will be a year of healing.
What grief do I need healing from? First of all, the grief of the intangible: infertility. I’m still wrestling with the reality that infertility unfortunately brings upon its sufferers. And I don’t think suffer is too strong of a word. Second of all, I need healing for the loss of loved ones – most recently my grandmother, almost a year ago now. Her death was sudden and heartbreaking, and I went through many weeks of reading and pondering all I could about grief, death, what our bodies actually go through when they die, and the hope we have in an afterlife.
A good portion of my healing so far has occurred through a practice of introspection and disconnection from things that bring me, well, grief. To put it plainly, I’ve deleted my Facebook once and for all. I’ve taken many steps back from social media in order to quit the comparison game. I’ve given myself permission to take back my time and head space. It’s been quite revolutionary.
Another portion of my healing, surprisingly, has been working with children. Exposure therapy, if you will. In August I was hired to teach elementary ESOL. I had never taught elementary in my life. I’d been an paraprofessional in first grade, but really had no idea about the #elementarylife. Funny enough, my office is situated in the hallway with the youngest children in our school – pre-K and preschool. Some days this has been rough, to see their adorable selves carrying their huge backpacks, thinking about if we had had a child when we started trying, he or she would be getting to that age. However, overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I never lack hugs or smiles…. but maybe I lack patience at times. 😉
And finally a third portion of my healing has been my yoga practice. I never thought I’d become a ‘yogini’, but I found a local yoga studio that’s just fantastic. I’ve been going about 3 times per week for about a month. The strength I’ve built is surprising… I keep joking that one day I’ll be able to do a legit pushup. Seriously, I’ve begun to love my body again instead of feeling so betrayed.
Running is always a part of healing for me… it’s also a part of celebration, of determination, of courage. It keeps me centered and gives me time to meditate and pray and appreciate the world around me. And for all these things I’m grateful.
It’s August 8, 2015. I’m relaxing post-run, breakfast, coffee, and shower in my (hot) house in El Paso, Texas. I don’t know if I’ll share this post today, tomorrow, or five years from now, but a voice in my soul is yearning to be heard, even if it becomes a draft somewhere in cyberspace. I don’t want to wait until I’m out of this particular tunnel before I get some thoughts down.
Sometimes the hardest things in life have no explanation. In fact, looking back on the nearly 30 years I’ve lived, I’d say most hard things have no explanation, or best case scenario, a very complicated one.
In the going-on-30 years I’ve lived, I’ve been running for roughly five of those. And I would say the past five years contain some of the most difficult life situations. I ramped up my training and signed up for a marathon when I knew that I would not be joining my husband in Korea, despite quitting my full-time teaching job and packing up half our belongings. I’ve trained through my sister’s horrible car accident that almost took her life. I continued a run streak while in Illinois for my grandfather’s funeral. I ran through mental and physical obstacles (i.e. hills and mountains) during my husband’s first and (thank God) only deployment.
Now I’m running through infertility. There. I said it. That’s tough, to see that word attached to you, your life, your experience on the earth. There’s something about that word being on the page that evokes emotions. Emotions that I haven’t always let myself fully feel or share. Somehow in 2015 there is still a resounding gong of pursed lips and shhh that surrounds talking about infertility, miscarriage, or if you put it all together, the failure to do what we’ve been told our whole lives is our biological charge in this world.
For the first six to eight months that we were “trying” (although I’d quip that anytime someone has unprotected sex, they’re trying), I stopped running altogether. We were adjusting post-deployment, which was hard. Inexplicably hard. I graduated from my Master’s program and had jumped in head first (or belly-flopped?) into a demanding four-week summer gig teaching beginning English eight hours a day. After that I was to begin my first year as university faculty, in what was pretty much my dream job. I was busy. And tired. And fulfilled from teaching.. but month after month went by and pregnancy test after pregnancy test found its way into the trash can.
Excitement. I can’t quite describe how it feels to be so excited, to think, Wow, now THIS will be the month! THIS will be the cycle! Better make plans because man, we’re gonna have a baby in nine months. I think about our baby announcement, names we’ve picked out (for years actually), logistics of taking maternity leave, where I want to deliver. Mind you, that lovely pink line hasn’t even been provoked yet and the mind goes crazy with these thoughts.
Anger. Then the one biological sign we as women have really been programmed to hate shows up. And it can’t just come quietly, either. It has to remind us with cramps and mood swings and acne (all of which are worse off the pill, of course) that yet again, my womb is empty. I’m angry. Angry at the world for telling me that this would be so easy. Okay, kids, if you have sex, you will get pregnant. You guys are healthy and active – it will happen quickly for you! My so-and-so was on the pill too and when she came off of it, she got pregnant in the first month! It’s okay if you guys don’t get pregnant right away, you’re young and you have time. So much anger and bitterness towards these words and attitudes, even if they’re meant without harm.
I’m angry. At myself for thinking this would be so easy. At my uterus, without a doubt. At the fact that I had given up “strenuous exercise” that gives me peace of mind in order to make my uterus apparently more hospitable (???). Judging by the first week of the cycle, nothing in my body is hospitable to anything except coffee and ice cream. Typical. Rinse and repeat.
Bitterness. This is the most dangerous part of the process, but the most difficult part to avoid. We’re at the age where people have been married a few years and are actually getting pregnant on purpose with first, second, third children. Twins! Natural triplets! IVF triplets! Wow! If I just hide enough friends on Facebook or unfollow enough people on Instagram, I won’t have to deal with it. The lies and comparisons creep in anyway. I think, Wow, by the time she’s my age, her kid will be in first grade. Then my heart sinks again. If I have a baby in the next year, I’ll be almost 50 when he or she graduates from high school. My parents are in their early 50’s now, and we’re all out of the house. They have a grandbaby. Congratu-freaking-lations, Elizabeth. You’re gonna be one of those “old” moms. Ugh.
So I start running again, through the excitement soon replaced by anger and bitterness. It’s my revenge at the world. Hey! Look at me! You’re sitting over there using your pregnant belly as a shelf and here I am! Running! On trails! With my husband! And I didn’t need a babysitter! Because we have no baby at home! Your kid is being a brat? Your kid is puking? Fantastic! Not my circus, not my monkeys, that’s what I say. I walk away thinking, Maybe this not-getting-pregnant thing is a blessing in disguise.
Grief. No one tells you about this. No one ever says when you’re in sex ed, Now kids, keep in mind that not everyone is going to be able to have their own biological children, so just, ya know, keep that in mind when you’re actually ready to take on the socially-acclaimed-to-be-prestigious and little-thanked full-time job of parenting. No one tells you that you could have dreams about your future children, see them, their faces, their hair, have names picked out but your dreams might not ever realize. No one tells you that this grief is actually real, though there’s not a tangible representation.
I run through the grief. It comes and goes, and sometimes I think about it on a run and sometimes I don’t. Mostly I just think about how I need water or how I wish a different song would come on my random playlist or, not surprisingly, that the run would be over. The endorphins afterwards help, especially paired with sugary coffee and a good ole West Texas sunrise.
Acceptance. I think I was at this stage prematurely, and because of that, it’s taken away most of my motivation to keep going. To endure more procedures. More tests. Set aside more money for co-pays. Our life is pretty darn amazing. I always knew it would be. But even a decade ago, I had this feeling like maybe our life would be hard. Na, I totally knew that it would be hard. We’ve seen others take a longer, more drawn out, more expensive road to parenthood. It’s not just the medical bills that are expensive. It’s the toll it takes on a marriage, on each person’s self esteem. On the hope that you had that one day you’d have a mini-you running around. Or many mini-yous.
I had it all planned out. Never in my life did I envision that I’d have trouble getting pregnant. Maybe I never thought about it because before we truly weren’t ready to bring kids into our life. Now that we’ve been married awhile and the military has graciously let our lives calm down a bit and actually live together for once, I’m becoming more and more accepting if this is not going to happen.
Contentment. I’m not quite there yet. I have a pretty optimistic and go-getter personality that I think can get me there sooner rather than later. I feel contentment in waves, much like grief. When I watch the sunrise from the rearview mirror. Or feel the warm water of a lake. Or watch fog evaporate over mountains. Or sit in cozy silence with my husband, not having to say a word. In the laughter of nieces and nephews. My contentment will be found in other places, if not in my womb. Those places I will find as time goes on.
I’ll keep on running and training. I will focus on what my body can do rather than what it can’t do. Running provides mental stability and repair. It gives me an opportunity to pray and seek, whether over six miles or twenty-six miles. This is where I’m at. We all have different reasons for running; here’s mine.
This doesn’t make sense. I might even let my
twenty-nine-year-old five-year-old self say that it’s not fair. It’s not logical. Egg, meet sperm. Sperm, meet egg. Ok? Ok. Or not. But you know what is logical? Feet on pavement. Step after step, mile after mile. The gently used stroller I preemptively bought from a friend might sit in the closet and collect dust, but my running shoes won’t.