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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Breathing Room, November Edition

During the month of November, I had the opportunity to sit around the table with nine Operation Smile foundations from around the world. Countries from Cambodia to South Africa to Brazil were present in the week long meetings. In the list of the millions reasons why I love my job connecting with people from other walks of life is high on the list. Every day the world feels smaller and smaller. At a dinner one of the evenings I sat across the table from a colleague (now friend) from South Africa. She took my mala in her hands and told me it need to be cleansed. It was cold. The conversation flowed and we talked about my boys. She asked questions. I shared stories. As we talked more and more, she told me my boys are here for a reason. My heart sung as I heard these words. I’ve always believed that our children bring with them a lesson for us to learn. Cole taught me to love. Chet is teaching me to let go. My new friend has a different perspective. Cole is my healer. Chet has something even greater to teach me. He is my root.

This conversation has echoed in my heart in the days since we have met. I believe with my whole heart that Cole is a healer, but how in the world is Chet my root? He is the chaos in my world. He brings out the ugly in me. At the end of the day when I am exhausted and he refuses to sleep, he knocks me out of comfort zone. If anything he has uprooted all normalcy in our household.

This past Saturday I ran my favorite trails. As the miles went by I felt myself shed all thought. It was just me, the sound of the leaves under my shoes, and my breath. I felt free. My heart was floating in my body. As I ran, I stretched my arms out wide. I wanted to fly. I ran down the path and pretended to be plane. I high-fived the Spanish moss. I felt like a child again. I felt free. As I lifted my head to the sky, it started to rain. In that moment, the world and I were one. I understood. Life is about keeping your heart open and spreading your arms out wide to accept all that life has to offer. It’s also about opening up and letting go. My heart continued to soar as I ran down the trail. Why can’t I carry this feeling around with me always? Why can’t my heart always be this open?

It was when I asked myself that question that I understood the words of my friend from South Africa. Chet is my root. In his chaos, in his determination to own his own world, he is teaching me to stay true to my core even when the world spins around me. The lesson isn’t to teach him to sleep or to contain his temper tantrum. The lesson is to trust. The lesson is to know that it is safe to stay open and free in the midst of chaos. I don’t know how to do this yet, but I now know it is my lesson to learn.

It has nothing to do with late bedtimes or two year old tantrums. That is life. That is a normal transition of a child. Learning to remain open has everything to do with me being uncomfortable when I don’t have a solution. It has everything to do with me holding on to tightly to something I can’t control. Hasn’t he been teaching me this since before he was born? Chet’s exploration of life isn’t a problem. How I react to these moments is where I have room to grow.

“This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.”   ~Rainer Maria Rilke

November

The Magic of Retrospection

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~Lao Tzu

As a spectator at this years Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, I was in awe of every runner who lined up at the start line. The race lived up to its reputation with brutal heat and humidity. This race is never an easy race.

How did I do? How did I run this race three years in a row?

The summer of 2010 was a typical summer for me. I never ran more than five miles. I only ran when I felt like it. I never trained. I had decided to ignore my race entry. I was going to let the race go because my body wasn’t ready. A few days before race day, I got a call from my aunt. She had breast cancer. I had to run. I lined up with runners not know what to expect. I’d do my best. I had to. I cried through many of those miles, and yet I finished in a respectable time. Somehow I ran that race. I felt weak. I felt unprepared. It felt hard.

I returned to this race in 2011. I was six months pregnant with Chet. As I trudged along on the race course, I struggled. It felt hard. I felt weak.

In 2012, when Chet was a newborn, I trained hard. I ran every Saturday morning. Some nights I only had two hours of sleep, but I always showed up to run. Race day came, and I ran through all the same feelings. It was hard. I felt slow. I struggled.

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The common thread between all these races was my perception: I always felt like I was struggling to make it work. I always felt like I was struggling to balance life and running. I always felt like I was struggling to balance life, motherhood and marriage. I’ve always felt like I’m struggling to stay afloat.

But something magical happens when I cross the finish line. It was all worth it. Today when I look back, I am in awe of myself. I’m in awe of what I was able to juggle. I’m in awe of the balance I maintained. Looking back, I feel like I was a superwoman.

How did I do all of that? How did I balance it all? How did I make it work? Because right now I feel like I’m fighting for that balance. Right now I feel like I’m fighting for that strength. How did I do it then?

While I watched the Rock n Roll half marathon from the sidelines this year, I saw something in those runners. I saw love. I saw passion. I saw sacrifice. I saw so many people who were doing it, and I realized I’ve been doing it all along. It’s the fight for balance and it’s the fight for strength that fuel that love and passion in my life. How I feel today is no different from how I felt two years ago.

I’m doing it today just like I was doing it then. I don’t need to wait two years to be in awe of what I’m accomplishing today. I can appreciate myself now. I can be grateful for what I have right now. I don’t want to find my happiness through retrospection. It’s waiting for me right now. The only difference between today and two years ago is that I’ve already crossed the finish line for the events in my past. I haven’t crossed today’s finish line yet. I haven’t felt the magic of today’s finish line.

When I look back, nothing in my life was lacking. This message applies to today too. The magic isn’t really at the finish line. The magic is in the process of getting there. I doubt the finish line would feel like such an accomplishment if it was easy to get there.

Sunrise on Race Day

Sunrise on Race Day

 

 

 

Breathing Room, August Edition

“Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating an emotional clearing to allow ourselves to feel, think, dream and question.” ~Brene Brown

August is ending on a high note, on a simple note. As I’ve stripped away layers of clutter, I’m sitting in the messy, real, simple core of life. Love. Yes, it is still messy. Yes, it is still hard. The difference between this mess and the clutter of life is that this matters. Love matters. It’s not filler. It’s not a bandaid. It’s not numbing. This is life, and I feel like I’m learning how to live my own version.

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ECSC 5k – Race Recap

“Light tomorrow with today.” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

This morning I lined up for a 5k knowing I’m not in racing condition, knowing that I’ve struggled all summer to find space in my runs, and knowing that 3 miles now feels like a long run. I know all of this, yet I was excited. The timing of this race just felt right. I was ready to test my new running philosophy: accept where I am at today.

But old habits die hard. I did my best not to speculate about finish times, to analyze the few runs I have worn my garmin on this summer to predict my outcome, or to stress that a PR wasn’t a possibility (24:50 for those of you who are curious, 7:59 pace). I only let my brain wander as far as setting a few loose goals for the race outside of enjoying myself and pushing myself on the course.

A perfect day – 27:xx, 8:59 pace (I am well aware that I ran this pace for 10 miles in April. Another true test of my new running philosophy. Could my ego let go?)

A solid run – Low 9s

Crap that sucked – anything over 9:20

I lined up next to a few friends and told them that who ever was having a solid day running was required to run.

Laura and I stuck together for Mile 1. I had previously told her my plan was to hit a 9 minute mile. At some point she kindly told me that if a 9 minute mile was my pace, I was running way too fast. We slowed down, chatted, and had some fun.

Mile 1 – 8:28

In mile 2 I encouraged Laura to go ahead. My stomach was telling me to slow down, but I knew I was in a good spot if I could just hang on. Panicking mid-race has been my weakness this year. When I saw 8:28 on my watch and my stomach started to rumble, I felt panic taking over. My focus quickly become to sit in a pocket that felt comfortable. Don’t panic. Relax. Don’t panic. Relax.

Mile 2 – 9:35 (I may have got a little too comfortable this mile)

Mile 3 was about hanging on. My hip flexors are tight lately. I like to lead with my pelvis when I run. Instead of focusing on the miles or the finish line, I focused on my body. I did my best to keep my hips under me. I did my best to keep my upper body relax.

Mile 3 – 9:16

In the final stretch I found a familiar face. Teresa, the overall female winner today, came back to run me in. She helped squeeze out the last bit of energy I had left in my legs. She reminded me to lift my knees and to use my arms. She took over my thinking since my brain had shut off.

Final stretch – 6:58 pace

Official Finish time: 28:00, 9:02 pace

Finish line fun with some great friends

Finish line fun with some great friends

Am I happy with this run? You bet!

It’s no secret my ego has been attached to my running ability for some time. It’s so easy to get caught up in the race to run further or to run faster. I got stuck in a place that let the pace on a race clock determine my level of success. Today that ego didn’t show up. I hope it’s squashed for good. I ran each mile as best I could. I have happily accepted exactly where I am at right now, not last year, not last month, but today! Coming to terms with this has been hard. My ego put up a good fight. But man, it feels good to kick that ego to the curb. It feels good to enjoy the run!

Today’s run was perfect! It makes me really excited about the fall races I have coming up!

Cheers to a very happy start!

Cheers to a very happy start!