The sound of silence

When I shared that I was giving up TV, Movies, Books, and Radio for Lent in Into the Lenten Wilderness, my friend Barb had this to say on Facebook:

I read the sentence twice thinking, surely she cannot mean books. The other things are evil, but not books! You go too far here.

At the time, I was far too distracted by how much withdrawal I was going through from my TV addiction to think about what giving up the other stuff was going to mean to me. But her comment stuck with me. Sacrifice is not about giving up stuff that’s bad for you (“evil things”), but rather things that are meaningful to you. I am a voracious reader and I love nothing more than losing myself in a book. The reason I decided to sacrifice books for Lent this year was because I spend all my time on the bus each day buried in the Kindle reader on my smart phone. So much so that I barely pay attention to anything else that is going on around me. On my morning commute this morning I noticed that the bus was stone cold silent. I looked around and everyone within eye shot was on some sort of digital device – phone, table, mp3 player. A couple of weeks ago I would have been one of them. And not only reading on my phone but listening to music on my mp3 player, which is why I decided to give up music too. For a short time I want to be more present to my surroundings.

As usual, I underestimated the impact of my choices. I thought giving up music was kind of a throw in and not that big of a deal. It wasn’t until I was sitting in church on Sunday and the music began to play that I felt the weight of that particular sacrifice. As we began to sing the hymn I could barely get through the words and was on the verge of tears. And what song brought me so emotionally to the edge?  Ode to Joy.  (Oh the irony…) I forgot that the songs I have selected on my mp3 player are not mere background noise. I picked music that either inspires me, touches me, or just plain makes me happy. They are my modern day odes to joy.

On the front end of this journey I wondered if I had made too strict a list, but now that I have adjusted to life without TV and to quiet bus rides, I began to question if I made it too easy on myself. Hearing a taste of music and feeling in my heart the pang of what I was missing let me know that I had indeed selected sacrifices that are full of meaning and it’s these little discoveries along the way that draw me back to the Lenten discipline year after year. Sometimes you have to turn off the volume to truly hear.

Runner’s Rage

Every Saturday we start our practices with a “mission moment” in which we hear stories about how blood cancer has touched the lives of those we are raising funds for and their families. Each season I go into the practices thinking that I will not be as impacted as I was the first year, and somehow I end up being more affected than the year before.  There are the stories of survivors, memories of those who fought valiantly but ultimately succumbed, and hope for those still in the midst of their personal battle. Blood cancer doesn’t seem to discriminate based on age or gender and strikes children and grandmothers alike. For some reason, the stories that are the hardest for me to hear are those about the very little boys who are afflicted. This Saturday we heard the story of Joseph Boyle who was diagnosed when we was 2 and left this world for a better place when he was just 5 years old. Yesterday would have been his 21st birthday.We were all given laminated pictures attached to safety pins to wear on our run.

Standing in the cold and rain at 8am on a Saturday morning, it was honestly a little tough for me to totally absorb this little boy’s story. I was moved and saddened, but also distracted by the thought of running in the rain. And it was a rough start. My feet were like lead blocks that I struggled to lift with each step. Everything was stiff and I felt like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz in desperate need of an oil can. It was only a 40 minute run and I slogged and dragged my sorry self every step of the 20 minutes out.

But then I turned around and something happened. My legs warmed up, my joints loosened up, and I began to relax into the second half of the run. It was at this point that I started think of Joseph Boyle. What kind of fucked up cancer takes 5 year old little boys from this world??  What must his parents have gone through – so excited to have him join their family, only to have him taken away so soon. And it was not an easy life, considering his final years were spent with doctors and in hospitals. I started to get mad and the madder I got the faster I ran. Every footstep became my personal rage against this injustice.

Blood cancer – you are a ruthless, evil disease, and you don’t play fair. You are a thief and a cheat. I may not be fast but I’m determined as hell. I’m coming for you and the running trail is my warpath. Every dollar I raise is a nail in your coffin and I run for the day I can dance on your grave.

Into the Lenten Wilderness

The season of Lent is once again upon us. As I shared last year at this time, I’m a fan of the discipline of sacrifice. This year’s distraction, and therefore the ‘sacrifice of choice,’ is the noise in my life from TV, radio, movies, and books. I have given up TV before, but that year I allowed movies. I have also given up Facebook/Social Media before, but seeing as I now work in that field, it seemed a bit ridiculous to try and find a way to give it up that wasn’t complicated and filled with loop-holes. Besides the spirit of this sacrifice is not about shutting out the outside world completely, but rather about turning down the volume low enough that I am not drowning myself out.

I go into each season with grand illusions of all the amazing things I will do in lieu of what I gave up. When it’s food-related, I imagine the amazing weight I’ll lose and the healthy glow that will come from my disciplined ways. This year I thought I would spend all this new-found free time getting my house clean and organized, and writing prolifically. So far in the writing category we’ve got this post and, well, that’s it so far. It also turns out the reason I don’t spend all my ‘free’ time cleaning the bathroom is not because my brains have been sucked out by the TV, but because cleaning the toilet is not that fun or spiritually fulfilling.  (It has occurred to me that perhaps some year I need to give up grand illusions, but clearly that is not this year.)

Mostly what I’m noticing just 3 days in is that I’m incredibly restless. I have restless brain syndrome. I have a hard time settling down to sleep at night and I wake up in the early hours of the morning. Even maintaining my focus to write this post was a challenge. I had no idea just how much of a sedative effect the TV (et al) has on me. I imagine this must be some flavor of what it’s like to have ADHD. Fortunately, my running brings relief as the physical exertion seems to counter the mental agitation, and the pleasure I get from socializing with my fellow teammates helps as well. I also trust I’ll settle into the new, less distracted brain in the coming days.

Because I think it helps to have a little help on any journey, I have also committed to going to church every Sunday through Easter. Brian and I were part of a very close church community before we moved to Seattle proper and we have not found a new church home in the four years that we’ve lived here. Truthfully, we haven’t exactly looked either. We’ve gone a couple of times to a nearby church that is progressive enough to meet our needs, but not often enough to know any names. For the next 7 Sundays, this same church will be our spiritual guide on the Lenten journey.

So, into the wilderness I go. What will I find there? Only God knows and only time will reveal.

Soul of a Runner

If you were to encounter me on the street, I hardly look like an endurance athlete. I’m on the brink of my 43rd birthday, short, and about 75 pounds overweight. Running is not generally the first thing one associates with middle aged women of my size. In fact, if you were to encounter me out on the trail, running looks pretty much like the last thing I should be doing. I am painfully slow (it’s not too hard to walk faster than I slog/jog), my face gets bright red, and I am generally huffing and puffing like a pack-a-day smoker. If I was being sensible I should be out walking, not pathetically attempting to do something that only barely resembles running. I have walked a half-marathon and I can extoll the many virtues of walking. The training is easier, you see more along the way, and if you have a good walking partner you save boatloads in therapy sessions. But regardless of all I have going against me and all evidence to the contrary, I can’t stop running.

There is something inside of me that simply yearns to be out running. I see other runners and it pulls strings deep within. The other day, I hopped on the bus and saw a couple out for their morning run. When I got off downtown and crossed the street, I saw them again. They had managed to run downtown in the same time it took me to ride the bus and I could see from their back-packs that they were running to work. As soon as I saw them, I didn’t think they were crazy or wonder how they did it, I just wanted to be them. I wanted to be the kind of person who runs to work.

I think the other thing skinny folks forget when they see us larger-proportioned athletes out there chugging away is that we can’t see what we look like. I don’t see the red-faced little plump girl. I only know how I feel from the inside. I hear my breathing and it reminds me I am alive. I feel the rhythm of my feet hitting the ground, and the cadence is comforting, if not mesmerizing. I feel the strength of my legs and am in awe of the distances they carry me. I feel strong, powerful, enduring. Or sometimes its more the way I feel after a particularly tough run. The running itself can be filled with aches, pains, and frustration, but when I have reached deep down into the reservoir I didn’t know existed and found a way to propel myself to the top of the hill, gone faster than before, or when my foot crosses the finish line, I feel like I am on top of the world. It’s not that elusive runner’s high, but the even more addictive drug of accomplishing your goals.

Why running?  I have no idea. Does anyone really know why we have the passions we do, and does it really matter? I have friends who find themselves through art, music, cooking, or raising their families. It is just this thing I do. I have gone years without running for one reason or another and yet I always come back to it. People ask me if I am going to do triathlons. Maybe some day I’ll take on that challenge, but I mostly think why would I want to do those other two things when I could be running. One of my favorite race shirts had this on the back – “Run.” I guess I love it so much because it was such a great reminder not to over-think; just run, period. Why do I run? Because I have the soul of a runner. Period.

Do I know just how overweight I am?

For me, truthfully, the answer is often no, I don’t really realize it much of the time. I am generally happy and healthy, I am an active person who does the things that are important to me (like a marathon in 2010). I have a husband who thinks I am beautiful and sexy regardless of my size. I have a good community of friends. I have a job that I enjoy and where I am professionally well-respected. My “numbers” are good – as in I don’t have high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, my cholesterol is perhaps a little high but I don’t take any medications for anything. Generally speaking, I can function pretty well in a bubble of oblivion about my weight.  Most of the time.

But there are reminders that burst that bubble. After I went north of the 200lb mark, I pretty much quit standing on the scale, so there is one rather scary number I already know is not good, but I still don’t want to face. Anytime I have to buy clothes, I am painfully aware of my current weight. Any remaining delusion about my size or the size of the clothes was lost now that I can only fit into Women’s sizes. I saw a cute marathon jacket at the pre-race Expo in June, but their largest size was still too small. I didn’t like buying jeans or pants back when I wore a size 12, and now that those digits are reversed the experience is mostly an exercise in self-humiliation. Photographs are another touchy subject and when I look at them I am often shocked by what I see and wonder if that is really what I look like “in real life.”

And while my numbers are technically good, there have been impacts on my health. I have a chronic hip joint injury from that infamous marathon I did and while my weight may or may not have contributed to the injury, I know that my recovery would have been greatly improved by losing weight. I also have occasional issues with indigestion that didn’t exist when I was thinner that I am quite confident are weight-related.

I am constantly thinking that I am going to start a new diet, go back to Weight Watchers, start journaling, start this or start that. Just this week, I was looking for some paper to jot down a note for work and I found a page in the back of my notebook that I had written almost exactly a year ago. On it, in writing, were the same goals I told myself this weekend that I was going to commit myself to – being more active, eating smaller portions, eating more vegetables, and eating less sweets and junk food.  And I even had some specific milestones to hold myself accountable. Why didn’t I follow through? I don’t really know. I could point to any number of changes in my life that may have triggered the initial downfall, but the slide seems to now have a life of its own. I was particularly moved by the sentiments expressed by Kara Curtis in One Woman’s Struggle to Shed Weight, and Shame:

“It’s a very schizophrenic relationship we have with obesity,” Curtis says. “I understand it as addiction, but then there’s also this other piece of me that knows that there is a lack of willingness on my part. So really, who’s to blame for that?”

I have been successful in losing weight in the past and so I know I have the tools to repeat that success again in the future. I am not sure what will turn the tide for me from contemplation into action, and perhaps this post will be a small step in the right direction. Or at least it’s a reminder that I still care enough – to care about trying.

Life is too short to be anything other than absurd

I cannot get enough of this video and post on The Bloggess of Jenny Lawson talking about taking happiness into your own hands. It’s only 6 minutes long and soooo well worth the time, so please go check it out and then, well, go and start your own zombie apocalypse.

I will confess I wish I could be more outrageous like Jenny, but the reality is that I am more like the group of folks she mentions who sit on the sidelines and observe. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of people who walk on the weird side and I have been told that my sense of what is funny can be rather random and eclectic. I also have an unusually large collection of Brian holding martini glass pictures on my cell phone that I’m fond of sending to people after I’ve had a martini or two, but that’s generally about as crazy as I get. Fortunately for Brian, I am not going to go out and buy a 5 foot tall metal chicken to put on our doorstep or start a Twitter campaign against William Shatner, but this will certainly make me stop and think before I choose work over fun. It will encourage me to choose going out with my friends over staying in because I already (or still…) have my PJ’s on, and it will reinforce my belief that we have the ability to choose whether we are laughing or crying at life’s slings and arrows.

One other point I will make is in regards to her recounting the story of giving gift cards to the first 20 people who asked on her blog, and then having her readers – total strangers – volunteer to gift card #21, 22, and on up to $45,000 worth of donations. I too have been blown away by the kindness of strangers. I only had 1 in my case, but as I shared in The world would be a better place if more people said thank you, the generosity of someone I had never met resulted in a $100 donation to LLS on my behalf.

As a card carrying member of the glass half-full club, in spite of all the darkness and pain, people are pretty amazing – and don’t we all have the right to be furiously happy?

The discipline of sacrifice (or why I like to give stuff up for Lent)

About 10 years ago I started observing Lent. I am not Catholic and was certainly wasn’t raised with the tradition. Perhaps it is no accident that I took up running somewhere along the same time, but I can’t really say why I took up Lent other than that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Like running, once I started, it became a part of me and something I look forward to. In fact, the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter is my favorite time in the liturgical year. Some folks choose to take on a discipline during Lent and it seems a lot of protestants are uncomfortable with the notion giving things up (or maybe it is our American consumer-based sensibilities that are conflicted?). I, for one, always choose to give up something. Usually sometime in January, sometimes earlier, it just comes to me what I need to give up that particular year. One time it was cheese and chocolate, one year it was pasta, another time alcohol, and this year it was going out to restaurants. My dear friend Cynthia railed a bit on those folks who choose to use Lent as some kind of excuse to go on a diet or get in shape – kind of a second chance window for New Year’s resolutions gone awry. It has never been about that for me. I give up things that have become distractions, but that are ultimately still pleasures I don’t want to remove altogether (the thought of a life with no cheese and no chocolate barely seems worth living…). For me an important element of the sacrifice, of wandering through my own wilderness, is knowing that there is an end. The sun will come out again, the Son of Man will rise again, balance will be restored.

Lent follows the same cycle for me each year. In the beginning I am energized and actually excited to get started. This year I pulled out cook books and made meal plans and thought about how healthy it was to be eating home cooked meals. There were some twinges as I had to reschedule a lunch date with a friend, but I figured I would just invite people over and visions of all the dinner parties I would host danced in my head. The middle bit is where it starts to be a burden. It’s not horrible, but the novelty has worn off and I am honestly mostly just going through the motions. This is the part where I realize there will be no dinner parties and I remember the reason I wasn’t pouring over cook books and making meal plans before – I’m not really that interested in cooking. But I keep plugging away for reasons unknown or maybe simply because I am just too stubborn to give up and quit. Towards the end of Lent, or rather when the end is in sight, I begin to cherish whatever it was I gave up. I close my eyes and the vision now is filled with good friends around the table of a fine restaurant enjoying each other and the meal before us. It is both harder and more satisfying. This is also usually when the temptations become the strongest. A colleague Russell wanted to convert our weekly meeting to a working lunch. He offered to pay and suggested since we would be talking business that it wouldn’t count as going out for ‘fun.’ My friend Francis tried to give me a coupon for a free pizza and argued that since we could get the pizza and eat it at home that wasn’t technically “going out to eat.” The temptation here was not the offer of lunch or pizza, but rather the guilt I felt for inconveniencing someone else who wanted to go out and turning down a generous offer. Why should others have to be bothered by the choices I made, but in both cases I declined and simply sat with the guilt and disappointment.

We have all faced times of darkness and wilderness in our lives. Giving up Pizza Hut for 40 days hardly compares to the pain and loss anyone who has been on this planet for any length of time inevitably experiences, my own pain included. But observing Lent reminds me that we can persevere in the darkness, and that the light does come back. I can’t speak for the spiritual journey of those who choose to take on a new discipline, or for those who don’t observe at all, as I believe we all have our own paths to follow. But for me the beauty of the season is directly linked to the sacrifice of wandering in the wilderness – as if being lost is part of the journey of finding my way again.