Hagg Lake Tri – I’m Coming For You…

FullSizeRender (35)When my husband told me to look at several race choices and pick one, as a way to celebrate my birthday weekend, there was one important piece of criteria the race had to have. It had to be an easy, relatively flat, bike course. I also didn’t feel ready for an ocean swim, so, no ocean, therefore, no sharks to worry about, was number two on my list. Weather was a lesser determining factor. Being from Arizona, cooler temperatures sounded a lot more inviting, than heat and humidity. Races in mosquito infested areas didn’t make the cut, either. Other than that, a beautiful course, nice downtown, shopping areas, good food and wine, hiking or other outdoor activities, all of those would be pluses. After looking at several races in many states and checking all of the bike courses, I settled on the Hagg Lake Triathlon. It appeared to have a few rolling hills with minimal elevation, a lake swim, cool temperatures, a beautiful race venue and it was in Oregon, one of our favorite states to visit. Portland has so many fantastic restaurants, and with wine country close by, it would be a perfect way to celebrate a birthday weekend!

We had our bikes shipped ahead of time so they would be ready for us. Race week, the weather was looking pretty rough from an Arizonan’s perspective, low 50’s and a steady rain. That’s winter in AZ. To the locals in Oregon, our gear bag contents probably looked ridiculous. We had enough layers, we might have been warm enough for snow. Race day, actually ended up being pretty near perfect though. It was in the low 60’s with cloudy skies. It looked like it would rain, but never did, and the sun actually peeked out a few times.

All of our pre-race activity went smoothly. We arrived early. Our bikes were there waiting and ready for us. Athlete’s Lounge was the sponsoring bike shop. They did a wonderful job taking care of our bikes.

IMG_6397Next was body marking. For my non-triathlete friends, body marking is when they write your race numbers on your arms and also your age on your leg. Race day was the actual day of my birthday, so for the first time this year, they wrote my true age on my leg. I remember how appalled I was when I did my first triathlon and they wrote my age on my leg! I soon realized it wasn’t so bad though, when during the race you pass people who are younger than you. It’s no big deal anymore. As they say, “Age is just a number, THEY WRITE ON YOUR LEG.”

My husband and I got our gear all set up in transition. We both noticed a lot of really nice bikes and that the field of athletes looked to be pretty experienced. Not that it was intimidating at all…  🙂

The only thing I didn’t get to do, which may have made a big difference in my race, was a FullSizeRender (37)warm up run. I have asthma and being able to run first really helps me with the breathing when I swim. Since we had to be out of the transition area early, that wasn’t going to work. Everyone was already putting on their wetsuits for the swim. We got our wetsuits on and headed down to the lake for the start of the race. We were unaware that we were allowed to do a warm up swim, but we weren’t by the lake early enough for that. At least we got a couple minutes to get in the water, which gave me a chance to be sure my goggles weren’t leaking.

Here’s where the story starts. That swim. I’ll never forget that swim. That swim made me think about not doing triathlon ever again. That swim made me think about never wanting to swim again, period! I had a triangle of three buoys to swim around. I was to do two loops. It started out ok. I choked a little, which I do from time to time. I ran into a couple people. That happens. I swallowed water. That happens, too. But by the time I was around the second buoy, the wind had kicked up the water and there were waves like none I’ve ever had to swim in before. The water was choppy. I’m used to swimming in a lake with high canyon walls, protected from wind, really. There are no boat waves, just kayaks and a few paddleboards. I’m a wuss, is what I’m saying! No matter how I turned my head to breathe, I got a mouthful of water instead of air. I choked several times. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to swim with my head up. I still couldn’t breathe. I stopped to catch my breath. I sat in the water watching  swim capped heads pass by, all seemingly unaffected by the turbulence that was causing me to lose hope that I could finish one loop, let alone, two. I rested a few times, and then tried to propel myself forward. Every time I put my face in the water, within not so many strokes, I was choking and out of breath again. I finally reached the second buoy. A boat was there and the man was yelling for me to turn, which is what I was going to do as soon as I got around the buoy. I wasn’t understanding that the wind had blown the buoy off course and I had swam farther than I needed to and he was trying to tell me I didn’t have to swim around the buoy, but could turn in toward shore sooner. Blame the slowness of understanding on lack of oxygen, maybe… There was another boat guy after the buoy. Winded to the point I felt my wetsuit choking me, I asked if I could hold on for a few minutes. I’m not sure how long I did hold on, but I did a lot of talking. I apologized for having to burp, because burping is what one has to do much of when they drink half a lake. He said he had seen worse. Poor guy. He was a good listener. I talked about quitting, about how I thought I was going to be last and how I had never quit and I didn’t want to quit, but I couldn’t breathe, and I still had another loop to swim. My stomach hurt from swallowing so much water. My wetsuit felt like it was choking me. I wanted that medal! I didn’t want to be last… Finally, he acted like it was time for me to get going. He didn’t try to influence me. He just listened and said he would be there if I needed him. So off I went toward that last buoy. It was so close to shore. I could go in and this whole horrible mess would be over with or I could go back out into the waves one more time…

IMG_0920It’s amazing how much thinking you can do under duress. I have a mug that says, “The Mind is the Athlete.” It’s so true. I had so many reasons not to finish the race. They sounded good to me at the time. Hey, breathing is a big deal! I really wanted that medal, though. When you train hard, you should get something to show for it, right!  How many people wish they had what someone else has, but they aren’t willing to do what it takes to get it? I thought about that in the water. I did NOT want to finish that swim! The only way I was going to get that medal was to stay the course, finish the race and cross that line at the end.

There was another very powerful thought that went through my mind. As I said, it was my birthday. Thanks to Facebook, my friends and family knew we we’re doing the race, so I was getting a lot of support from that. I had briefly scanned some of the posts as we were driving to the event. My mom had posted. In her post she said I was an example of courage and perseverance. Wow, the power of the words we speak! My mom’s words were power that day. No I didn’t feel courage at that moment and finishing that swim was the last thing I wanted to do, but I was going to be what my mom said I was. I rounded the third buoy and I kept swimming. If you think you’re hearing Dory singing, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming…” It’s me! I sing it all the time now.

The rest of the race, I just had to make the best I could of it. By the time I got back to transition, my bike was the last one, meaning I was the last one to get out on the bike course. The thing I feared the most, being last… I thought it would be like it has been in other races, I’d be able to make up time and pass people, but not so. The bike course that I initially chose for it’s easy rolling hills, well, I must have gotten mixed up with all the courses I had looked at. This one did not have easy rolling hills. I train on mostly flat routes because of issues with my knees, so not only was I not prepared for the hills, my knees were very unhappy with me. I also hadn’t had to use the gearing on my tri bike much, since I ride flat routes. That further complicated my race. We had to do two loops around the lake. The first loop, riders that were finishing their second loop passed me, but once I started my second loop, I was on my own on the course. It felt really lonely after a while out there in the woods. Then there was the stupid fall. It was just stupid! Of course, the support motorcycles show up out of nowhere and catch me on the ground. I did one of those things where you jump up, bush off, say I’m ok, and take off, too embarrassed to acknowledge the blood running down your leg. I was so glad when I finished that bike ride and got back to transition again. SO glad!

Many people had finished the whole race and were walking around with their medals on and packing up their gear to go home. Here I was just getting ready to start my run. I couldn’t believe it. I was really going to be LAST! I had never even come close to doing this badly in a race. Even in my first couple triathlons, at my age, I still came out around the middle of the pack for all ages on my time. Now I knew how it felt for those who do come in last, those who still have to push themselves to keep going to get across that finish line, even when they know they’ll be last. It was a horrible feeling! But I wanted that medal. I still had worked hard. I still had done the best I could with the circumstances at the time. I still had to fight to get to the finish. It was very humbling. The whole thing was, but I think I needed humbling, so that’s ok.

As it turned out, I did catch up to one other lady on the run. I wouldn’t have had to be last, if I didn’t want to be, but it sure didn’t seem worth it to pass one person and make her feel the way I knew I would have felt, so I stuck with her. We enjoyed the rest of the race and crossed the finish line together. We’re all better together, right! I do have to say, even though it was my worst race ever, the race director, the volunteers and the spectators that were left, made the finish line awesome. My husband had mentioned to one of the volunteers that it was my birthday. He told the announcer, who had called everyone back to the finish line as I was coming in. Everyone sang happy birthday to me at the finish line. Yes, I was a little embarrassed, but at the same time, it took some of the sting out of being last. And I got my medal! IMG_6415

I learned a lot from this race. I hope it’s the bad race experience that’s behind me and I’ll never live through again, but no guarantees on that. I’m glad it’s over, but at the same time. I’m glad I did it. It didn’t kill me. It did make me stronger. And Hagg Lake, I hope you can hear me. I’m coming back for you!

Thank you to Sherri McMillan and staff of Why Racing Events and all of the wonderful volunteers of the Hagg Lake Tri and Du. This is a beautiful race venue, a challenging course, and a very well run race! Everyone was awesome!

Thank you, to Don and Russell from VeloZoom, who took care of the AZ end of the bike shipping process and then Christine and Gary from Athlete’s Lounge who took care of our bike’s in Oregon!

#whyracing #whyracingevents #hagglaketri

When Fear Runs Deep…

20140515_030355283_iOSI opened my eyes as I had already done many times throughout the night, waiting for the sound of the alarm to signal that it was finally the right time to be awake. It had been one of those nights. You know the kind I’m talking about, when your mind won’t get quiet and sleep evades you. It felt as if I had been semi-conscious for the last several hours. Nervous apprehension had replaced every last bit of excitement I felt the previous evening, as I had prepared for this morning. It was to be a big day for me! Another milestone was to be reached. Another step crossed off the list of steps I needed to take on this road to become a half Ironman finisher. My first 70.3 triathlon at the (young) age of 58 was a big deal, one I really was unsure that this body with all of its aches and pains could actually endure. Today was the day to put on that new wetsuit I had packed and go to the lake for my first open water swim. You should be hearing the theme from the movie, “Jaws”, playing in your mind right now.Jaws

Maybe it seems silly to you that swimming in a lake would be a big deal. I had splashed around in the lake as a kid. I even thought my little doggie paddle for a few yards every so often as I played, was actually considered swimming. As a matter of fact, I really thought I could swim, that is until I took my first real swim lesson two years ago. My coach at the time informed me that my doggie paddle was not “real” swimming. I learned that I actually had to put my face in the water! I found myself embarrassed as I was made to practice bobbing up and down in the water at a public pool, to blow bubbles out of my mouth and nose. I had to do it in front of “real” swimmers even! That was six weeks before my first sprint triathlon. Six weeks was not enough time for me to get this swimming thing. That first race was so hard! I was out of breath after the first 50 yards. I had to stop and rest each time I reached the end of a lane. I won’t say how long it took me to finish that little 400 yard swim, but let me tell you, I was slow!

A hamstring injury the week following that first race, kept me out of the pool for several months. That was followed by several months of swimming using the pull buoy, as I wasn’t able to kick. In spite of the injury and lack of proper training, I felt I needed to do a 2nd sprint the following year in order to keep my standing as a triathlete. I signed up for the same event I had done before. That swim was even worse than my first had been!

I really wanted to do this triathlon thing, so here’s where my current triathlon coach enters the picture. Swimming is her strong area. She’s been working with me just over a year now. Believe me when I tell you, this swimming stuff hasn’t come easily for me. I’ve worked hard and I’ve come a long way, but even recently at a master swim session, my coach was laughing over some weird movement I was doing in the pool. Somehow, she always manages to find something to correct, as a good coach should, I might add.

Fear.1I remember many of my early swim sessions with her. Every time I had to do a workout, I fought anxiety and apprehension. I remember times when I dreaded getting to the end of the lane and I knew she was going to have me do another lap, and then another and another. I was so out of breath at times, I felt lightheaded and even in a state of panic. There were a few times I even wanted to cry. Ok, maybe I did cry, but I sure couldn’t let her see that. I imagine I’ve made her wonder if I would ever make it as a swimmer. Even if that’s not true for her, it definitely is for me.

Confidence about my swimming had evaded me as much as sleep had the Strengthnight before this big day. I had volunteered to drive out to the lake that morning. A couple of my team mates were riding along. One was a seasoned open water swimmer. I didn’t know at the time, but our coach had given him strict orders to stay with us and keep us safe. Poor guy! Who would want that responsibility! The other team mate was a near neighbor, a.k.a., my “tri in the hood friend”. We had begun to do some of our training together. She was new to this open water swimming experience, as well. Even though she had been a swimmer longer, she was as nervous as I was. It’s funny to think back to one of our early swim sessions with our coach. I remember her commenting on how she would never be doing any open water swimming. Never say never, right!

 

It had been years since I had been to this particular lake. While the desert landscape was beautiful, the road is narrow as it winds up and down the sides of the mountains. The anxiety was building in my chest and my shoulders grew tighter with each hairpin turn. Of course, our conversation over how nervous we each felt only amplified the tension. I rounded a bend and had my first view of the water. The lake looked huge and the boats so small from our elevated vantage point. It’s good that I had passengers in the car that day, for had I not, I’m sure I would have turned around and high tailed it home!

When we arrived at the lake, several other tri club members were already putting on wetsuits. Trying to get a wetsuit over aged, loose skin that just moves up with the compression of the suit, well, that’s just an ugly story. Having to do that in front of others is down right, humiliating. I’m glad it took what seemed like forever to get the suits on. Anything to delay us from having to get in that water was okay by me. But alas, the moment arrived and it was time.

My “tri in the hood friend” and I had only planned on splashing around a bit to get used to the wetsuit, maybe swim along the shore a little, but certainly not go in over our heads. We were told we wouldn’t drown in a wetsuit, as it makes you more buoyant, but still, the idea of going deep was frightening.

Motivational-Quotes-40I’ll never forget the first time I put my face in the water. It was so cold, it took my breath away. It took several times of bobbing up and down before I could blow bubbles under the water and take a breath when I came up. We swam along the shore a little and stopped to stand up every 25 yards or so. There was security in knowing we could still touch the bottom. I think I was ready to call it a day after about fifteen minutes, but our seasoned team mate seemed determined to be sure we actually got in a little more of a workout. He was able to get my friend to swim out to a buoy. It wasn’t too far off shore, but it was definitely beyond my comfort zone. She was very pleased with herself over having done it and apparently she wasn’t satisfied with me not having the same experience, so now there was double the pressure for me to swim out to the buoy. Not wanting to jeopardize my “tough, old lady athlete,” status, I resigned myself to oblige their request. It was horrible! I forgot to breathe. I choked. I swam crooked and ran into my friend. Each of those things caused my heightened anxiety level to become a complete state of panic. My chest felt like it was being crushed and I couldn’t breathe. I stopped and begged for someone to unzip my wetsuit. Our seasoned team mate told me to keep it zipped. I had to get used to feeling that, as it happens to even experienced swimmers on occasion. I tread water for a minute and tried to calm myself until I could breathe. So much for the tough, old lady athlete! I did make it to the buoy once that day and as you can see, I lived to tell about it.

We had many lake visits over the summer, but there were very few that I

The mass start under Mill Ave in Tempe, AZ.

The mass start under Mill Ave in Tempe, AZ.

didn’t experience the whole gamut of emotions associated with my fear of the swim. It was particularly unnerving when I found myself panicking in the water just two weeks prior to my half Ironman event. That was an ordinary workout day, which didn’t include the hectic frenzy of bodies thrashing about, which is what takes place in a race scenario. I couldn’t imagine how incredibly terrifying it would be to experience that during the race.

One thing I have learned about fear, not that I would deny that I felt it, but the more you talk about it, the more you give it a voice, the more it grows, the more powerful it becomes. I couldn’t afford to talk about it, so I didn’t. That would only feed it.

Another thing that I had learned about fear, I had heard from a speaker one time. They shared an acronym for fear. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. My fear was ungrounded. Sure, there was evidence. I had panicked in the water, MANY times! And it was terrifying! But it wasn’t real. The facts were, I could swim. I had listened to my coach. I had done my training. I had put in the hours, the distance, the time. And I hadn’t drown, not even “almost”, not even once!

FullSizeRender (18)

Packet pick up day! Some of our tri team mates with our awesome coach on the left. Less than 24 hrs. until the big event!

The week before the 70.3 Ironman event, I was amazed that I felt excited, rather than anxious, as I usually felt before a race. I mean I was really excited! Training for this had involved a lot of sweat and tears. I had gone from seriously doubting my ability to even do this, to knowing I would finish. My emotions were running high all week, so it didn’t take much to cause whatever I felt at any given moment to spill out. My coach said that was normal.  In spite of my carefully laid out plan for the morning of the event, it seemed as if everything was going wrong. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. I left the house later than was planned. It was raining. Two freeway ramps that I had planned to take to get to the venue were closed, forcing me to exit in an area I was unfamiliar with. I lost my wrist bracelet which I had to have to get into the transition area. Four different people working the race venue, had me running all over the park area to get help with the bracelet issue. When I finally got to the transition area and saw my coach standing there, I felt as if I would explode. She knew just what I needed. After she hugged me, she got in my face and with a gentle firmness, instructed me on what to do next. She was perfect! That minute or two made all the difference in the world to me. I had just enough time to get my transition area set up, stand in the bathroom line, get my wetsuit on and get in line for the swim start. My coach and team mates were there, along with my husband and one of my sons. My son read me an incredibly, awesome text which he had sent me that morning as encouragement, but I didn’t have my phone, so I hadn’t seen it. That made me teary eyed! Ok, everything made me teary eyed at that point, but his text was really special! I could feel slight undercurrents of frayed nerves, but I chose to block out any negativity and stay focused. My strategy was simple. I had borrowed it from the movie, “Finding Nemo”. Nemo and DoryAnd yes, I’m admitting that I even watched the movie that week before the race for inspiration. I was going to take Dory’s advice and “just keep swimming.”

It was time and our group was called to enter the water. We swam out to the start line and waited for the horn to sound, and we were off! The hectic frenzy of thrashing arms, legs and bodies was just as crazy as it had appeared in the triathlon videos. All of the things I had feared, happened. I choked. I couldn’t breathe. I got kicked, swam into and slapped in the face – HARD. Someone grabbed my leg at one point and it felt like they were trying to pull me under, but I just kept swimming. I stayed calm. I was amazed at how calm I felt. I kept focused on the next buoy, then the next and the next. By the time I rounded that last buoy, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, I wasn’t swimming by my own strength that day. Yes, I had trained for it, but I knew I had supernatural help. As it turned out, I wasn’t even the slowest one in our group, which amazed me even more, because I’m always the slowest one. My son and my husband said they were shocked when they saw me run past them, as they didn’t expect to see me for, at least, another ten minutes.

That’s the biggest part of my race story. The rest was just fun. Because of Ironman Runongoing knee issues, I had to ride easy on the bike, just fast enough to make the cut off time. On the run, I kept stopping to try to get what felt like rocks out of my shoe, but there were no rocks. It turned out to be a bigger issue with my foot. I had a killer headache, I think from lack of salt. I had dropped all of my salt, right up front on the bike course. I ended up walking a lot of the run portion, as a result of all of it, but I knew I would make the cut off time so I wasn’t concerned. It was hard and it was hot, but I had a blast! Crossing that finish line was a high that I’ll never forget! It stuck with me for a long time after the race, too!IronmanAZ70.3

I can’t tell you my story without sharing the most important thing that I’ve learned about fear. That is the fact that I don’t have to have it. I can choose to not fear. Real life experience has a way of teaching us things that become rooted deep into the fiber of our beings. That truth for me is that I have a big, powerful and completely, faithful God who always comes through for me. Even when life throws unfavorable things my way, as it has often, God has always, one way or another, worked things out for my good. Helping me with a little swim was easy! When fear runs deep, my faith is deeper still.

You didn't come this farWhat’s next? I’m not sure. I’m grounded from biking and running right now until my knees and foot recover. Yes, there is the thought that it would be really cool to do a full Ironman one day, but right now, it’s hard to imagine it being a possibility with this body. Of course, I’ll never say never, because we all know what happens when we do that, right!

The Trial-Athlete

th_AthleteEverydayYes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but life certainly hasn’t been without adventure!  For the athlete friends out there, I’ll give a quick injury update.  Since my hamstring tear last October, I’ve slowly been moving back into running, swimming and biking.  Slow progress is still progress, but there have been a couple more setbacks along the way.   It truly has been two steps forward, one step back ever since the long string of injuries started.  So many pieces and parts of this gosh darn kinetic chain have been affected, it’s all starting to become a blur now. I was allowed to start doing some easy walking and biking in December.  I was able to start swimming with a pull buoy and add Santa Barbara Racewalk/run intervals about the middle of January.  I made gradual progress to the point that my coach was able to schedule my workouts in miles of running instead of minutes of running at the beginning of May.  Even though my longest straight run had only been 3 miles at that point, I was able to do The Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, which was May 10th, using run/walk intervals.  Even at turtle speed, it felt awesome!  I have to say, Santa Barbara was the hilliest 13.1 mile course this flatlander has ever done, but it was the most beautiful ever!  Add in perfect weather and the wine at the finish line, do I really need to say more?  No, but I will.  It was awesome! Cabo marinaThe Santa Barbara race was the start of our vacation, a great start!  We flew from there to Cabo San Lucas.  Did I mention the race was the hilliest ever?  The combination of hills from the race, walking the hills of Cabo into town and at least two beach walks in the sand each day, plus a few training runs around the marina…  I suppose I overdid it.  My calves were toast.  So there you have it, one step back. Cabo beach I was just getting back out on the road again last week, more so with cross training still, but my calves were recovering.  Last Tuesday I was enjoying a wonderful ride on my bike.  I’ve been happy that I was finally getting my average speed back up to where it was before the hamstring thing.  I like riding where there isn’t a lot of traffic.  The problem with that though is, there isn’t a lot of traffic.  If you run into an issue, you’re pretty much on your own.  The more desolate roads around the desert aren’t always the quality of the busier roads, either.  I was drinking from my water bottle, hit a bump, and swerved off the road into sand deep enough to bring my tire to an abrupt stop, thus throwing me into the road.  Isn’t is bruised legfunny how even in the middle of nowhere, you still look around to see if anyone saw you fall?  Yes, I did that first, before I got myself off the road.  After a few minutes catching my breath and examining my wounds, I decided I had to be tough and ride home, blood and all.  After all, isn’t that what athletes do, suck it up, ignore the pain and move on?  The problem was, my chain had come off and I wasn’t able to get it back on Josiah Racingwith my injured hand, so I had to humble myself and call my husband to come rescue me.  Thankfully, nothing was broken, no stitches required, just a very bruised, swollen hip, sprained hand and a bruised, road rash covered elbow.  Apparently, there was a benefit from the crash.  According to my son, a racing team cyclist, I now have something called “street cred”.   That’s respect among the cycling community, so I guess that makes up for the pain, right! My Doctor said it could take four weeks for the swelling to go down and the bruising to disappear.  The Physical Therapist said I can swim with the pull buoy still, aqua jog lightly for now, but NO running or even walk/run intervals until the swelling goes down.  And in my mind I’m saying, “But don’t you understand, I’m already signed up for another half in August and September?!?!”  You runners that have dealt with injuries are tracking with me, right?  You’ve been there too! And there you have it, one step back yet again! It appears that I will always have something to deal with, as most of my issues have been stirred up by problems with my spine and impinged sciatic nerves.  The doctor’s encourage me to continue, as it’s important to stay active and healthy and my activity is not going to cause my condition to get worse.  I will have pain regardless, but if I stop moving, I’ll stop moving, period and that isn’t healthy.  I do get injections and see a Physical Therapist weekly, however, as long as I can avoid medication or surgery, I will keep doing what I love. I’ve titled this post, “The Trial-Athlete”, but not because of me and my silly injuries.  I’m thinking way beyond what I’ve dealt with.  I’m not a minimizing my “adventures” here.  I’m just looking at them from a different perspective in this post. My mind is drawn to some unsung heroes in my life.  Let me just tell you a little bit about them.  I won’t name names today, so to those who know me, no reason to be nervous. lonelinessThere is the friend who has spent years, almost a lifetime dealing with her disease.  It’s very difficult to manage, as her body doesn’t want to cooperate as it should.  It’s not only challenging, it’s risky, even life threateningly dangerous at times.  Her husband died several years ago and she remains home alone most days, missing him terribly.  She doesn’t remain home alone by choice.  You see, she’s had a series of falls, eleven of them!  Each has resulted in bad breaks of her arms, legs, hips and pelvis, each requiring surgery and rehab.  It’s now very difficult for her to get around.  Yes, she has times she gets discouraged, very discouraged, yet each time I see her rally her will and her mind to stay positive and move forward, even if it’s through tears that she does it. There is the friend who found herself a single parent with more children than most of us have.   Any of you who have been single tear fallingparents can relate to the difficult challenges that this role presents to an already wounded mom or dad.  That wasn’t her plan when she married him.  Life wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  This wasn’t her dream for herself or her kids.  And if that isn’t enough, imagine if it were you as the parent and one of your children were handicapped and now a teenager that you have to do everything for.  This has been the case for 15 years already and will be the case for a lifetime.  Somehow she does it.  She’s not just trying to survive.  She is putting herself through school at the same time.  She does it well!  Even if it’s through tears. There is the friend whose career dreams were brought abruptly to a halt by a serious accident before she could even finish college.  Severe spinal injuries have caused her a lifetime of pain and suffering as a result.  Years after the first accident, a doctor was finally able to do a surgery that enabled her to walk again.  Her dreams had a chance to be reawakened, as it appeared she had been gifted a moment of hope that life could return to normal again.  Within weeks, those dreams were violently torn from her grasp when she became the victim in another serious accident.  Not only would she not be able to walk normally, she returned to a life of constant pain with many other complications to numerous and graphic to describe here.  While she has every reason to be angry and bitter, she is one of the sweetest, kindest, and most loving people I’ve had the privilege to share life with.  She just wants to love people, even in pain, even through tears. There are others who have had their lives drastically and tragically changed in an instant.  The friend who lost her son…  I just can’t imagine how devastating that would be.  The friends who have lost spouses… parents… other loved ones…  Those are life altering events.  You live with the aftermath for the rest of your breathing days. That’s the type of unsung hero I’m talking about.  Talk about an ability to endure!  When the accidents and surgeries are past, when the diagnosis has been given and the torturous treatments are ongoing, when there is never going to be any relief for the pain, when the funeral is over, the obituary archived and everyone has gone home, these heroes are left to live with their lifelong “new normal”. Runners work hard to train for the Marathon, really hard.  Triathletes work hard to train for the triathlon or the Iron Man, really hard!  They spend agonizing hours alone out there on the road or in the water, keeping those tired, heavy arms and legs moving forward.  Training is often in the dark, before or after work or through inclement weather that we don’t even like to leave home to drive our cars in.  Yes, they certainly have endured when they cross that finish line and they deserve that medal!  They’ve built up an pats run finish lineincredible ability to endure and that strength and endurance carries over into other areas of life.  It leaves them with a sense of achievement.  They’ve accomplished something beyond what they thought months before they would never be able to do.  It’s an incredible feeling!  And yes, you get addicted to it, so most of us do it to ourselves over and over again.  The thing is, we do it by choice.   Our race has a date and a finish line. The unsung heroes I’m talking about never would have chosen the circumstances that brought their pain.  Yet they do it day after day, month after month and year after year and they survive.  There aren’t crowds cheering for them along the course or people handing them water and nourishment every few miles.  Some are lucky enough to have a good network of support around them, but unfortunately, most do not.  Their race involves more than just a few hours of their time.  There is no medal to display in their home.  There is no finish line for them, at least not as long as they are breathing the air of this world. grace quoteTalk about an ability to endure!  These unsung heroes have it!  That’s a special gift.  I call it a gift of grace.  That’s how they survive.  They live day by day, one day at a time.  They live on the grace or the strength they have for that day.  Most days they don’t “feel” strong.  They might not even want to be strong anymore, yet they make it, one more breath, one more step, one more day.  And while it may appear that they do it alone most of the time, the friends I’m talking about, know they aren’t alone.  They know where their help comes from.  Their help comes from the maker of heaven and the creator of this world.  Yes, they have unanswered questions as to why, yet they trust their God for the strength to make it.  They trust in a God that enabled them to overcome and push through tragedy, disease, painful suffering and heartache.  Anger and bitterness have been exchanged for kindness, forgiveness and love.  They are true trial-athletes! Many are inspired by the athletes who train and compete in a race for finish lines and medals.  Look around at the forgotten, shoulder for cryingunsung heroes you share life with.   They are still running their race, often injured and their finish line is still years down the road.  Their legs and arms get tired.  It’s hard and it hurts.  They shed tears out on the course.  Keep cheering for them.  Step up and pass them a cup of cold water or nourishment from time to time, whether it be just a smile, a card, a text or phone call, a hug…  Let them know they are heroes in your eyes and that you’re sticking with them for the long haul!  By doing so, you will have entered yourself in a race.  It’s a race with no finish line and no medal on this earth, but the rewards are far better!  You will become that special gift in their lives and you too, will build an ability to endure.  Just watch out though.  You might become addicted!  I hope so!

Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honor by the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1 – 2 (TBL)

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Cor. 4:17 (NIV)

Embrace Your Joy!

photo 4Christmas is one of my absolute favorite times of the year and it’s obvious when you look around my home.  I’ve just spent the last two weeks decorating, so yes, it’s very evident that I love Christmas!  The holidays bring me great joy!

Joy is an appropriate topic for today’s post because after all, tis the season!  My post is inspired by a few things.  One of those inspirations is Nelson Mandela.  People who spread love and good will in our world are a great source of inspiration and much can be learned from the legacy that this man left behind.  While the world mourns his passing, those closest to him are dealing with intense grief at the moment.  Joy is the farthest thing from their minds.

As a matter of fact, this season is one that many can’t find joy in.  Accidents still happen.  People lose their lives.  Disease is still diagnosed.  Employees lose their jobs.  Bills still come in the mailbox.  Families break apart.  Depression and suicides increase.  Life doesn’t suddenly change to cookies, glitter and snow angels when Macy’s Santa arrives in the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Transforming my home and singing carols is more apt to cause people in these situations to be even more depressed.

So, how can I write about joy when there is so much pain and disorder around me?  You knew I was going to answer that, didn’t photo 5you.  My own life hasn’t been all happy and joyful, nor have all of my Christmas seasons been filled with gifts and shiny things.  If you’ve read my blog before, you know that.  I’ve experienced Christmas with accidents, loss, illness, no money, bills, break ups and brokenness, so I understand how difficult this time of year can be.  No, I wasn’t happy with my circumstances during those times, but I was able to be grateful for what I did have and look for the bright side of whatever the situation was.  I’ve always found someone or something that inspires me to find joy.

Another source for my inspiration today is a member of the running team that my husband and I belong to.  I’ve photo 5 (2)never met her in person, but I’ve seen enough of her posts on our team website and Facebook, that I feel like I know her and for that, I am grateful.  Honestly, I’m grateful for all of our team as they all are wonderful people who encourage and support each other in all of the highs and lows that come with injuries, recoveries, victories and defeats.  We all need people like this in our lives.  Today, while I am not diminishing the rest of our team in anyway, I want to highlight one.  And here I go naming names again and this time I actually have permission.  My inspiration today is Nancy.

photo 1 (2)Each day, Nancy posts a little personal story and how she was able to find joy in her day, no matter if it was a good day or a bad day.  I’ve come to look forward to reading her, “Go embrace your joy” messages.  I want to share what she posted on facebook last week.  I’ll just copy and paste exactly what she posted, as I can’t say it any better.  Here you go:

“Your destiny is to fulfill those things upon which you focus most intently. So choose to keep your focus on that which is truly magnificent, beautiful, uplifting and joyful. Your life is always moving toward something.” ~Ralph Marston

“A few days ago I shared with you all that after having fallen into a funk in my life I sought the guidance of a therapist–a person who helped me develop the tools to carry me through the obstacles–to change my perspective of this incredible and many times challenging journey we call life. 

There are many who perceive anyone seeking help as being weak or unable to cope. Sadly seeking help for a photo 4 (2)broken bone, a headache, blurry vision, even a toothache has never been questioned by my friends, but the minute they heard that I was in therapy, some friends became quite uncomfortable–giving me a side-way glance or total silence as if my problems were contagious–as if may I have a screw loose or that I am nuts. The truth– I believe the judgment from others is one biggest reasons people do not seek intervention–they don’t want people to think they can’t figure out life on their own. But sadly this perception is so unfair.

What I have learned over the years is, if I already knew everything I could about life, than there is nothing more I could learn. There would be little or no reason for me to change, to evolve to transform my life. Unfortunately, unlike your car, we aren’t born with an owner’s manual to guide us through the trials–what to do when our own internal check engine light comes on. We learn to do what we have to do just to survive–that is what we are wired to do. 

With each passing year I worry less about what others think of me, something that I spent way too much time and energy doing in my past, electing to focus more on what I think of myself and the nurturing friendships that bring me joy. Am I a good person? Am I a compassionate person? Am I kind? Loving? Giving? Do I bring joy to others?

The truth is–not everyone will like me–my goal in life is not to give up who I am to be loved by others, to be liked by others–as long as I am kind and respectful, you get me in all my whacky doodle ways. I love to have fun–I find being happy and joyful takes far less work than being miserable and angry. And as I have come to believe there is joy to found every day–sometimes you have to look far and wide for it and other times it’s right before your eyes. 

HAPPY SATURDAY FRIENDS–GO EMBRACE YOUR JOY!!!!”

Nancy started writing her posts about joy when her therapist gave her a homework assignment to find at least one thing that bringsphoto 2 (2) her joy every day, even on the dark days.  She said that some days, it was just finding a penny on her run, or seeing a rainbow after a storm, or a smile from a stranger.  She wrote this about finding joy in another one of her posts.

“Finding joy is a choice– it’s about rewiring our brain to move from negativity that can became such a part of our lives, to finding joy in the simplest of things. Certainly I would love to take full credit for my epiphany, but life in all its ups and downs is meant to be shared. More times than not, the joy does not lie in others, but is buried deep within our own hearts–we just have to open our eyes, hearts and minds to this amazing gift.”

This blog is named what it is for a reason.  It’s my own quest to become more of a real person, not one who puts on the socially accepted mask, flashes a fake smile and pretends my life is like living in a rose garden every day.  While I do like shiny things and I’d like to make you think that if it were even possible that I would ever pass gas, I would emit tiny puffs of glitter, we all know that’s not really how it is.  I want to share in the real life journey we are all on, because we all need support and encouragement.  We all need the encouragement of people around us during the difficult times, like my running team does for me.

photo 3 (2)Nancy is being real.  She’s sharing what is uncomfortable, but what she is really doing is encouraging others to be better people.  Because she chooses to be authentic, I’m encouraged to listen.  Her words speak to my heart, therefore, I’m encouraged to grow and I too, can find joy.  Maybe she’s not doing it on the scale that Nelson Mandela did, but she’s doing her part to spread love and good will in our world.

The past several days, we’ve been privileged to hear more about Nelson Mandela’s life and what he stood for.  We’ve also heard many inspiring words of wisdom that were uttered through his lips.  They were really an overflow of his heart.  This particular quote got my attention.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.

If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
Nelson Mandela 

photo 1Nelson Mandela was authentic, the real deal.  He spoke in a language that could be understood by all, because he spoke to something that is buried deep in the hearts of all.  It’s love and goodwill that speaks to us.  That’s the language of the heart.  So in this world where all that glitters isn’t gold, where it’s hard to find the true meaning of the season in the frenzy of activity and plastic trees, I’m hoping more of us will open our eyes, hearts and minds to look deep inside ourselves and others for those real gifts that are real and authentic.  Spread some of that love and goodwill around.  Go embrace your joy!

Thanks Nancy!

My Story For Ellen

Ellen PhotoI got an email the other day from Ellen DeGeneres.  That in itself is amazing, right!  She said she wanted to send me to Australia!

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 12:20 AM

from The Ellen DeGeneres Show to you

Ellen is sending you to Australia! Enter to win the trip of a lifetime!

 

Ellen AustraliaI couldn’t believe it!  I’ve always wanted to go to Australia!  It wasn’t just a cut and dry, done deal yet though.  I would have to fill out an entry form and actually “win” the trip.  I had nothing to lose, so I filled in the blanks and came to a box where I was to answer the question, “Why do you deserve to win?”  Hmmmm…

I love an opportunity to write and I did have a story to tell, so I opened up a blank Word document and began to write.  I misread the requirement though and thought it said 2000 words.  It did seem like a lot and I wondered who would possibly have time to read all these 2000 word entries.  Oh was I ever surprised as I copied and pasted my story into that box.  My exactly, 2000 words didn’t fit!  What?  Then I saw it.  2000 characters…  I had just wasted all this time writing my story and now I have to say it all over again, but in only 2000 characters!   So since I took the time to do it, I thought I may as well share it with someone.  So here you go:

My 2000 Word Story For Ellen

With obesity at epidemic proportions in our country, my husband and I saw the importance of being part of the solution instead of the problem.  We took up the sport of running as a way to lose weight and get physically fit.  We started this at an age that people wouldn’t normally consider running as a fun hobby to pursue.  Let’s just say we qualify for an AARP discount.  Actually, my husband started running before I did.  He was having so much fun with it, I had to join him, plus it seemed like it would be something great that we could do together.

That was just over a year and a half ago.  Oh how well I remember those first few runs.  It was so hard!  I hated it, yet there was something about it that grabbed me by the feet and kept me going.  Before I knew it, we were running five miles and I was amazed when I could run that far without stopping.  In spite of my hate for doing it, I really enjoyed those early morning times with my husband, not the running part, but the fact that I was doing it with him.

Finish Line Gunbunfunrun2In July of 2011, we ran our first race together in Napa.  It was a 5k, the Gunbun Fun Run.  It was the first time that I think I experienced the runner’s high.  Yes, it was an effort, but interacting with other runners along the way, seeing the determination of people of all ages and body types, having people cheer you on; it was awesome!  And I was doing it with my husband.  We crossed the finish line holding hands, together.  I was completely hooked after that race!

We were serious about this.  Both my husband and I had experienced a transformation in our bodies.  We lost weight and felt better than ever.  We got a coach and signed up for our next race which was to be in New York City over Labor Day weekend that year.  It was the 9/11 Run to Remember, just a week before the 10 year anniversary of that horrific terrorist attack.

What an honor it was to run in memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11.  Running alongside the families of victims, firefighters andRun to Rememberpolice officers who were involved in the aftermath was so much more than just a privilege.  I will never forget the moment as I watched two other runners on the course whose lives were apparently connected somehow.  They saw each other and immediately stopped in the middle of the course, fell into an embrace and were weeping on each other’s shoulders.  I was moved to tears myself.  Another totally different, but totally amazing running experience!

This was getting fun now!  We came home and signed up for our next race which was to be in November.  We were doubling the distance now.  This was going to be our first 10k.  We even took it a step farther and signed up for our first half marathon which would be January of 2012.  Our coach knew our goals, gave us our schedules and training was seriously under way.

Just a few weeks after the 9/11 Run to Remember, though, I had a little set back.  Actually, it wasn’t so little.  It was a big deal!  I started having symptoms that were familiar to something I had experienced before.  It was stomach pain that had landed me in the hospital already, twice.  Because of to many previous surgeries and being septic from a ruptured appendix, my body grows a lot of scar tissue.  That scar tissue causes obstructions and I woke up this particular September morning, knowing I was headed back to the hospital.  I had been told before that walking might be helpful when I started to feel the discomfort.  This morning, there was an eight mile run on my training schedule.  I thought if walking might be helpful, running might be even better, so I did my very painful eight miles before I went home and got ready to go to the ER.  My trip to the ER resulted in emergency surgery for a perforated bowel, which left me septic, in kidney failure and a sentence of the next ten days in the hospital, five of them in ICU.

I’ve been able to bounce back quickly following my seven previous, major abdominal surgeries, but I have to say, this one was really difficult.  I really believe that had I not been as fit as I was from running going into this trauma, I really think the outcome would have been so much harder than it was, maybe even different.

Even though I was out of the hospital, I still had much recovery and many follow appointments ahead, as other organs were affected.  I had fluid in my lungs when I was released from the hospital.  I resisted having another procedure done to drain the fluid, so I was told that I needed to do a lot of walking.  And of course, I still had this training schedule with the next 10K just six weeks away.  I wanted to run!

I wasn’t stupid about it.  I did follow the doctors’ orders and walked every day.  As soon as I was given the go ahead to run, I did and with my coach’s help, was able to gain back the fitness I had lost.  I was even able to run that 10K, not really fast, but I ran!

Training continued and in spite of a couple, ongoing issues with my health, I was able to run my very first half marathon in January of 2012 with a time of 2:20:32.  Not too shabby for an old lady who just recently started this running thing, in spite of the setbacks!

When my husband does something, he goes all out.  We not only had a coach and a training schedule.  We now had a race schedule, with races for March, May, July, September and November of 2012.  It just made sense that since we had trained and run a half marathon, the natural progression would be to run a full marathon, right!  We were registered for a full marathon in Cleveland, for May of 2012.  Thus, training for 26.2 miles was in full swing.

All was going well with training until March.  I was still having some kind of issue with my liver that the doctors weren’t sure about, so I had a series of CT scans and MRI’s to watch that.  The surgeon didn’t want to be quick with another surgery.   I also developed a large bump on my belly which turned out to be an incisional hernia.  I would need to have surgery again, but it was safe to wait until after the May marathon.

Early in March during one of my speed workouts, my hip seized up and brought me to an immediate halt.  I was barely able to limp the three miles home that day.  I started physical therapy right away, as I couldn’t afford to lose time in my marathon training.  I was sidelined and became just a race shirt collector for the March race.  It was bittersweet to watch my husband cross the finish line without me, but I would never want to hold him back.

Over the next few weeks it became evident the marathon in May was not going to be an option for me either, so I went ahead and scheduled the hernia repair in April.  This would give my hip the time it needed to heal, while I was recovering from surgery, as now my focus shifted to the next race.  The next half marathon was in July.

The surgery ended up more involved than it was expected to be.  Not only did I have one hernia to repair, the surgeon said my belly had so many holes it looked like swiss cheese.  This made surgery number nine, the biggest and most painful one yet!

We did go to Cleveland in May.  Again, I added a really cool race shirt to my collection.  This was supposed to be my husband and I’s first marathon.   He still ran and I waited.  I was so proud of him as he crossed that finish line!  I posted the picture of him wearing his medal afterward with the caption, “I’m married to a marathoner!  Now that’s hot!”

photo (5)I was able to start training again around the middle of June, but was only able to walk the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon.  That was certainly better than having to sit on the sidelines and watch.   You can’t beat a birthday celebration in Napa either!  We had friends with us who had the idea to celebrate my 55th birthday by trying 55 different wines!  Challenge accepted, done and documented!

Eyes now focused on the next race in September, the Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon.   Training once again was progressing well.  I felt good and my body was cooperating.  I still had to walk a good bit of the Oregon race, but I got to run part of it, too!

To make a long story a little shorter, the next setback to cut into my training was a knee injury.  That affected my November race, and I had to walk half of that one, too.

My knee was recovering and I was back in training.  Then I started having problems with my neck, which turned out to be bulging disks.  That’s where I’m at now.

Yesterday was the PF Chang’s Rock N Roll Half Marathon and Marathon, here in Phoenix.  This was supposed to be my rescheduled, RocknRollHalffirst marathon.  I was only able to walk the half because of my neck issue.  My official time was 3:04:35, which is a pretty swift pace for a 13.1 mile walk!

My husband finished his second marathon yesterday.  He is amazing!  He has been so supportive of me through all of this.  I stopped working a few months after the big surgery and in spite of all the medical bills and co-pays that continue, he wants me to be healthy and happy and hasn’t asked me to go back to work.  I have been able to stay home and recover.  I’m now beginning to pursue things I love, one of them being something that’s dear to your own heart, which is loving people through kindness.  I’ve been taking steps to do volunteer work.  I’ve also started writing a blog, which is both therapeutic and enjoyable for me.  More importantly, I hope it can help and encourage others.

My husband loves his job, but he’s not only working, going to school and getting A’s, he’s running!  He’s running a lot!  Yes, once again we have a year of races already scheduled.  I hope to be able to start training, very soon now.  It will be another “start over”, but I’m determined.  I won’t give up!

So this pretty new hobby has not only made us fit, but it’s taken us to new places.  We learned that we can physically do much more than we ever thought we could!  We’ve been challenged and learned that we are mentally and emotionally stronger than we ever thought.  Our friends have been inspired to become more fit as they’ve watched us through this journey.

So why do I deserve to go to Australia?  I don’t feel I “deserve” anything, but I am grateful for everything.  I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and so has my husband.  How awesome would it be to be able to surprise my husband with a trip to Australia!  Not only would I want to go there.  I want to run there, together!  So, like the little donkey jumping up and down on Shrek, picture me.  I’m jumping up and down saying, “Pick me, Ellen!  Pick me!”

P.S.  Talk about inspiring, I’m inspired every time I watch your show!  I love the things you do for others!  It’s totally amazing and you’re awesome!

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

I have a little update to the story since I wrote it.  I did see the Physical Therapist the same day I wrote that story.  He said that my neck feels much better and he gave the ok to start running again!  I have to be patient and take it slow and easy, but I hit the road for the first time yesterday and it was great!  I felt like a giddy little kid when I got home!  Coach gave me a new schedule.  He’d rather play it safe than be sorry, but he said he’s going to make me a machine.  This old lady, “a machine”!  Awesome!

This Could Change Everything…

You’ve heard of “vague booking”, right?  It’s when someone posts just one word or phrase that doesn’t give the whole story, but leaves you compelled to comment and ask questions.  A friend’s recent Facebook post left me and all her other friends hanging with the statement, “This could change everything.”  She was referring to a phone call she had taken from a number she didn’t recognize.  Her phone conversation had the potential to change her life.  It made me start thinking.  How many of us are just waiting for that one thing, that “this” that could change everything?

Later that day I got this Toyota Clearance Sale advertisement in the mail.  The ad had the same message, “This changes everything”.   I hardly think their sale is going to change my life, but it did keep me thinking on this subject.

How much time do we spend waiting for that one phone call, that one event, meeting the right person or being in the right place at the right time?  We wonder when do we get our big break or when is our ship coming in?  We wonder and we wait.

There are many “firsts” in life that change everything.  The first time you took a step enabled you to get farther, faster.  The first time you fell in love you experienced a whole new intensity of emotion.  When you first got your driver’s license, your world became so much larger.   Those are all good things that changed everything for you.  Good “firsts” that happen in your life can bring such a rush of exuberance.  They help us feel motivated and inspired.  They give us hope for bigger and better things in our future.  They help us see more of the big picture ahead.

Then there are “firsts” that changed everything for you in a negative way.  The first time you were lied to and it made you suspicious or the first time you were betrayed and you began to not trust.  Maybe for you, the first time you smoked a cigarette or took a drug, you became addicted or the first time you were fired or laid off of a job, as a result you lost everything you owned.  These things suck the life out of us.  They cause our world and our big picture to become much smaller.  Joy, inspiration and motivation are diminished.  Hope for the future fades.

There are “lasts” in life that change everything.  That last day of kindergarten leads us to the last day of high school and eventually the last day of college.  We’re on top of the world at that point and just know that success will soon be ours.  The day the smoker or the addict has the last cigarette or the last hit, now that’s a good day!

Then you have the excruciatingly painful “lasts”.  That last kiss, that last hug, the last goodbye…  These do indeed, change everything.

I saw a Geico commercial recently.  The little Geico gecko is standing in a high place and wondering if he would be able to see Mt Rushmore from where he was standing.  As the camera pans out, the gecko is actually standing in the eye of one of the presidents on Mt Rushmore, but the gecko can’t see that.  He was already a part of the big picture that he wanted to see, yet he stood waiting…  Can you see yourself in the place of this little gecko?  I know I’ve been there.

How many of us sit on the edge of our destiny, not even knowing what that edge is that we’re sitting on?  The only action we take is to wait…

The big picture isn’t always easy to see.  The puzzle pieces that make the picture are never all put together in the box.   They’re a jumbled mess and unless you actually have the box, it’s very difficult to make any sense out of the pieces.  Yet the fact is, the puzzle piece that represents us is in that box.  It is a part of the big picture.  It’s all there and we’re already part of it.

Ok, now it’s my turn to ‘vague book”.  I don’t know how your puzzle is supposed to go together any more than I know how mine is supposed to look when it’s complete.  I just see pieces and some are in their place already, but I still can’t see the big picture because I’m right in the center of it, just like the gecko.

What I do know is that there is one truth that changes everything for me.  For those of you who aren’t into religion, I’m not either, but I do believe in a good God who watches over and takes care of me.  And I do believe the verse in the Bible that says this:

 “For I know the plans I have for you”, says the Lord.  “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

My hope and my future rest in the hands of a God who has been big enough, in spite of the messes I’ve made, to make himself real to me.  The puzzle pieces of my life don’t just randomly fall into place.  I believe they are put in place in the right order at the right time.  I don’t feel a need to know how it’s all going to play out because I trust the one who holds the box and sees the big picture, and it’s beautiful!  There are bigger and better things ahead.  Hold onto that hope.  It’s one truth that changes everything.

Church Without Walls

ImageOnce again, I’ve been inspired to write by a Facebook post.  The friend posted about working with a group of people to help the homeless on the streets of San Francisco.  They weren’t just feeding people, but were interacting with them and really listening to their stories.  He commented on the big dreams that were still in the hearts of some, but had been held out of reach by the evils of addiction.  The friend related their activity to being “a church without walls”.

It reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a guy who was cutting my hair.  We got onto the subject of churches and he voiced his somewhat negative opinion of them.  I asked him what the ideal church would look like to him.  He said, “It would be a church without walls”.  That statement stuck with me and I’ve pondered it many times since.

I was raised in church and we moved often when I was growing up, so I got to see many differences in each church we attended.  Even when they all taught out of the same book, each minister seemed to have their own interpretation of how church life should be done.    Early on, I was exposed to the negative impact that results when a leader makes church life all about rules rather than a relationship with God.  I saw the damage that’s done when the one in charge abuses their power and uses the sermon to manipulate people rather then empower them to live their life in a positive way.  Early on, I saw the destruction that comes to the members when the Pastor lives a secret, darker life, on every other day than Sunday.

Disclaimer:  Don’t get me wrong here.  This post isn’t meant to bash the whole church.  I’ve seen and experienced way more good from church than I have negative.  I’m looking at the negative here, because that’s what seems to get the focus of the world outside the church and gives justification to those who want no part of it.  My wish is just to see that be different.

A church is more than just a name on a building down the street.  It’s supposed to be about the people.  The people in the building are the church.  That phrase, “a church without walls”, I had previously thought of more from the perspective of each individual church’s or denomination’s beliefs.  Many might identify themselves as being part of the same religion, however, the beliefs or interpretation of scriptures is often very different.  I saw these differences as being the walls that divided, walls that kept many people outside and have locked others inside.  No one is influenced in a really healthy, positive way by these models and any benefits gained, are limited.  These differences have caused issues, even wars, since the beginning of history.  How to get these walls to come down is a daunting and even though I hate to use this word, it seems to be an “impossible” task.

My friend’s Facebook post helps me see this in a different light, though.  It is possible to have a church without walls that every person on earth could be a part of, if they so choose to be.  We’ve all heard about “paying it forward” and “random acts of kindness”.  Many of us have enjoyed being a part of the Starbucks line where each person pays for the coffee of the person in the car behind them.  It sounds so simple, but what if we all made a conscious choice each day to love the people that cross our paths through our actions?  Even better, what if we looked for opportunities, even went out of our way to help someone, whether it be feeding the homeless on the streets of Phoenix or allowing ourselves to be inconvenienced to help a someone in need.  Making a lifestyle choice to “love people however I can with whatever I have” doesn’t have to be based on what we believe or if we attend a church or not.  Call me a dreamer if you want, but what a wonderful dream it would be, if each individual in the world could become,

                 “the church without walls”.   Just imagine…