The Lesson of the Leg

Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who had been married a really long time.  One day, they realized they were in the most magical time of their lives so far.  Some people called it “middle age”, but they just called it fun.  They worked hard, played hard, and enjoyed life to the fullest.  They loved to travel, and one day they went on a trip to a galaxy far, far away.  They had lots of things planned on this trip, including travels to many places they had never seen before.  To start the trip, the man was participating in a dirt bike race, which was his passion.  Unfortunately, his race was cut short by an evil tree that jumped in front of his bike and broke his leg.  After everyone in the kingdom had a look at it, it was decided he needed to be sent to another galaxy in order to get the best treatment possible.

The man and woman spent a week dazed and confused in a hospital far from home, but after two surgeries by talented magicians and many more people in the kingdom oohing and ahhing over the unusual injury, they boarded a plane meant just for them and flew back to their little nest on the hill.  One more surgery awaited the man, then the healing began.

Being true believers, the man and the woman knew that there were lessons to be learned though any unfortunate experience, so in the stillness that followed, they sought the light.  True to His word, He offered answers, and the first one was immediately apparent.

*Be still.  The man and the woman had worked and played hard for many years, and had often filled their lives with “busyness” instead of business.  The woman struggled with this more than the man, but they both shared the trait.  A broken leg makes you be still in a way you never understood before.  Caring for one who is temporarily disabled makes you prioritize the work in your life.  Being still makes you much more able to hear God speak.

*Bad things happen to good people.  Even when they’re doing everything “right”.  Don’t be surprised or spend your time in anger when they happen to you.  Look for the lesson, it’s somewhere close by.

*Life isn’t perfect.  For every hill, there’s a valley.

*Just because you’re down, it doesn’t mean you’re out.  This was a lesson for the woman.  After the first few pain filled weeks, the man began to work out again, figuring out what he was able to do and setting about doing it.  He went to physical therapy, did all the exercises they prescribed when he wasn’t there,  even resumed his strength training to the best of his ability.  The woman was awed and humbled and resolved not to whine so much about her workouts.  That’s a work in in progress.

*Take time to heal.  We all have events (physical, spiritual, and emotional) that are traumatic and life changing.  Give yourself time to heal before you try to resume your “normal”.  And, realize that sometimes, life gives us new normals.

*Take care of yourself.  The man’s healing and recovery were greatly enhanced because he had spent the last years taking care of himself.  Keeping his weight at a reasonable level, working out, and playing hard.

*Pursue your passion.  Many people would be deterred from pursuing their passions when faced with a setback like a broken leg .  But, one thing the man taught the woman through all their years together was that life is about chasing dreams.  Setting the bar so high that you almost have to reinvent yourself to grab it.  Going for the gold requires endurance, stamina, desire, and a little luck, but it also requires a passion.  Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.  Dream big, and work hard.

*Choose joy.  Life is full of hard things.  Illness, injury, brokenness, even death.  Those things are part of our walk, and if we allow them to, they’ll suck us under.  Joy is a life decision that has to be made every day, sometimes every moment of every day.  That doesn’t mean walking around grinning like an idiot, it just means that you choose to persevere through the trials and emerge victorious on the other side.

The end of the story is still being written.  With God’s blessing, there should be many more years of magic.  As the new year dawns, the man and the woman are still learning the lessons of the leg and are limping into the future hand in hand.

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Why do it?

As this glutinous season grinds on, it’s time to look forward to the new year and start making our plans for training and racing.  I’m excited that so many in my inner circle of family and friends are lacing up and hitting the road (or the treadmill), and hope that many more will join us as this year closes and a new one begins.  As you look toward a healthier horizon, know that it’s never easy, sometimes it’s really boring, and not all runs are good ones, but making the decision to become a healthier you is one you’ll never regret.  Here are a few things that keep me looking for my running shoes at the crack of dawn.

*It helps me be nicer.  I took the week off from running after last weekend’s half marathon to nurse a few ouchies, and by Thursday, my sunny disposition had melted into a snarling, semi-hysterical puddle.  I had two vicious run-ins over the telephone, both of which make me hang my head in shame today.  Not that they were unprovoked, just that I usually deal with that type thing much better.  Apparently, I need running to help me deal with anger issues.  :/  Who knew?

*I’m responsible for my long term health/well-being.  No one else.  I often listen to podcasts as I run, and this morning’s run started with an Andy Stanley series entitled “Take Responsibility”.  In it, he made the statement that if you aren’t prepared to eat right and exercise now, when you’re healthy, you should sit your spouse or children down and ask them to go ahead and plan on taking care of you as you age.  Ouch.  While there are many things that lie outside my ability to prevent, there are lots of things that lie within it.  Eating well and exercising help me be the best me possible, today and in the future.

*I’m good to myself.  Time spent alone on an early morning run is the most quality time I spend with myself.  I relax, recharge, regroup, and reenergize.

*I catch up with my girl time.  Occasionally, I like to run with a friend.  It’s fun, motivating, and keeps the route interesting.

*I catch up with my guy time.  The thing I miss most about having my man down for the time being is running with him.  Yes, he pushes me hard.  Yes, that makes me grouchy.  It also makes me a better runner.  Get better soon, old man.

*I catch up on my reading.  I love to read.  But, my schedule (like yours) is overly full, especially this time of the year.  So, I download great books to my iPod that keep me company on long runs.  I’ve run with Harry Potter and friends, Jay Gatsby and Daisy, the inspiring women in “The Help”, Jamie and Claire Frasier from the “Outlander” series, and many,  many more.  I also like to listen to podcasts by some of my favorite speakers, including Andy Stanley (pastor of Northpointe Community Church in Atlanta), the late, great Zig Ziglar, the down to earth Joyce Meyers, and the funny girls over at Another Mother Runner.  Long runs are often “catch up on my podcasts” time.  

*I have a worship experience.  I have lots of music on my iPod and that sometimes leads to an amazing run.  My running playlist is very eclectic, running the gamut from Queen, Steppenwolf, and Tom Petty to Jonah 33, Jeremy Riddle, and Mercy Me and everything in between.  I dial it in, hit shuffle, and let God choose what I listen to.  At mile 4 this morning, just as I was getting in my groove, He selected Mercy Me’s “Word of God, Speak”.  And, it did.  Mile 4 was a hands raised to heaven kind of mile.  Love it when that happens.

*I feel spectacular.  I’ve been running consistently again for a little over three years.  I felt better after the first six months, then after a year, I felt great.  Now, I have energy to spare, morning runs fuel my day, I’m seldom sick with anything worse than a fever blister, and I wake up easily in the mornings, looking forward to the day.  Does it get better than that?

I hope this list helps you get motivated or re-motivated to move.  Please, don’t think you have to be a runner.  In fact, if you’re just starting out, haven’t run in a long time, are a little older, or are prone to injuries, just walk.  You never have to run, you certainly never have to race to reap the benefits of adding exercise to your life.  Everyone starts slowly, then gradually improves. It’s the natural way of things.    In the words of the incomparable, recently departed Zig Ziglar:

zig

A strong finish

For a self proclaimed anti-racer, I’ve been lining up at a lot of starting lines lately.  Blame it on the magnificent weather, which dawns a little on the too cold side, then blossoms into a beautiful sun filled day. Or, blame it on the fact that my training has been going really well lately.  So well, in fact, that I kind of overdid it a few weeks ago and ended up with some unwelcome off days to rest a slightly inflamed ankle.  Old ankle injuries apparently never really die, they just go into hibernation until you make them mad, then they come roaring back to life.  Fortunately, a week off worked wonders, and I even raced on it at the end of that rest week, to beat my 5k PR by almost a full minute.  Yes, racing is fun to me, finally.  Whatever is to thank (or blame) for it, I’m grateful.

Yesterday found me at the starting line of another local 5k, this one very small, maybe 30 racers total.  It was a benefit for Bethany Christian Services, and was in the beautiful Bellegrass subdivision of west Hattiesburg, which has a surprisingly hilly course.  I signed up on race morning, as this was a last minute decision, and the early morning cold almost made me change my mind.  I wasn’t sure I should even race this weekend as next weekend is my next “real” race, a half marathon in Orange Beach, Alabama.  But, my training schedule for the half has been erratic, at best, since Gary’s accident, so I figured, why not throw in a last minute 5k to make things shake, rattle, and roll?    Gary & I loaded up early, got coffee at Starbucks (he ate cake, I had my usual 5k pre-race meal of coffee & hard boiled egg), then headed out to find the race site.

I didn’t really have a race plan, but once I started running, I just pounded it out to the end.  Up hill, down hill,up hill again.  Past groups of chattering young women, a few men who were taking an easy morning jog, and around the beautifully laid out development to the last hill at the finish line.  Hate hills at the finish line, by the way.  Ended up shaving a couple more seconds off my PR and winning my age group again.  Not that difficult, but I also blew past a lot of women much, much younger than me.  Well, blew past may be a little on the extreme side descriptively, but I like the way it sounds.

I love how small town races reflect the diversity of the running community.  People in all sizes and shapes, in all ages and stages, with varying skill and speed levels, all line up for a good cause and a little exercise.  There were two young boys (maybe 8 or 9) who were just ahead of me for most of the race.  They were obviously racing each other and unconcerned about the race as a whole.  One made a dash into the woods and I thought, Ok, I’ll pass them now.  But, no, they easily got back on course and were pacing each other and punching each other for the next 27 minutes or so.  I would gain on them, then they effortlessly glided ahead and away while laughing and hollering.  My breathing sounded like I had on Darth Vader’s mask, and any conversation on my end was short and to the point.  They danced across the finish line a full minute ahead of me, with energy to spare and slaps and giggles all around.  Loved it!

That’s what running is all about.  Fun, camaraderie, testing yourself, pushing limits, trying new things, making new friends, and more fun.  Runners come in all sizes and shapes (thank goodness!), and isn’t a one size fits all sport.  You never have to run a race, or be particularly fast to be a runner.  I have lots of fast running friends who never talk down to my slow, plodding times.  They treat me like what I am – a runner.  I heard on a podcast the other day that a real runner never asks you what your finishing time is, they just rejoice with you that you finished.  I have to agree with that.  All the runners that I consider “real” runners are exactly like that.  They know that their only real competition is themselves, and continually strive to better their own performance.  Most of us will never win a major race, or even place in our age groups in those races, but we’ll finish all the same and be happy, content, stronger, and healthier than our non-running friends.  And, really, isn’t finishing well what life is really all about?

Facing fears and overcoming doubt

My dad is a wonderful storyteller.  He’s always told stories and jokes, sometimes to make a point, other times to make us laugh.  Usually, even the funny stories had a point to them, often very subtle ones that you didn’t stumble on until days later when the story crossed your mind again.  I’m not a particularly good storyteller, especially verbally.  I can’t seem to remember all the details of the story, and usually leave out something very important that makes the entire point.  I don’t really remember a lot of Dad’s tales, but many of the punch lines (or points) have stayed with me throughout my life.

One of those stories Dad told me so long ago that I can’t even remember when, had such a punchline.  I don’t remember the story. I know it was about my Grandma Bess (his mother), and involved a broom, a skillet, and a “booger” that turned out to be a cat or something, but other than that the details escape me.  What I do remember, and what has served me well throughout my life was the point the story made.  The point was, it’s important to always “face your boogers.”  In other words, in this life, we’re going to have things that happen that frighten us or make us doubt.  Those are the things we have to turn around and face, or they will overwhelm us and never allow us to move forward.  Very often, those “boogers” turn out to be scared little kittens that run away from you when you face them.  Other times, they are as bad as you feared, but facing them reminds you that you can overcome anything, if you have the proper foundation, and the appropriate faith.

This weekend I’ve faced a couple of my “boogers”.  Yesterday, I ran the first 5k race that I’ve run in a very long time.  I really don’t even remember the last one I ran.  This was a “booger” for me because I’m often filled with doubt about my abilities.  That covers a wide range of things, but particularly my ability to run, or race – especially short, fast races.  For the most part, I’m content to be a back of the packer.  Plodding along, enjoying the scenery, and stopping to take a picture or five along the way.  But, life throws things at you that you don’t expect sometimes, and I’ve come to the realization that if I’m going to do this, I want to be the best that I can be at it.  That doesn’t mean I’ll ever aspire to running greatness.  But, like a running friend said yesterday, I want to be faster when I grow up.  (He’s 57 & wicked fast already.)  That resonated with me.  I want to be faster.  I want to be able to enjoy my runs still, but the need for speed is creeping in.  So, I”m facing that fear, trying to overcome the doubt I have in my ability and moving forward.

This morning brought a new “booger”.  And, this one is a completely new fear for me.  If you know me, you know that I’m relatively fearless.  I’ve never minded running alone (probably even when I should have), never been afraid to run in the dark, or on the road or a trail…if it was a new place to run, or even an old one that I particularly liked, I would head out to it, no fear or doubt, just anticipation.  Gary’s recent accident made me a little too aware of how vulnerable we all are.  I mean, really, we’re all just one stumble away from a broken bone.  And, running in the pre-dawn hours along a roadway with a fair amount of traffic like our road has, for some reason had me spooked.  I feel a lot less bullet proof than I used to.  I’ve run our neighborhood thousands of times, but the thought of stepping out there has recently set my heart pounding when I consider it.

So, I’ve headed over to our local Rails to Trails, the Longleaf Trace, for all my runs lately.  It’s a beautiful place to run, but it has a couple of drawbacks.  One is that it is super flat.  There are slight inclines, but no real hills.  As much as I hate hills, I know they make be a better runner, so I try to sprinkle in a few hill workouts weekly.  Another drawback is that it is about 20 minutes from my house.  Not a terrible drive, but certainly not as convenient as out my back door and down the street.  I typically do my long runs on the Trace when we’re in town, and do my shorter training runs here in the neighborhoods around my house during the week.  This morning was a shorter run, and as I prepared to go, Gary asked me where I was going.  I told him to the Trace & he gave me that confused dog look (you know, when they turn their heads sideways and wrinkle their noses).   “Why?”  I fumbled around a few seconds, looking for a good excuse, and really couldn’t come up with one.  So, I put on my big girl panties and headed out the back door.

Something really neat happens to me when I face my fears.  My senses open up and I see the world around me with fresh eyes.  My ability to see God’s hand weaving patterns throughout my life, in and around events, shaping, molding, refining me, is intensified.  This morning He gave me a true appreciation, not just for the gift of running, but for the beautiful vista He’s planted right outside my doorstep.  My first treasure:

Painted sky over my lake

The show didn’t stop there:

Sunrise in Sunrise, Mississippi

And, as I returned from a solid, fear free run, one last treasure:

The slough at sunrise

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. Matthew 21:21

I’m trying, Lord.

Choosing joy

God is such a good planner.  A few weeks ago, I signed up for a Growth Group at our church.  These are small group sessions that meet throughout the week, some at the church, others in people’s homes.  I selected one that appealed to me, a study of Max Lucado’s book “The Applause of Heaven.”  I was surprised and delighted to discover that this one would actually be meeting close to my home in Petal. Unusual because our church is located in Hattiesburg, not a long drive, but about 20-25 minutes from us, depending on traffic.

I knew I would be unable to attend the first couple of sessions, as we had this extended trip planned.  Of course, I didn’t know that God had other plans.  But, I’ve already encountered His hand, even though the first session hasn’t even met, nor have I met our growth group leader face to face.  I know already that I’m going to love her, though.  She’s reached out to all of us through e-mails, and sent me several personal messages that have been uplifting and encouraging.

I settled in this morning to begin reading the book, and it is balm to a troubled spirit.  God knew exactly what I would need, when I would need it, and He provided.  As He always does.  I’m not even surprised, just humbled and thankful.

I’ve tried to make choosing joy a lifestyle in my adult life.  I’ll admit I haven’t always done that, but as I’ve grown in spiritual wisdom, I’ve realized the importance of this in our lives.  Joy is so much more durable than happiness.  Happiness is fleeting.  You can be having a wonderful day, full of fun things and people, be “secure” in your relationships and lifestyle, then look in the mirror and see how bad your hair looks, or that new wrinkle that wasn’t there last week and all the air lets out of your balloon.  That’s how fleeting happiness is.

Joy, on the other hand, comes from someplace else.  It comes from a deep connectedness with our Creator.  He’s the only One who can provide it, and the only way you can get it.  And, it’s easy to get, and it’s hard to get.  It’s easy in that it is readily available, ours for the asking.  It’s hard because our stubborn selves stand in the way.  Too often, we think we’re just not the joyful type.  So, guess what?  We’re not.  Our human nature after the fall of man is not the joyful type.  Joy is something we choose.

Think of people that you know.  Those who decide to be joyful carry it with them everywhere they go.  They see God’s hand in every event, good and bad, and they search for the light in the darkness that He provides.  Those who don’t make the choice to be joyful spend their lives in sadness and depression, never able to truly latch on to joy and allow God’s strength to flow through them and give them the ability to persevere.  I know which one I want to be.

Update on Gary:  We spent an easier night last night, both of us getting a little more rest.  Gary’s pain is being managed, but of course, the medication they use is making him sleepy & a little loopy.  Or, loopier than usual.  As he & I work a little this morning, I keep looking at him and seeing him sitting upright in bed, computer in lap, and eyes closed in sleep.  But, he’s fairly pain free and in a rested mood.  They’ll be giving him PT shortly, though, so that will likely change.  Thanks so much for your calls, texts, e-mails, messages, and, most of all, your prayers.  Don’t stop now!

26 The gods of other nations are mere idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens!
27 Honor and majesty surround him;
    strength and joy fill his dwelling.

28 O nations of the world, recognize the Lord,
    recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong

1 Chronicles 16: 26-28

The power of two

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better,  for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12

I’m a solitary runner.  I enjoy the time spent on my feet and inside my head.  Sometimes I listen to music or podcasts or books, but more often than not, it’s just me, God, and the voices in my head.  I like it that way.  It’s my time to unplug from the world and press the reset button on my life.  It’s why I fell in love with running, there’s no great skill required and it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.

But, the last few long runs have found me in a different mood.  What I look forward to in the days leading up to a long run feels very different in the weird glow of my alarm clock on the morning of my run.  It’s all I can do to make myself get up, slap on gear and head out the door, knowing that long, lonely miles are stretched ahead of me.  So, I’ve turned to my trusty Ipod for help.  Soul soothing praise music, heart pumping rock and roll, and some of my favorite podcasts have blazed the trail for me the last couple of weeks.

Then, this week rolled through.  It’s been a really tough week for me. Both mentally and emotionally. For lots of reasons and no reason.  I’ve struggled this week.

I set the alarm to 5:45 am  yesterday to get my seven miler in early.  I had looked forward to it the day before, but when that alarm went off, the snooze button was too tempting, so it was 6:45 before I actually got up.  The thought of running seven miles was about as appealing as drinking warm Gatorade, but I geared up and headed out the door anyway.  I’ve been doing this long enough that I know that most of the time, getting started is the hardest part.  Once, you’re running, something takes flight inside you and you can do what you have to do.  Not so yesterday.  Everything hurt and nothing seemed to work in cooperation with anything else.  I ended up running the first mile, then walking another 2 1/2.  Blah.

One of the great things about running, though, is that there’s always a re-do. This morning it was a little easier to get up, and I looked forward to the challenge ahead.   I was excited that my man was going to run it with me.  He’s been training with me on my long runs occasionally in preparation of pacing me to my goal time at a half marathon in late November.

Gary is the perfect running partner.  Strong and durable, he can hold his own on a long run, even when he hasn’t run in months.  He’s not too much of a talker, although he does usually have a few smart remarks to make as we plod along. Those mostly just make me laugh, though, so he provides comic relief as well.   He pushes me a  little harder than I like, but he knows me better than anyone, knows I have a tendency to stop and smell the roses (or snap a picture) too often, and knows the outer boundaries of my limits.  He’s also fairly hard of hearing, so he can’t hear the obscenities I sometimes hurl at him when he’s pushing that outer boundary.  Or, at least, he pretends he can’t hear them. So, off we went in search of a trail to run.

We arrived in the magnificent Desoto National Forrest just as the sun was coming up.  It was beautiful and quiet, the only noise coming from the gravel crunching beneath our feet.  The temperatures weren’t awful, considering it is still August, and the first couple of miles were serene and soul soothing.

But, this isn’t going to be a description of a wonderful, soul soothing run because after mile two, things got ugly.  My legs cramped some and began to complain, my breathing was fast and labored, and, of course, the piece de resistance, my tummy started misbehaving.   After my first dash into the woods (yes, there were two), I rolled my ankle in a rut on the road.  Not horrible, but painful enough.  We kept on running.  By mile 4, my body said it was through, but my mind wasn’t having any of that nonsense.  So, I dug deep and pushed on.  By mile 5, my mind was showing signs of decamping, so I raised my hands in supplication and asked for God to fill me with His presence.  There was no way I was quitting this one.  At mile 6, I got behind Gary and pretended he was pulling me.  My eyes locked on the center of his back and I attached an imaginary rope to him that pulled me along.  That worked for about a half mile, then the rope started getting longer and longer until I could no longer see Gary in front of me.  I took several walk breaks that reminded me of video I’ve seen of elite runners who have hit the wall in a marathon and are staggering and mumbling incoherently.  Yet, still, something deep inside of me knew that if I didn’t finish this 7, I would hate myself after I quit.  So, I picked up the pace (imagine a turtle’s pace, then add a snail’s pace to it & you can visualize how fast this was).  Mile 7 was the Longest. Mile. Ever.  But, I finished.

I’m sure I’ve had runs this bad before, but I really can’t think of any.  If I could have produced them, there would have been tears.  My throat was clogged with them, but there wasn’t enough moisture to bring them to the surface, so I just heaved sobs.  Not pretty, dainty ones.  It was the ugly cry.

As usual, there are lessons to be learned from every run, and the bad ones teach me the most.  The most important thing I took away from this run was the realization of the power of two.  If Gary hadn’t been with me, I would have bailed after mile 3 or certainly after the second trip to the woods.  Having his strong, constant presence with me gave me comfort and strength that I wouldn’t have found had I been on my own.  Wrap that third strand (the Holy Spirit) around me and I can accomplish so much more than I ever thought possible.  I’m thankful that when I have to dig that deep that I have solid Rock to pull out.

So, an excellent breakfast, 4 bottles of water, and 2 cups of coffee later, I sit here with my feet propped up and ice on my ankle nursing my quivering tummy as Gary finishes up our hurricane preparations.  I’m humbly thankful that I don’t always have to run through the storms of life alone.   If you’re struggling this week, mentally or physically, reach out to someone who loves you.  That’s why they’re in your life. Get over the idea that we have to face every battle alone.