Room for More

“Isn’t it funny how we try to busy ourselves with ‘stuff’ just so we don’t have to think about how far we pushed God out of our lives?”

-Anne Slamkowski, Revealing Faith

I read this question in a book I just received from a friend of mine.  Did I mention that the friend also happens to be the author of the book?  Isn’t that exciting?!  Imagine my surprise when I read in her post on Facebook (of all places) that her “new book is coming out September 1st!”  What???  Of course, I had to order it!!  (And I requested an autograph, too, ’cause I’m kind of pushy like that).

Anyhoo, last week this little gem arrived in my mailbox:

It was complete with a lovely note and autograph, per my request.  (Well, technically I didn’t request the lovely note, but I’d really hoped for one.  What a gift!)

So…let me fill you in on how I know this author!

From the moment I met Anne Slamkowski she was an instant friend who I was so happy (and grateful) to have come into my path.  We’d both traveled (somewhat reluctantly) to the mountains of Utah from the Midwest.  Raising our young families in a valley between mountains was not something either one of us flatland Midwestern gals had ever imagined for ourselves, and we weren’t entirely sure why we’d been brought so “far from home.”  Still, we must have trusted enough– especially in finding each other –that somehow we’d  been brought together for a reason.

One of those reasons (as it turned out for me) was so I could become better acquainted with another friend named Lisa, who happened to be (and still is) one of Anne’s best friends.  Lisa proved to be a tremendous source of strength and support for me when– as quickly as I’d come to know her– Anne was yanked from my life due to a relocation for her husband’s job “back home” in the Midwest.  (And if you’re following this right, you’ll note that I insisted on placing my grief of being left behind by a brand new friend over Lisa’s grief of being left behind by the same person who happened to be one of her best friends.  Dear Lord, do you see why she’s so special??)

Anyhoo, as I was saying  both Lisa and I were saddened to see Anne and her family leave Utah, but her absence paved the way for our friendship to develop.  And to this day it is Lisa that I refer to as  my “sister” because we are of similar heart and mind.  Also, it’s quite fun to have a sister with my same first name.  It makes me think of “Darrell and my other brother Darrell” from the old Newhart show.    Now, six years later, all three of us reside in separate states, but I still hold tight to those memories of the time the three of us spent together in the same “hometown.”

That’s why today  I’m happy to tell you a little about Anne and her wonderful book and this great blog she writes.  I finished her book last night after just starting it yesterday.  It’s probably not exactly meant to be read cover to cover like that since it’s full of reflective questions and all, but since I am privileged enough to know some of Anne’s story, I found myself wanting to read it all RIGHT NOW to know the parts of Anne’s story that I didn’t know.

So I read it all.

And there were things I underlined and put little hearts and smiley faces by because I loved them or they made me smile.

And then there were questions to answer.

About God.

And me.

And our relationship.

And with Anne’s urging (she’s always been a good urger)  I feel inspired to write about something of which Anne calls us all to be mindful.   Between her blog–found on her beautifully titled website “Making Room for God” which you can find right  here— and her book Revealing Faith  (which you can order from the website),   she is determined to make us all a little more mindful of putting God first in our lives.

So, I’ve been thinking about that.

And since Anne asks lots of questions of her readers on her blog, and I almost never do (because my blog is all self-focused and whatnot), I thought I’d go ahead and share some of my answers to the one lingering question I think about every time I visit her site.

Because it’s a really good question.

And that question is this:

How do I make room for God in my life?

And I’ve been kind of curious to see what answers I  come up with.

And I  want to share my answers because until recently (in the past couple of years or so), I’d somehow bought into the belief that there’s was a “right” way to spend time with God.  And that “right” way felt really reverent and formal and kind of forced and uncomfortable for me.  But I still thought it was “right”  and as a result I thought that all the other times I was thinking about God or wondering with God or even marveling at God didn’t really “count.”  But then I found a spiritual advisor and discovered the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), and mysticism, and Richard Rohr and the Benedictines and the Franciscans, and most recently dipped into some of the Eastern practices for getting to know God, and I started realizing that almost any time spent thinking about or being with God is a valid part of developing a relationship with Him.

It’s how mysticism helped move our relationship forward– God’s and mine– because while He was all Fine and Perfect?  I was kind of stuck.  And when I discovered the mystics and their writings, they pointed out to me that the reverent, formal prayer I struggled with… is right.

Yep.  You read that correctly.  Formal, reverent prayer is right.

But they went on to say that all that thinking and wondering and marveling that I was doing?

It was right, too.

Think of it this way:   it’s like adhering to the belief that the only part of your relationship that matters with your spouse or your friends and loved ones is the time you spend talking to them, and then making the realization that your relationship is based not only on talking to them,  but also any time you spend thinking about them or wondering what they’re up to or remembering something they told you, or sharing stories about things they did or said.  (Of course, Anne does a good job of pointing out that if you’re not talking to them at all, –which  almost all of us are guilty of at least some of the time, especially when it comes to God– then that’s not so good either).   But, I’m working here on the  assumption that you already are talking to them/Him.   Now, I don’t know about you, but when someone says to me, “So… [your husband/son/daughter/mom/dad, etc.] tells me you are…” and they go on to tell me something that  my loved ones or friends shared with them about me, that tells me that even when we’re apart, they are still thinking of me.

And that only adds to the things we say to each other when we’re together.

(And yes, I do realize that God is always with us, and never apart from us, Smartypants, but sometimes we do find ourselves drifting from Him.  Anyway, it’s an analogy.  Which by the way I  stink at.   But it’s the best I could do).

That’s kind of what mysticism is.  And once I embraced this mystical element to my relationship with God, I changed my mind about there being only one “right” way to spend time with Him, (or, as Anne points out in her book:   God changed my mind for me) and I just started kind of hanging out with Him.

And I thought you might like to know how I do it.

Hang out with God, I mean.

So,  later this week I’ll be sharing some of the answers I came up with about how I make room for God in my life.

And I hope you’ll put some thought into how you do it, too.

And then I hope you’ll leave a comment or drop me a note about it.  Not so we can stand up proudly and say, “Isn’t it great that we do this?” (well, OK, maybe a little of that…) but rather in the hopes that if we make a conscious effort to consider what it is we are already doing,  it will help us to see and hear– through each other– more of what God may be asking of us.

Because– as Anne’s question has reminded me– when it comes to having a relationship with someone we refer to as The Eternal One… isn’t there always room for more?

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

“All too often, we think that God wants us to offer up our individuality, to become something other than who we are, but that’s not what God desires at all.  God wants the exact opposite:  God wants us to sacrifice those things that keep us from becoming unique individuals.”

– Woodene Koenig-Bricker

I can’t tell you how long I’ve tried to be someone other than who I was meant to be.

But as I stare down the big 4-0, I am beginning to see more clearly (and accept more willingly) who that person is.  I also see more clearly the things I need to sacrifice to become that person.  And don’t laugh, but I think who I’m meant to be may have something to do with writing.  (And yes, I realize as you’re reading what I’ve written, that this is shocking only to me).

From the time I was very young I enjoyed keeping journals of my thoughts and dreams.  Over the years I’ve started and stopped countless other journals, too.  It seems that the idea of putting pen to paper has always been something I’ve enjoyed, even though it rarely comes easily.  Plus, there’s the fact that when I was in high school I won a state award for two essays I wrote.  (FYI, so did a good friend of mine who went on to become the best wordhound I know).  And, when I was in college, studying for my English education degree (maybe another clue that I enjoyed the language arts?) , I  had a college professor (a published author herself) encourage me to try to publish a short story I’d written.    So I took her advice,  sent it off to one magazine, received a very polite rejection letter, and decided I was too thin-skinned for that business.

But what I’ve come to realize is that all these years–until only very recently– I was only willing enough to be that  one-in-a-kajillion person who sits down and writes a flawless rough draft of a book that gets sent off to a big publisher, becomes an instant best seller, and then goes on Oprah to tell about it.

(I know.   Should be any day now, right?)

Yes, somewhere inside me that’s still what I want.  The only problems are that

1.  I have no ideas for a book,

2.  Oprah’s show is over, and

3.  the loss of anonymity that fame requires scares me a little.

 (Ok, it scares me a lot).

So now what?

Well, I’ll tell you what.   I’ve realized if I want to be successful at all, I need to open myself up to more.  More failure.  More rejection.  More, well…writing.

And to do that I need to sacrifice some things.  I need to sacrifice my fears;   Fear of failure.  Fear of rejection.  Even fear of success.  And I need to sacrifice my expectations;  expecting fame, expecting validation, expecting acceptance.  And I need to sacrifice my time;  time doing anything other than what I claim I want to do so much– write.

Do you know what occurred to me the other day?  It occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly count for you the times in my life I’ve thought, Oh, I’d love to be a writer because I’ve thought it so much.  But I’d almost never write.   Especially not for others to see.  I felt like I wasn’t “qualified.”  I only wanted the “How to  Write a Best Seller for Dummies” version of writing.  Not the raw, gritty, self-sacrificing kind of writing.

But the other day, I had to ask myself, what does “qualified to write,” even mean?  Lots of people write.  Books even.  So I took a look at my “credentials” and you know what I  saw?  An award-winning writer (I’m fighting the inclination to put “award-winning” in quotes since it was from high school and all…), who received a nod from a published author and who holds a college degree in English.   Hmmm…seems like maybe my “credentials” aren’t so off the mark after all.

Sure, they may be outdated.  But the experience is still my personal truth.

So what occurred to me the other day, then, was that what I’ve been doing up to this point was actually no different than if someone said to me, “Oh, I’d love to be a marathoner.”  And I’d say to them, “Oh?  How often and how far do you run?”  And they’d reply, “Oh, no.  I don’t run very often, because I only want to run marathons.”

Essentially what I’ve been doing is no less laughable:  writing when I felt like it, sometimes publishing it on Facebook, sometimes not.  Bit by bit, I’ve gotten more ideas, and I’ve gone with them.  Piece by piece I’m feeling my way through this interweb of stories and blogs and articles out there trying to make a go of it.  But I’ve not been able to accept that this is what I want to do.  If “this” is anything at all.

And then I decided something.

I decided to exercise a little discipline.  I decided that since I can see small dots of encouragement and nods in this direction throughout my whole life…well, then this may be worth connecting those dots to see what picture they create for me.  Of course, the scariest part is, I really don’t know how it will end.  I honestly don’t even know how I want it to end.  The truth is my little blog here?  It may be a stepping stone to something else.  Or it may become just another blog in a large bloggy graveyard of forgotten blogs.

But I won’t know unless I try.

And I can’t try unless I’m willing.

So I’ve also decided that rather than focus on the possibility of failure, or the possibility of success, I’m going to focus my willingness to accept my fate by getting to work writing.  (At least my heart has decided to accept this…my mind is still pretty bent out of shape about it and holding onto the dream of writing a best seller and landing on Oprah).

But I found this little gem to keep me going.  I don’t know where it orginated, but I found it on Pinterest and I’ve pinned it to my board:

Source: i.imgur.com via Lisa on Pinterest

While I’m not certain of the original source, I’m grateful to him/her all the same.
I’ve also decided that if I’m going to get to work writing then that means I need to make time for it.
So, I’m now setting aside time each day just for writing.  I don’t answer the phone, I don’t read my emails, I don’t run errands during that time.  I write.  (OK, sometimes I read someone else’s writing a little bit first — I call this my R & D time– to get my thoughts jumpstarted, but mostly I just write).   I’m not always writing this blog, either.  Since I’m still a bit skiddish about just putting all my thoughts out there without some filtering and editing, so don’t go thinking I’ll have something here every day.  That’d be waaaaay too much pressure for me right now.
I made another decision about writing, too.  I decided to volunteer in a capacity that feeds my hunger for writing:  I get my inspiration by helping kindergartners  in a wonderful little process I became part of last year known as Kidwriting.  Right now, there is no better “food” for me on this journey than to see the writing process from the very beginning.  To remember what a gift it is to learn how to urge lines and curves into shapes that form letters… and then string letters together into words… and words into sentences.  It’s such a miraculous a thing!

So it turns out what I want to be when I grow up (at almost 40) is the same thing I’ve always wanted to be:  a writer.   And I guess I’m a little closer to seeing that happen since I write a blog and all.

I guess getting close to 40 has made me foolish enough to believe something I read once that “a call from God really only requires three things from us:  courage and a willing spirit, and trust that God will do the rest.”

I’m finally willing to take that risk and sacrifice some time– and my fears and expectations– to help make me into the writer I’ve long said I want to be.

I’m also finally willing to be disciplined about what it is I want to do.

And if I don’t succeed here?

Well, then,  I guess I just have to let go of my expectations and know I did my best.

But even if I fail at this blog it doesn’t mean I need to stop writing, especially if it’s what I love.

Because who knows?

There’s always the possibility that God’s plan for me is to write a best seller about how to fail at blogging.  🙂

How I Failed at Couch to 5K…the second time.

Wouldn’t you think that after a run with God, life would just get all easy and stuff?

Well, you can stop wondering.

I’ll just tell you flat-out:  it doesn’t.

At least it didn’t for me.   Which kind of stinks, because I was really looking forward to living to a ripe old age,  breezing through life and then falling into God’s arms at the end of it going, “Wow.  That was pretty cool!”

Well, after last week, I know the former and the latter are still possibilities,  but the middle part?  It’s definitely out.

And of course I have a story about it.

But before I begin there are a few critical background elements you need to know:

1.  When I began the Couch to 5K program (aka “C25K” ) for the second time (I quit in the third week my first time) my concern had nothing to do with how fast I was running, or how far.  Only how long.  I figured if my body could convince my mind that it could run for 30 straight minutes at the end of 8 weeks, then the rest would fall into place.  (Plus–and this is an even bigger factor– the app I was using didn’t measure distance or pace, only total time).

2.  At the start of the school year we’d convinced our oldest son to join the cross-country team at his school.  He’s 12 and had not conditioned all summer.  The team ran between 2.5  – 3 miles on their first day of practice.  Suddenly working up to this distance over 8 weeks didn’t seem like such a big deal.  My son was experiencing more of a “go hard or go home” kind of training,  and he was doing just fine.  This was a bit humbling, but he’s 12I’m almost 40.  So I’m OK with that.

3.   I know for a fact I can walk at least a 15 minute per mile clip or better.  It’s been timed.

4.  In addition to the C25K program, for the past 6 months I’ve also been working out  4-5 times each week doing a 30- minute workout DVD (mostly Jillian Michaels), and I also walk the dog at least a mile a day (usually more), every day.   So, you see, I wasn’t really starting from the couch.

5.  Finally, I’m going to be using the whole “elephant” (heart) and “rider”(mind) imagery again that I introduced in my last post, so if you want to get up to speed with where I came up with that, you can read my last post here.

OK, I think those are all the essentials.   Let’s see if I can fill in the details…

After my great running experience at the end of week 5, I only had three more weeks to go and I would be running a 5K.  Of course, that’s assuming I was running a full 5K (3.1 miles) at about 10 minutes a mile.  I didn’t go so far as to think I was quite that fast, but considering I could walk a 5K at at 15 minute per mile clip, I figured I was probably running at about a 12 minute clip.

That’s kind of where the story begins.  Because sometimes the things I assume to be true can get mixed up with a moderately important thing called reality.  And sometimes they meet in a head-on collision.   This little story falls into the latter.  So sit yourself down and get comfortable as I unfold the train wreck of my experience for you, best I know how…

It just so happened our oldest son was wrapping up his first week of cross-country the same weekend I was expecting to finish my C25K.  I’d been running as long as 28 minutes 3x/week at that point, and was sure there would be no problem adding another 2 minutes to get to the 30 minute mark.  I was ready to put a big ‘ol check mark by this sucker and my plans were then to try to stay running for 30 minutes a day two – three times a week moving forward.

So when my oldest son came home from school before Labor Day weekend and said he needed to run at least two miles per day on two days over  the long weekend , I offered to run with him.  After all, I reasoned, I’m ready for this!  I’ve been training for SEVEN WEEKS!   Plus, as a result of running with my son, I’d actually be finishing the whole C25K a few days early.  Bonus!

Then Husband came home from work and offered to run with Son and I, too!  Awww.  Poor Husband, I thought, this is going to be a tough little run-in with reality for him.  He hasn’t run at all since last year.  And because I’m so thoughtful, I decided I would try to go easy on him.  And Son.   No need to embarrass them, you know.  My elephant (heart) was happy with the idea that I now had two running partners for the weekend, and my rider (mind ) was feeling particularly positive about these last few runs, so, unlike the last time he was more than welcome to come along for this adventure.

We all laced up on Saturday morning and began the run.  Within the first two minutes Husband and Son were a half-block ahead of me.  Ha! said my rider (mind) to me and my elephant (heart).  Amateurs.  They’re going to be walking pretty soon because they aren’t pacing themselves (at my [assumed] 12-minute pace).   Oh well.  They gotta learn somehow.

Except they didn’t.

If anything, the gap was only increasing.  I was falling further and further behind!

This was NOT how this was supposed to go!!!

Over half-way through, Husband and Son had doubled their distance between us.  I yelled out to Son who was the only one wearing a watch. “TIME?”  I yelled.  “WHAT’S THE TIME??”  (I didn’t really like how panicked I sounded).   Son stopped moving, but kept running in place, turned around to face me, and cupped his hand to his ear  in a I-can’t-hear-you motion.    Great.  Somehow I’d fallen  so far back I was out of earshot.   And trust me, my voice travels!   This was not a good sign.  “Eight minutes left!”  he shouted.  Well, that stinks, I thought. Especially considering I thought he was going to say, “two.”

Near the end (I was guessing, because the guys had turned around towards home), I was so mad and irritated that they (non-training Husband in particular) were not only able to finish, but also finish faster than me, that I turned down a different block than them so I would no longer have to stare at their bodies growing smaller and smaller on the horizon as I dragged myself along.

Finally, sweaty and winded, I walked up the drive.

“Wow!  That felt good, didn’t it?”  Husband said as I dragged myself up the driveway.   I noticed he and Son both had water bottles in hand fresh from the fridge and were stretching.  Oh, goody.  I’d fallen so far behind they had time to refresh themselves while I was finishing my “run.”  (I had to use the term loosely– in quotes– now, because compared to them, I was no longer sure exactly if what I’d been doing could even count as running.)

“Should we drive the course to see how far we ran?”  Husband asked.  “Sure,” I brightened.  Aha!  This was going to be my reward!  I was sure of it.   This would be where we’d drive around and I’d find out that even though they were faster, we’d certainly run farther than I usually ran.  So we climbed into the car and began the trek.  Down the farm road and back?  1 mile.   Good.   Around this block and that one.   Add another .5 mile.  Uh-oh.  Was that all?   My insides stiffened.  My elephant was numb.  This wasn’t looking good.  I hadn’t run but a bit further than this, total.  “Where did you stop running?”  Husband asked.  “There” I whispered.  I couldn’t even look.  “Good job, Hon!” said (frustratingly positive, optimistic) Husband.  “1.75 miles for you and that makes…(as we pulled up to his and Son’s end point) 2.25 miles for us.”

In 28 minutes.

I couldn’t decide whether to scream or cry.   I just blinked.

“Not bad for a first day!” said Husband with a smile.  FIRST DAY???  I wanted to shout.  Instead I just asked, needing to know the WHOLE. UGLY. TRUTH. even though I feared the answer,”What’s that put my pace at?”  (On a good day my math is choppy at best.  Right now, I was far too distraught to even attempt it).  I braced for the answer.

“Uh…let’s see.  How far did we say you went again?”  (Seriously, did he have to rub it in?)

“1.75,” I said.

“That puts you at about a 16 minute mile.”

16 minutes per mile!?!?  I could walk faster than that!  My elephant (heart) was so wounded, he just hung his head and turned his back to me.   But my rider (mind)  came to the rescue!  “Beginner’s luck for them and a bad day for you,” he told me. “We’ll show ’em what we’re really made of tomorrow!”  Yeah.  That sounded right.  Beginner’s luck.  Tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow will be MY DAY to shine!

***

The next day was muggier and more overcast than the previous one.  I’d not had a great night’s sleep, but it was certainly better than the night before.  Mentally, I was more ready than ever to show Husband just who the Workout Warrior was in this family.

We headed out to the park with the dog in tow.  This time I downloaded a new app that measured it all…time, distance, pace, etc.  Heh, heh!  There will be no denying this, I thought to myself as we pulled in to the park.

We hopped out, stretched a bit and, trying to stay humble, I turned to Husband and Son  and made a sweeping gesture towards the trail, “You go ahead and start since you’re faster.  The dog and I will stay back here.” I said.   And we’ll be passing you soon enough, I thought.

So they started.  And the dog and I followed.  Hmmm.  They’re moving at a pretty good clip again today, I thought.  Well, when they hit that first hill they’re going to slow down a bit.  But it was harder than I thought.  I looked up the hill in time to see the tops of their heads as they cleared the hill barely breaking stride.  So, I kicked it into gear as best I could to get to the top of the hill…only  to see them already around the next curve.  The dog obviously saw them, too, as he began pulling me ( remember him? my reluctant running partner? ) around the curve to catch them.  “Traitor!”  I hissed at the dog.  He clearly wanted to run faster.  With the guys.  He pulled and pulled.  I kept shtsss’ing and tugging like the Dog Whisperer to know avail.  We got to the top of the second hill and I could see them turning the corner into their final stretch of their first lap.

There was no catching them, now.

And at that moment, my giant elephant heart broke in two.

This was not how this was supposed to go.

Suddenly I was overcome with emotion.  There I was in the middle of the park with  Son and Husband  barely in sight, a dog who wanted to be anywhere but with my slow, sorry self and the clouds that– though I was praying would strike lightning so we could all go home and forget this day ever happened– refused to do anything more than squeeze the air out of my lungs.

Tears welled in my eyes.  I pulled on my sunglasses (because of the glaring clouds, of course) and stopped running.  Why bother, I thought.  I took a shortcut across the trail so I would meet up with Husband and Son to hand over the dog.  (They still beat me there).  I dropped the dog’s leash and–adding a final insult to my already injured (elephant) heart– the dog took off in a full-out run to be with the big boys.  Husband and Son turned to greet the dog, (barely winded) and smiled and waved at me as I stared long and hard at the backs  of their heads as they disappeared down the trail.

Inside my elephant (heart) was so sad and broken, and my rider (mind) was so stunned, I just stood there fighting back the big, choking sobs that threatened to break loose.

Once we get home, and I shower, I thought,  I’ll  feel better.

Turns out a shower wasn’t enough to wash away the pain of my very wounded ego.  I was in no mood to look for any positives to this whole humiliating experience.  Instead, I just crawled up on top of a big ‘ol Pity Pot and let the s#*t  pile high.  That’s an ugly sentiment, I know.  But it’s true.  Brooding, moping, pouting…it was all there.  I searched my rider hoping he might have something positive to say here.  Or at least some explanation for how things had gone so wrong.  But he was no help.  No help at all.  And my elephant?  Well, he just had the saddest little look about him.  Like baby Dumbo with those big teary eyes.  And he turned his back on me and walked away.

So where was God now?  And what had happened to that soul of mine?   I searched all around, but there was no sign of either one now.  No “house of goodness,”  no feelings of the Spirit of God and his eternal love.  Just… darkness.  Dark as a tomb.

I went through the motions of the day OK (well, at least I think I did…you should probably ask Husband to define “OK”, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t much fun to live with).  Everything felt a bit heavier.   At first I was pleased to see my rider  come back, but he started in with some pretty worrisome thoughts:  This whole time I’d thought I was running a 12 minute mile when I was actually “running” slower than I can walk?  What did the neighbors think when they saw me “running”?  Did I even look like I was moving?  And the dog!  This whole time I’d thought he was having a hard time keeping up, but after today’s events it was evident, he clearly thought I wasn’t  running at all.  In fact, he probably lagged behind because he figured if I was going that slow he could at least get some good sniffing in. 

Then I groaned.  The girls in my Facebook group.  Ugh.  I’d made a big ‘ol announcement that I’d be wrapping up my final week of C25K this weekend, and they’d probably be waiting to hear that I’d finished.  I couldn’t bear to post it.  Not because I feared them mocking me.  In fact, I’d probably prefer it.  Instead I knew they’d either try to cheer me up with those encouraging verses like “well, you’re lapping everyone still on the couch!”  or some such thing  (And as I already pointed out I hadn’t really started on the couch).   Or worse, they’d feel sorry for me.   (I like my pity parties to be a Party of One, thank you very much).  What if they’d say something like, “Awww, that’s OK!”  or   “Keep trying!”  Double ugh.  It was NOT OK, and now I wasn’t sure I’d ever try again.     So, unless someone else had had to work themselves up to a 17 minute mile, I really didn’t want to hear from them.  So I stayed away from the page.  I just couldn’t bear it.

Later that evening,  I wondered again:   Where is God in all of this?  Is this some kind of punishment for my pride?   A joke?  And what came to my mind then was an image of Mother Teresa and a saying of hers that I love:

“We are called to be faithful.  Not successful.”

Which is true enough.  But puh-lease. Not right now.  I’m too busy having this pity party.   I rolled my eyes, grumbled to myself, “Shut it, Sister!,” slammed the door on that thought, and  climbed back up onto my Pity Pot.

Day 2 was a little better.  I mean it was what it was, right?  I  had to face the facts.  After eight weeks of training, it turns out I “run” a 16 minute mile.  I thought some more about Mother Teresa’s words from the day before and thought that maybe she had a point.  I had been faithful to the plan.  Maybe I could at least find hope in that.  I HAD run 3 times each week for the length of time I was supposed to (except when I was on vacation) and so what if I wasn’t exercising a “run” properly? I was at least exercising some discipline.  (It was little consolation, but afterwards I’ll admit my heart felt a little better.  A bit more open to the possibility that perhaps I wouldn’t need to brood about this forever).

Later that day, when I wondered Where is God in all of this?  again,  more words came to me.  They were Richard Rohr’s words this time reminding me,

“If we don’t transform our sins, we are bound to transmit them.”

Thanks, Richard, I thought, sarcastically.   Was it a sin to run badly?  Of course not.  But I knew he wasn’t talking about the running.  He was talking about the condition of my heart.  (Resentful.  Closed off.  Hard.)  And the condition of my mood.  (Bitter.  Angry.  Self-loathing).  Hmm…he might have a point, but I was perfectly content being angry and bitter and full of self-loathing right now.  Giving any more thought to that  would have to wait.  *Door slam*  I was done thinking about it.

Then came Day 3.  I woke up thinking maybe today I would spill it to the girls on Facebook.  I might be able to face their sympathy or encouraging words now.  But, I wondered again, Where is God in all of this?  And then in my mind flashed the image again of Husband and Son and Dog cresting the hill and disappearing.  UGH!  I thought, growing angry all over again.  Why were they so much better than me when I’d been the one working SO hard?   Clearly, I still was not ready.

But then.

Then,  that morning  I cracked open my devotional reading titled “Holy Reversals” by Patti Gallagher Mansfield and couldn’t believe what I was reading.   The words jumped off the page as though they’d been written just for me

  “… the Lord showed [me] that this very disappointment, difficulty and disillusionment with others could be

a tombstone or a stepping stone

for [me], depending on [my] response to the offense.”

Well, now. Those were some words worth thinking about.

Suddenly, it was all pretty clear. This whole experience could either be a story about the day I stopped running (“running”) or  it could be…something else.  But what?  Again, the image of  Husband, Son and Dog flashed in my mind.  This time, though, my breath caught.  In all my anger do you know what I’d missed?  I’d missed being witness to a beautiful moment between a father and his son, and their dog.  My husband.  Our son.  Our dog.  I’d missed the beauty and the miracle of the fact that my son was willing enough and courageous enough to take the time to get stronger and better when he’d suffered a pretty difficult first week of training.  I missed the willingness of a father to run with his son even though he’d not run in a year.  I’d missed the ability to just get out there and do the best I could and enjoy the day for what it was:  a day of courage and willing spirits all the way around.

I’d missed it because I had not been willing.  I’d been plotting.

Plotting how to win.

How to be better.

How to show everyone how it was done.

And I’d failed.

But now?

Now was my chance to make this a stepping stone, instead of a tombstone.  Now was the chance to seize the opportunity to be humble.  To realize I had done the best I could, but that others have done much better.  An opportunity to realize that if I felt good doing something that was good for me, it was OK even if it hadn’t turned out the way I’d thought it would.

And then I realized something else.  If I’d been faster that day?  If I’d been where I wanted to be beside (or preferably in front) of Husband and Son and dog?  Well, then I would have missed the image of the three of them running together, wouldn’t I?  And right then and there I took a mental snapshot of the three of them.  And I tucked it right back into my –now healing– elephant (heart).

By day 4, I knew I was on the right track again.  I decided to go for a run even if I was going to be slow, and even if I could walk faster than I could “run.”  Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe I should’ve never called what I was doing “running” in the first place.  Maybe I should have used the word “jogging.”  At least it would have sounded like I could go faster, but  I just chose not to.   Or, my rider (mind) joked, maybe since you can walk faster than you jog you should call it “wogging.”

And I laughed out loud.

And that’s when I started moving my feet in the motion formerly known as running.  And I recognized again  the  *I* that had emerged with the elephant and rider once before.  The *I* that I call my soul.  And as my legs moved (yes forward, you smart alecs!) my elephant and rider both welcomed her (my soul is a female!) back.

Well, my rider  wondered, where have *you*  been?  Last time we looked for *you*, it was black as a tomb in there.

Tomb?  said my soul.

Yes, rider and elephant both nodded.

Soul just laughed.  That was not a tomb, she said.  It was a wombAnd from it came New Life.  A life of joy and love and laughter that had been missing for a short time.  Waiting until you were ready for it.  But now it’s back.

Yes.  Yes it was.

***

Thirty minutes later I walked back up the driveway,  feeling more refreshed and renewed than I had in a long time.

I glanced down at my iPod to check my pace:   a 15-minute mile.   I sighed.  Then I did a quick inventory.   My elephant (heart) was content and rested.  My rider (mind) was quiet and calm.  My soul was happy and at peace.

Hmph, I smiled to myself,  I guess numbers don’t matter all that much when you’re running at the speed of God.

And I opened the door and went inside.

The Day I Let My Elephant Run

So it turns out I have an elephant.

I never realized it before.

Fortunately, I don’t need to exercise it or anything because I have a rider for it, too.

But that’s kind of getting ahead of myself, so maybe I should back up a little.

Two years ago I joined a group on Facebook formed by a friend of mine that I knew pretty well in high school, but she graduated a year ahead of me, moved on with her life and I with mine, and as sometimes happens with “old” high school friends, we lost contact for a decade or so.  I’d hear updates of her life through other mutual friends or family that knew her, but mostly we were both off just living our lives, doing our own thing.

Then one day Mark Zuckerburg engineered his way into our lives with the invention of Facebook.  And suddenly all the friends anyone ever wanted to know what happened to were suddenly very reachable.

She and I were one of the lucky ones who reconnected.

As fate would have it, she was going to begin an exercise challenge known as the “30-Day Shred.”  It’s a workout created by Jillian Michaels (of TV’s The Biggest Loser fame) made up three 20-minute workouts of increasing intensity consisting of cardio, strength and ab training all in one.  My friend offered that any Facebook friends of hers could join this challenge with her, and since I already had the DVD (but had never really done it in 30 days), I joined the group.

Fast forward two years, and her humble little group of “friends” has grown to over 50 people (friends of friends are in now, too, so many of us do not know each other), and we post our workouts, our frustrations, our favorite healthy recipes and generally try to be encouraging to one another in the area of fitness and healthy lifestyles.  It’s a great thing and definitely an important part of my road to wellness over the past few years.

That being said, it can also be incredibly annoying.  Why?  Well, because some of these ladies tend to make Jillian Michaels look like she’s a lazy wimp.    Just when you start to feel all proud of yourself for doing 10 situps without passing out, someone will post (usually the same day) that they just completed the 10,000 situp challenge in 4 days.

Or something like that.

Anyhoo, despite the fact that it can be annoying, I realize there’s really nothing wrong with someone finally reaching a goal they’d set for themselves.  And their goals really don’t have anything to do with me, so in general I find it easy to be supportive.

But there was one challenge that just really bothered me.  It was called the Couch to 5K, and much like it’s name, the intention of the workout is to take you off the couch and up to running a 5K in  8 weeks.  Pretty neat, but I was doubtful I could do it.  I mean, the couch part I was OK with, but the 5K?  Not so much.  Especially since the last time I remember running was in 2005, and that was just to the end of my driveway because  I was trying to flag down the postman for some mail I needed him to deliver.   So running a whole 5K seemed unlikely.

Still…many of the women swore by it, so I decided to give it a try.  I tagged my dog as my running partner and for three weeks we ran together.  And you know what?  It really wasn’t all that bad.

Then I started getting bunions.

And it started getting hotter.

And so we quit.

And that would have been the end of it, if it weren’t for these nagging encouraging women on this chirpy little motivating group on Facebook.

About that time was when I realized the “positive peer pressure” that we parents so often hope our kids will experience in order to give them that little bit of courage they’re lacking to try something new,  was actually happening to me.

Suddenly, I didn’t want to be the only one (out of 50 women) who couldn’t run a 5K.

Starting from the couch.

So, I laced up my (new, better-ftting) tennis shoes and I started over (with the dog).  And the dog wasn’t too crazy about trying this again, because he’s more about walking and sniffing and pooping and leaving pee-mail for all the neighborhood dogs than he is about running for no reason.  And since it was getting hotter all the time and he has a long furry coat, he’d often be trotting as far behind me as his 6 foot leash would allow.  This was fine by me.   Because every day I ran, I could at least brag post on my Facebook group’s page that I’d completed the workout, met the goal for the day,  (and I’d try not to rub it in too much that I was running faster than my dog).

So the weeks wore on, I met the three week mark and blew past it, knowing this time I would not quit until I reached the end of the eight weeks.  Sure, there was a week or two when I’d take off for vacation and unlike my dedicated Facebook friends, I would NOT continue my workouts then.  But, when I got back home, I’d start up again.  And I was pretty thrilled with that.

At the end of week 5, I thought something must be wrong with the plan.  Because suddenly my workouts jumped from running no more than eight minutes at a time (with 5 minutes walking and then another 8 minute run, alternating for 20 some minutes) to suddenly running 20 minutes non-stop. 

WHAT????

That couldn’t be right.  I checked the posts of some of the gals on the Facebook group and (big surprise) those who had surpassed Week 5 reported how, while intimidating, it was not only possible to achieve a 20 minute run by that time, but that they’d actually surpassed that goal on that day.

*sigh*

I was surrounded by insanity, it appeared.

Still, I wanted to at least have bragging rights to completing SOMETHING (the last thing I’d completed, I think, was the original 30-day challenge two years earlier.  I’d never even tried to go beyond that other than to workout somewhat regularly each week).  And I was curious (though plagued with doubt) to see if I could also meet this goal (since it was now confirmed I wasn’t reading a typo).

So, when Week 5, Day 3 (you “only” run three days a week) arrived, I strapped on my running shoes, juiced up my iPod, leashed the dog and began the 5 minute warmup (which is supposed to be a “brisk walk”).  I’m not going to lie to you.  I was practically throwing up at the idea of running for 20 minutes.   And yes,  I did realize it was entirely possible that my biggest obstacle was my head.  (What if my body was really capable of this challenge?  What then?)

That’s when my thoughts turned to the elephant and the rider.  They were mentioned in an audiobook my husband downloaded before our vacation, and together we’d listened to much of the book on our way to and from our vacation destination.    The book was called Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

In it, the Heath brothers talked about how, when motivating others (or ourselves) to change, it’s important to determine whether we need to appeal more to a person’s head (their mental outlook, thoughts, etc) or a person’s heart (the way they feel about something).  They likened these two parts of our selves to an elephant (our emotional side) and a rider (our thinking, analyzing side).

I’d enjoyed parts of the book, but hadn’t really applied it to anything in my own life… until that moment.

Suddenly, as my warmup was winding down and I was going to begin running, I knew that everything I needed for this run was in my (elephant) heart.  Because my inner dialogue, my thoughts and analysis (rider) of this whole situation, were just not positive.

So you know what I did?

I told my rider to dismount my elephant.

And he did. (I have no idea why my rider is a man…that’s probably a whole ‘nother book I’ll need to buy).

Anyhoo, that was it.  Off my happy ‘ol elephant-self trotted.

Prior to this day, I’d roughly planned my route so that at about the 10 minute mark, I’d feel closer to home (in case I needed to stop).  (Curse you rider for tainting my elephant’s thinking!).  And I’m not gonna lie.  For about the first 5 or 6 minutes, I felt like an elephant out there.  I was moving slow, I was trying not to exert myself, saving my energy for this looong run.

As I neared my “10-minute marker”  I was growing nervous, because on this program (it’s an app you can download) a voice command will tell you that you are half-way.  And I was nearly half-way, but still no voice had told me so.  Oh no, I thought, maybe my iPod stopped?  Or worse, I wasn’t even half-way?  Just as the doubt nearly consumed me, I reached for my iPod only to hear the blessed announcement, “You are half-way.”  And you know what?  I still hadn’t reached the spot I’d imagined.  I was so happy (this would come to haunt me later, but that’s another story…) because in that moment I *knew* I could run another 10 minutes.

So I did.

Just me, my dog, and my elephant.

Not a rider to be found anywhere.

And then, when I was nearing the end and heading for home, I heard the “one minute left” command.  And I found myself thinking, only one?   I thought I could go at least the remaining loooong block to my house, then I thought maybe I could even go around the block one more time…so I did!

When I finally stopped running, I looked down at the time completed to see I’d been running for 28 minutes!!  A whole 8 minutes beyond what was necessary!  Then I came home and did 25 pushups, too! (The pushups were part of another challenge.  That I never even finished.  But that’s irrelevant.)

And that’s when I realized something.

My elephant can be a real showoff.

So what does all this have to do with God, you may wonder.  (Since that is usually my angle here.)  Well, at first, I wasn’t entirely sure it had anything to do with God.  I mean, what more was there to think about:  I trained.  I ran.  I conquered.

Even so, I invited my rider back in, who couldn’t help but get me thinking again (it is his job, after all).   And he helped me take inventory of what I knew for sure:

1.  It was a great day!

2.  I’d surpassed a goal that had seemed impossible.

3.  I was savoring every moment.

4.  Everything was coming up rainbows and unicorns and life in general was just about as perfect as it’d ever been.

5.  I’d also (for the first time, really) plugged into a new awareness about identifying whether my internal messages were coming from my heart (elephant), or  from my head (rider).

And with that 5th nugget of info, suddenly, a new thought occurred to me.  Before I started running, *I* told the rider (my thoughts) to leave my elephant (unthinking, energentic heart) alone:  Which *I* was giving this command?

It wasn’t my elephant.  (He [I know, another male, uh!] was busy eating grass, minding his own business waiting to run).

It wasn’t my rider that told himself to get down. (He was busy throwing a little hissy fit about not being able to go along).

So who was this–now third–I, then?

Well, I can’t prove it, of course, but I’m pretty sure…

  it was my soul.

You know, that all-knowing, all-loving,  part of me (and you) that houses the Spirit of God (goodness)?

I held onto that revelation for a moment.

I let it sink in.

I exhaled.

And I felt a certain Truth resonating within me.

Wow.

WOW.

And suddenly?

Well, suddenly setting a new personal best record of a 28-minute run didn’t seem like the biggest part of my day.

How could it?

After all, I’d just spent 28 straight minutes running with God.

Soapy, Dirty Water: The Parable of My Soul

“You’ll have to wake up tomorrow just like you did today.   If you despise repetition, what you’re really saying is that you despise life itself.”

-Kathleen Norris

“Spring cleaning” is something I try to do at least once a year.  I said try since housekeeping in general is not something I’m very motivated to do on a regular basis.   And the very fact that we’re well past spring and I’m just now getting around to it should be a good indicator that it doesn’t happen on a regular basis.

You’d think  since one of the main parts of being a stay-at-home is to be at home, I’d like to have things clean while I’m here, wouldn’t you?  Well, I DO like to have things clean.  I really do.   I just don’t necessarily want to be the one who cleans them.  So, more often than not, I settle for things to appear to be clean, even if I know they could be cleaner.

For instance, every once in a great while I’ll pick something up and dust under it, but most of the time, if I can get away with dusting around it, I will.  Sometimes if people are coming over and I haven’t had time to prepare,  I’ll dump excess papers and clutter into empty drawers (my kitchen desk drawers are deliberately empty for this very reason), and I have also been known to hide heaps of clean laundry that has yet to be folded inside my closet until the company disperses.  In other words, if I were “Dear Heloise” you’d be far more likely to get a tip from me that says something like, If company’s on the way and you need to do a quick clean up in the kitchen, load up the dishwasher as full as you can with dirty dishes and hide any other dirty dishes in the stove until they’re gone,  because I’m just not into making my own household cleaners out of baking soda and seltzer.  Or whatever.

I’ve had this love/hate relationship with housekeeping as far back as I can remember.  As kids, it was our job (my brother’s and mine) to dust on the days that our mom  vacuumed.   We also either washed or dried the dishes after supper.  These were our primary chores, with some others sprinkled in from time to time.   And oh, how I’d always want to rush through the cleaning to get on with whatever fun  was to be had that day!  I’d push dust around, I hide dirt behind, I’d scoop crumbs under any nook or cranny I could find.  (Which wasn’t much because my mom kept the house pretty spotless).  So this was  clearly not learned behavior.  At least not learned from my mom.

But, I can remember going to a friend’s house one day and seeing a sink full of clean dishes stacked high in the dish rack of their sink and a dish towel draped across the top.  “What’s that?”  I asked, pointing to the pile of dishes.

“What?  The dishes?” my friend said.

“Yeah.  Why are they like that?”  I asked (my friend clearly thought I was a total idiot, but I’d honestly never witnessed such an event).

“They’re in the rack so they can dry,” my friend said.

“Dry?  By themselves?”  I asked, dumbfounded.  And folks, I think it was right then and there decades before Pinterest existed that I “pinned” that picture to my memory and decided I would someday use my dishrack to let the dishes “dry by themselves” too, instead of drying them all by hand.  And so it seemed that from a very early age, I was more inclined to  “tuck things away” and “tend to them later” as a way of housekeeping, than “clean as you go” the way my mother taught me.

The only problem is, it doesn’t take long to fill up that dish rack.   And very often there are many other dirty dishes waiting their turn to be washed and dried.

Oh sure, I’ve tried a few things over the years to better stay on top of things.   I’ve assigned jobs to the kids (who almost never do them to my standards, which, as I already stated don’t seem incredibly high) or they whine and bicker so much about how unfair it is that so and so always get the easy jobs, etc. that assigning the jobs became more work than the actual housework.  That’s when I tried letting them pick their jobs for the week and I assigned an allowance amount to each chore with the understanding that there were also things I’d expect them to do without being paid at all.  This has worked better, but they seem to only be motivated to sign up for work when they are running low on funds.  Suffice it to say, it’s still a work in progress.

But enough about them.  How about me?  How could I get excited about doing housework?  That was the burning question.  Or, if I couldn’t be excited maybe I could at least make it all somehow seem worthwhile.

I will admit that I’d already realized good housekeeping was really nothing more than forming good habits.  And I’d recently read this very funny post over at zenhabits.net that made me realize that I’m not the only one who starts with very grandiose ideas about starting new habits only to fail at them…and quickly.  So I realized that if I was going to have any success at this, I would have to tie housework to something that I wanted to do everyday and insist that I do the chore (or chores) before I could do the fun thing.  This seemed simple enough, but what could I tie it to all the chores that fall under the umbrella of “housework” that I would want to do badly enough that I would do the chore…without cheating?

Hmm…nothing was coming to mind.

Except nuns.

Images of nuns (albeit probably from old TV shows, especially because they were images in my mind that were in black and white) of nuns humming to themselves content with jobs like scrubbing a giant floor with a toothbrush, or looking totally at peace while ironing one drab piece of clothing after another.  Maybe that was more the idea.  Rather than how to make housework fun, maybe I could figure out how to be at peace while doing housework.

And then I had it!  Meditation!  Meditation is one thing I want to do every day (I’m lousy at it, too, but I do enjoy trying) and maybe there was a way to tie housework to meditation.  (Quick sidebar here on meditation because so often meditation is misunderstand to be some deep, complicated, introspective quiet time where one must sit cross-legged, with closed eyes chanting “OOOOOOOhm,” over and over again.  It’s my understanding that while that is one way to meditate,  what I’m talking about is the bigger picture of meditation that I once read best described as this:  If prayer is talking to God, then meditation is listening to God.)

So I wondered, could it be done?  Could I hear God in the soapy water of my kitchen sink, or in the hum of the vacuum?  It seemed too good to be true!  I Googled the web and found some other posts and articles on the subject and it seemed as though this was no new idea.  In fact, I realized, how many books had I read (have on my shelf, in fact?) about the early Christian fathers and mothers of the desert whose very existence it seemed was to find peace in everything they did…including housework?  Wouldn’t that be something if I could do housework and feel…at peace?

That’s when I found this article and realized the one BIG STRUGGLE I always had with housework.   It was the fact that I could never be done with it.   Sure, chores could be done for a while, but never done-done.  Only done-until-next-time, which, when you throw kids into the mix it usually means whatever you’re cleaning is getting dirty as you’re cleaning it.   So…what was the point?

The point, I suddenly understood was peace.  To be at peace with never being done.  To understand everything as a “work in progress”.  What if I just did the chores accepting that they would get dirty again?  And what if I focused instead on the process of cleaning them for right now?  I found out that to be “mindful in the moment” of anything you’re doing is really a form of meditation.  It’s a chance for God to enter into your life in the simplest of ways.

I had to try it.

I decided to start with the dishes.  And even though the dishwasher was still partially empty, I decided to do all the ones that were on the counter by hand.  There were quite a few pots and pans, our drinking cups (which in a brilliant shopping move one day I decided would be “no big deal” that they weren’t dishwasher safe), and several odds and ends like the kitchen grater, a few plates and bowls as well as several annoying cans and whatnot that needed to be rinsed out for recycling.

OK.  I dove in.  I filled the sink,

I washed.  I rinsed.  I tried to focus on what I was doing.

Immediately my mind would wander to my To Do list, to wondering what the kids were up to at school, to anything but the task at hand.

I tried again.

I’d think of something else.

Focus.

Wash.  Dry.  What do we need from the grocery store?

Stop.

Focus.

Wash. Dry.

After several startling realizations of just how difficult it was to stay in the moment and think about the thing I was doing, I finally had some success.  And you know what?  I think God did visit me in that moment.  As I looked down and saw the suds in the same sink as the brown water from the brownie pan I just washed I saw cleanliness and dirt coexisting together.  Seemed a lot like me.  After all, don’t I have spots on my soul that glisten with the sun, and spots on my soul that really need another look?  A bit more cleaning, if you will.

Then I wondered for a moment how those pans felt about getting cleaned.  And how the sink felt about sitting there with the paradoxical parable of my soul inside  of it.  And I thought about my intentions for them as their (now mindful)  Cleaner of All, and I realized something I think God wanted me to know:  that the intentions of any Great Housekeeper are never to make something (or someone) feel bad for the stains they hold.

No.

Because a Great Housekeeper knows that no matter how much cleaning has been done, there will always be more to do.  Sometimes it involves cleaning up the same messes again and again.

Simply put, I realized Our Great Housekeeper’s intention is nothing more than this:  for us (and all those who share life with us)  to feel better for having been cleaned.

However long it may last.