Courage: the Path to Thriving

I thought 2015 was my year to thrive. I thought my focus would be on thriving, on blooming, on flourishing. I feel myself thriving at work. I focus on thriving in my relationships at home. I desperately want to thrive in my running. But another word keeps finding its way to my heart: courage

The Shamrock Half Marathon is twenty-two days away. Every single time I re-engage with my training, a curve ball happens: snow, lack of sleep, higher intensity at work. A focused training plan constantly gets moved to the back-burner. At the end of each run, I look at my garmin to see my running pace. A pace in the mid-nines doesn’t feel like thriving. I want eight minute miles, but I can not possibly thrive in all the areas of my life right now if I have a strict focus on my running. It’s not the balance I want in my day-to-day. As the days get closer to race weekend, I’ve felt anxiety about my own ability to run.

I have a competitive spirit. I like to thrive. I like to do my best. I like to push myself. I like to feel like I’ve overcome my self doubts. I like for my spirit to win the battle when my head says I can’t. Will I be happy running a race in the mid-nines when I have much bigger (and faster) running dreams?

While I’ve been desperate to thrive in my running, a different word keeps finding me. In order to thrive, I need to have courage: courage to let go of the race clock, courage to not let my success be defined by a finish time, courage to show up and to push myself out of my comfort zone, courage to show up with an open heart, and courage to go in with all my heart no matter the outcome

“Courage, dear heart.” ~C.S. Lewis

Running is never about running for me. Running is about my heart.

Today I ran six miles before our town gets buried by more snow. I was joined on my run by only the sound of my feet as I navigated snow-covered paths, sandy trails, and shoreline. As I ran, I couldn’t get this quote out of my head.

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a featherbed.” ~Terence McKenna

IMG_5598

I came to my blog to find it. I wanted to read my own words. I needed to see the story that belonged to this quote. When I found it, I smiled.

One year ago yesterday, I typed the same quote. One year ago yesterday, I was rejected by Operation Smile. I was told no when my heart was screaming yes. I thought my dream job had just slipped away. The lesson that I learned through that whole process is the one I try to live everyday. I will always show up with an open heart. I will always show up with my heart exposed. I will always give my whole heart to everything I do, because there isn’t anything that I want in my life that doesn’t deserve my whole heart.

I have to have courage to trust the process.

In twenty-two days when I show up at the start line, the only thing that matters is keeping my heart exposed. I will push myself. I will find the courage to trust my own strength and my own story. One year ago yesterday when I was told no, I knew without a doubt that I would never give up on my dreams. I refused to let it change my heart.

“There is one thing I won’t let today’s no stop me from doing. I refuse to stop dreaming. I know, without a doubt, that I will leave my finger print on our world. Maybe I’ll never see it. Maybe I’ll never have that dream job that reaches into the forgotten corners of our planet. Maybe I’ll never get the chance to nurture someone back to health. But maybe I will. Just maybe I will.” ~me

Neither my heart or my story care about the time on the race clock. My only goal is to cross the finish line feeling like I’m thriving. My only goal is to finish this race knowing that my running dreams can still come true.

IMG_5597

In the Process

I had no intention of running the Shamrock half marathon this year. I was planning to be on a work trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I thought I’d be in the heart of Africa working with patients doing something my heart loves. Plans changed. When my own personal safety came into question, the heart of my family became my priority. These very deserving patients will get treatment even if I’m not there, and my boys don’t have to worry about my safety.

There’s a saying floating around in this world that joy is found in the process not in the finish line. While I won’t be traveling to the DRC, a shift changed inside of me by working on this project. The story of these patients is so closely entwined with my heart. Who I am as a person and the beat of my heart directly connects me to their story. I rediscovered a passion inside of me over the past few months. I’ve found confidence in my own voice and in my own story. I’ve been using my voice to capture my story on paper. I’ve revisited places of shame and guilt that existed within me, and I conquered those doubts. I wanted more than anything to bring strength to these patients. I wanted to bring compassion and courage. In order to bring it to them, I had to find it for myself.

This process has changed me. In some ways it’s been subtle. In other ways it’s been intrusive. Rearranging the components of your soul is messy. It’s chaotic. While some parts have emerged, others have left with a fight. There have been days I’ve felt emotionally unstable as I’ve struggled through this transition: old doubts and insecurities struggling to hold on while new-found strength and courage fought to take over.

Through all this change the one place I’ve been able to sort through all my thoughts is in my running shoes. I’ve worked through it all, celebrated it all, and finished every run feeling like a polished version of my self. Shamrock race weekend feels like the perfect place to shine. This year I’ll be running the Shamrock half marathon instead of traveling to Africa, but I’ll be carrying this entire process with me. The finish line isn’t the one I anticipated, but the process has been the same.

I’ll be running with these patients close to my heart. I’ll be running with the courage and determination I hoped to bring to them. The best way I can honor them and myself is to show up to my life with my heart exposed filled with strength and courage.

When I do board a plane this spring for a different mission site, my heart is going to have nothing to give but love that is rooted in my own strength. My foundation will be built on strength and courage.

 

IMG_5481

Collide

“I would say that the thrust of my life has been initially about getting free, and then realizing that my freedom is not independent of everybody else. Then I am arriving at that circle where one works on oneself as a gift to other people so that one doesn’t create more suffering. I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.” ~Ram Dass

Last Friday after a week-long global planning conference that I organized and attended for Operation Smile, Christian and I drove to Operation Smile’s founders’ home for a final dinner celebration. As we drove, the pattern of turns was familiar. It was a well-worn path in my memory: to the bridge, to the second bridge, to the fork in the road, to the dead-end. The road to their house was my running route in college. Nearly every day I ran by their house.

I remember the moment well, the moment I abandoned myself during my junior year of college. I wanted nothing more than to be free: free from my past, free from my story, free from the life I had lived up until that point. I wanted to rid myself everything and everyone. I just wanted to be free.

I used to wish I could go back to the moment. I used to wish I could choose differently. I use to wonder what would my life look like if I chose a different path. What if I didn’t get married my senior year? What if I didn’t move to Alabama? What if I didn’t have a baby at 24? What if I could go back and instill all of the lessons I’ve learned since than inside my heart and inside my head. The what ifs have all dissolved away. I no longer want to hold my twenty-one year old self closely. I know longer wish I could whisper in my own ear instilling the lessons I’ve learned in the fourteen years that have followed.

As we drove that familiar running route, I felt myself colliding with my past. I felt the desperation in each run during my final years in college. I felt the rush of independence I used to feel as a plowed down a path in quest of my own freedom. I felt it all, and as I pulled into the driveway and walked in the front door of a place that now feels like home, I held all those emotions close to my heart.

There are moments in life when I collided with myself. These magical moments happen when I’m living from my heart. It happens when who I am as a person is perfectly in sync with my actions. There are the big moments: falling in love and child-birth.  And there are small moments: finish lines, observing my children coming into their own, conversations with best friends, and work dinner celebrations.

This spring I’ll be boarding a plane with my passport in hand. An Operation Smile mission will be my final destination. When I used to ask myself “what-if” my mind always wandered down a road that lead to this place. Instead of whispering in the ear of my twenty-one year old self, I want to remind myself every single day to trust: to trust my choices, to trust my intentions, and to trust my heart. I’ve been on the right path the whole time: to the bridge, to the second bridge, to the fork in the road, to the dead-end. It’s been waiting for me all along.

IMG_5287

Seeking. Striving. Thriving.

A year ago I posted these words on social media. (Timehop is my favorite app.)

“I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with my whole heart.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

I posted these words after spending a weekend with my Aunt Beth, a weekend spent in celebration of the memory of my Aunt Amy. These words embodied how she lived her life, and they are words that echoed into my soul this morning on my run. My heart whispered, “and I am thriving too!” as I hit the unmarked trail a half mile into my route.

The trail is one of the hardest trails to run in the park. There is a lot of climbing (for us folks who live at sea level). Because it is an unmarked trail, it isn’t maintained by the park. Trees have fallen. Areas have been washed away by the rain. It’s quiet, secluded and challenging. My miles are always slow. I normally walk up some of the climbs. Today I had one intention for my run: Thrive. I don’t need to walk. I just need to dig into the run.

My dirty little running secret is that negative self talk has creeped into my head. I’ve convinced myself that I need to walk on short runs. I’ve convinced myself that because my running pace isn’t where it was or where I want it to be, I’m not strong. Sometime between last summer and today, I’ve beat myself up at some point on a run. Today was different. Perhaps it was because I was defeated by a spin class this week, but I didn’t quit. Perhaps it was the release of so many emotions I felt after that spin class. Something shifted. I refused to be mentally defeated today. I became my own advocate on today’s run.

It’s okay for it to be hard. The hard won’t last.

Focus on the step in front of you. Quit looking for the finish. You can take step after step after step.

All of a sudden hard was no longer my enemy. It was something I wanted to get through. This is when my heart opened up. I understood. I push through the hard, and I carry my struggle into the down hills and into the flat sections. I carry defeat with me.

Today was different. I allowed myself to open my stride. I allowed myself to enjoy the easy sections. I let go of all the struggle. Today I thrived. Today I trusted my run.

trail

Two years ago I ran with my running coach and his team, Bernard Distance Project, and during every run he would remind me of the same thing. One single mile wasn’t an indicator for my entire run. Just because mile 3 was a struggle didn’t mean the rest of my run would be hard. I had to trust the ebb and flow of running. I had to exist in the moment. I had to give what I could give in that moment.

Today I remembered the lesson he taught me. Today I ran in the moment.

While this makes today’s run extra sweet, I’m more grateful for the lesson. This isn’t just a running lesson for me. This is a life lesson. I have to live each moment. I have to get through the hard stuff, but then I have to let it go. I can’t bring the heartache, the stress, and the struggle with me. It’s okay to leave it behind. Just like running, no single moment is an indicator of what is to come. It’s about existing in each moment.

I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with my whole heart. I am thriving.

2015/01/img_5127.jpg

Clipped in

I woke up this morning with a lump in my throat. Sadness hung all around me. When I got to work I saw the date. January 13th. Two years ago I had the same lump in my throat all day. I had the same sadness. I went to bed two years ago and dreamt of my aunt and losing here. I woke up on January 14th, and I cried the entire way to work. I could feel her leaving. Not long after I got to work, I got the news. My aunt had just passed away.

It’s been two years. Most days I smile when I miss her, but today I just want to cry.

*********

I went to my first spin class tonight. It’s way out of my comfort zone. Group classes, high intensity, and uncharted territory freaks me out. I know I lack physical strength. I knew class would be a challenge.

I joined the J&A Racing Team for class. We had the studio to ourselves. Before I knew it, I was in the front row about to tackle something completely new. I couldn’t hide. Two minutes into class I knew I was in over my head.

*********

When I was sixteen I broke both my legs: left tibia and right femur. I had surgery. Two titanium rods and eight screws were placed in my body. As a result my legs will always be off balance. The aren’t equally proportioned. It’s never been an issue.

**********

The more I spun, the more aware of my imbalances I become. My legs felt like they were working against each other. I couldn’t find an even rotation. My right foot kept unclipping. I couldn’t clip back in. I became more and more aware of myself, my body, and my imbalances.

I felt incapable.

The instructor saw it. He quietly told me to quit thinking.

It worked for a minute. When I stopped thinking about my inability, my weakness, my disabilities, things flowed smoother. But when I quit thinking, I felt.

Today I am struggling to feel anything but sadness, anything but the loss of my aunt.

*********

Two years ago I cried on my way to work. Today I cried on my way home. After spin class, I couldn’t stop the tears. It cracked me wide open. My shoulders trembled. I choked on my own breath.

I felt incapable. I felt weak. I was mad at my legs and this stupid injury. I was mad at the world because it really makes no sense that my aunt is gone. I miss her. I want her back.

I just want her back.

********

In fourteen days, these same emotions sit waiting for me. It’s not fair my father in law is gone too. I want him back too. I just want them back.

*********

Tonight as I spun with my feet stuck (and sometimes unstuck) to my pedals, I just couldn’t get away. I couldn’t run away. I couldn’t hide. I wanted to unclip (intentionally) and to run out of the room. I want to leave all the feelings of weakness on my bike seat.

I didn’t run. I didn’t hide. And when I walked out of class and gave the instructor a broken smile, he said “you didn’t give up.”

For the next two weeks, I think I need to clip in. I need to keep pedaling. It’s hard. I feel incapable of carrying these feelings. I feel so broken on the inside today. But I’ll keep spinning. And I’ll return to that class and all these feelings until I conquer them.

Perhaps today was the perfect day to stop running.

2015/01/img_5082.jpg

I miss her!

Alive

Thrive: Verb: 1. to prosper, be fortunate or successful 2. to grow or develop vigorously; flourish

Today I stuck to the main trail at First Landing State Park – a trail I haven’t run in nearly a year. As I ran the familiar trail, I ran through the memories of running down the Cape Henry Trail. Some of my biggest running dreams were dreamt on that trail. My confidence as a runner bloomed on this trail. It was on this trail that I realized what I’m capable of as a runner. The best I’ve ever felt on a long run happened on that trail resulting in speedy miles.

Somewhere in the middle of today’s miles, I came face to face with how guarded I’ve become with my running. It seems to happen often when I don’t meet my own expectations: I became complacent with my running goals. This summer I took a  break from training and goal driven runs. My heart needed a reset. While my heart is back in running, I’ve been holding onto the protection. I’ve been protecting myself from dreaming too big. Big dreams and big goals are scary, but running complacent isn’t what makes my heart sing.

Today, along a trail that held my running dreams, I decided it’s time to risk losing again because striving for the big goals is when I feel alive. I thrive when I’m pushing my own limits and when I’m reaching for growth.

“The issues of life present us with invitations to grow; which are wild by their very nature. Wildly arresting or wildly liberating. These moments are inevitable and impossible to avoid; but unequivocally for our edification. Yes, it may be difficult. Difficult, yet doable. Decide to thrive. Trust and transform.” ~ LaShaun Middlebrooks Collier

I find myself saying these words a lot lately, but I know that everything in my life has delivered me to this point. This is my year to thrive. It is my year to live with my heart. It is my year.

While I’m training for the Shamrock half marathon, I probably won’t be here for race weekend. Work travel is on the horizon. Life is presenting me so many opportunities to thrive – to prosper, to be fortunate, to be successful, to grow, and to flourish. I owe it to myself and everyone who is with me on this life journey to reach for the things that make me feel alive and to share that love with everyone I meet.

I’m holding on tightly to these dreams. Living any other way isn’t an option anymore.

IMG_4919

Approaching

The Christmas tree is now beside the curb, the new year lingers, and Chet’s birthday is less than a week away. With Christmas decorations put away, the house feels renewed. It’s a blank slate ready for a new year. From my rocking chair in the corner where the Christmas tree once stood, I watch Chet play. An excavator gracefully scoops uno cards into a dump truck to be transported to the landfill strategically placed on the front door mat.

I’ve been off work since last Tuesday. I still have six more days at home to enjoy these morning hours with my children. Mornings are best for Chet. He is well rested and the overtired, over stimulated meltdowns don’t begin until closer to dinner time. During the other fifty weeks of the year, my time during the weekdays with Chet are during the overtired, over stimulated meltdowns. Weekdays are filled with work and school, hurried efforts to get dinner made, and trying to make the most of our few hours together. Most of these evenings are spent tip toeing around Chet’s meltdowns.  These two weeks off from work have been my greatest gift.

As I watch Chet play and explore his imagination, I still can’t believe he is going to be three. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting at home anxiously awaiting his arrival. The look on my husband’s face as we sat in the delivery room when Chet refused to join us in the world is still fresh in my memory. Christian’s words still ring in my ears. The feeling of letting go still washes over my body. It’s a memory I’ll always hold close to my heart. As we navigated his birth, I had so much fear: what if it didn’t go according to my plan. Chet sensed it. He knew. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to welcome him into the world in the most peaceful way I could imagine. It was when I let go of the fear of the unknown, the things I can’t control, that Chet’s birth became about his peaceful welcoming.

Nothing has changed since that day. My hope for raising both Cole and Chet is to guide them down their own path in a peaceful world. As I watch them playing together now to build train tracks in the Christmas-less room, I realize that the only thing that gets in my way is my own fear and my own desire to control day to day outcomes. I forget to trust. I forget to breath. I forget to let go. I forget that life is about the process not the details each day.

“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” ~Wayne Dyer

2015 is two days away. Chet’s birthday is in less than a week. We have a blank slate to write our story. So many changes are waiting for us: middle school, Christian working closer to home, and work possibilities that remind me that dreams come true….when you trust, when you let go, and  when you fill your day with love.

family