Tag Archive - Struggle

Oil of Gladness

Last night I hit the wall.

All distance athletes have a healthy fear of “the wall”. For marathoners it usually comes around mile 18-20. An inscrutable boundary. Despite all the miles under your feet, you suddenly are convinced you can go no further. In 5 marathons, I have never hit the wall. Oh sure, I’ve hit my lactate threshold, where I feel like I have the flu: aches, chills, nausea. I’ve even had to let go of time goals and change strategy. But the dreaded DNF (did not finish) has never seemed an option. Last night it seemed like an option.

I sat in the parking lot at church and sobbed. Physically and emotionally spent. I had talked myself out of even coming more than once. But I knew this was the place where hope was. So I dragged myself out of the car, slogged through the rain, and stepped inside. I stopped to kiss the icon of the Bridegroom and held on to it for a moment. For dear life.

Just as the chanters and the priests began singing the service, a fierce, wild storm commenced out of doors. Ferocious claps of thunder made my body vibrate. Slashes of lightening hurled themselves at the windows. Something deep inside me exulted in this. Almost as if the turmoil inside me had been unleashed upon the elements.

And they sang on. The service of Holy Unction. Anointing. Seven Epistle passages. Seven from the Gospels. About those who were sick being made well. About those who were lost being found. About those who had been restored being sent out into the world to carry life, like bread, to others. One epistle in particular lasered itself to that profoundly weary place in me…

Brethren, we do not want you to be ignorant of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers.  ~II Corinthians 1:8-11

When all seven candles had been lit and all seven passages read, the priest held the Gospel book over each of our heads and blessed us. Then we came forward to be anointed with oil.

The blessing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God (your name here) always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I kissed the Bridegroom again as I left. And again I lingered, this time with gratitude. Then I went out into the rain with the oil on my forehead and hands. Bandaged. Fed. Ready to run on…

We haven’t far to go, best beloveds. Keep running!

 

The Things I Can’t Fix…

I remember reading somewhere that a baby’s cry is designed to be specifically uncomfortable to its own mother. In a hospital nursery where several babies are crying at once, it’s YOUR baby’s cry that will cause your milk to let down. It’s YOUR toddler’s cry that will propel you across a playground to rescue your little one and kiss his broken skin.

What nobody told me was that this never changes. That when my teenager or my adult child cries over a broken heart or over circumstances that are trying in the extreme, I would still feel my body course with adrenaline, ready to annihilate the enemy and make everything right. But, long gone are the days when the milk of my body or my kisses are enough to fix my children’s problems.

It is a difficult thing to not be enough.

Not wise enough. Not powerful enough. Not even whole enough to avoid mixing my own insecurities and hurts in with theirs.

Thing is, they have a Father who IS enough. Wise enough. Powerful enough. Whole enough. So why do I work SO hard to fix things myself? Why do I lie awake for hours stewing over them, worrying…repeatedly rehearsing ways I have failed them…things I wish I had done differently?

I don’t trust Him.

Not always.

I know God has used the dark, desperate places in my life to rid me of delusion, to create a fertile place in me for grace, to bring me healing. If this is true, why would I take every painful experience from my children if I could?

I am learning to divert some of my worry time to prayer. I wish it were my first resort. It is not. Yet. I am choosing to open my heart to the possibility that God has good for my babies in the hurt they walk through. To dream of what that might look like. I am learning to whisper hope over them as I hold their sobbing bodies. To gently remind them that there is One who loves them even more than I. Who is relentless in bringing beauty from ashes.

Some days are better than others. This has been a week of other.

Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.

In Which Granny Runs an Ultra

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. ~T. S. Elliot

The Idea

When I began running almost 5 years ago, the idea of doing a marathon would not fit inside my head. I didn’t even have a clear enough picture of what it would mean to be properly terrified. It was like contemplating astrophysics. I had no hook to hang it on. But as I slowly built mileage, I began to flirt with the idea of a half-marathon. Still daunting, but possibly attainable. Once I had three of those in the bag, I discovered I could think about a marathon without my head hurting. And so it began…

I vividly remember those mystical Saturdays when one week after another I ran distances I had never run before. It was like magic. Sometimes I looked down at my feet in awe. I could hardly believe they were sill moving. In between the running, I read about running. Books like Ultra-marathon Man and Born to Run began to seduce me with a new challenge: The ULTRA. An ultra-marathon is any race longer than a marathon; from a 5ok (31 miles) to obscene distances well in excess of 100 miles. Last year I decided to use 2010 to make a go at a Boston qualifying time, and designated 2011 the year of the ultra. Little did I imagine then the irony that I would attempt my first ultra in the same year I became a grandmother.

The Event

I have researched events off and on for over a year. I ultimately settled on the Grand Teton Ultra for three reasons. It is beautiful. I know myself. If I am going to be on my feet all day, I want my eyes to be filled with wonder. It’s a trail event. Piling up mileage can be hard on the joints. Especially for old people like me. 😉 Trail surfaces, though challenging, will give my joints a break. It has a relatively generous time limit. I am strong but not fast. Even though choosing Grand Teton means running at altitude plus a vertical gain (and loss) of 10,000 feet, it is worth it to have more time to finish.

Unfortunately, the time limit for the 50 mile event has been shortened this year from 23 hours to 17 hours because they are doing away with the 100 miler that used to keep aid stations open. As a result, I have not yet decided whether I will still attempt the 50 miler or back down to the 50k. Either way, it will be a new and significant challenge.

The Training

So what does ultra-marathon training look like…for a grandma? 😉 Ultra runners are a breed of their own. Training is widely individual. Some runners log 120 plus miles a week in training. Others do one long run and some cross training. In between are a myriad of options. Here is what it will look like for me:

  • A tandem long run on Friday and Saturday. This is a popular approach. A long run followed by a moderately long run teaches your legs to run while fatigued, but with less stress than one super long run. These will begin the first week in May with a 12 mile followed by a 6 mile and build quickly to peak in August with 26 and 10.
  • On Sunday I will stretch, do yoga, or walk for recovery.
  • Monday through Wednesday I will primarily cross-train, though I may sometimes work in a moderate run of 6-10 miles. Cross-training will consist of plyometrics, core work, swimming, biking, kenpo, weight-training and yoga. Cross-training is crucial for trail running because balancing, jumping and hurdling creeks require a whole complex of muscles. Equally important is the fact that cross-training allows for conditioning without piling more stress on the joints.
  • Thursday will be a rest day in preparation for the tandem run.

Like everything else in my life, I will live this out here. Feel free to follow along if you like.

P.S. I use the term granny because it makes for an ironic title. However, I do not intend to be called granny by my grandchildren–or by anyone else if you know what’s good for you! 🙂

A Letter to Laura

I have a new hero. Her name is Laura. On Sunday, Laura will run the LA Marathon. This is pretty exceptional all by itself, given that less than 1% of the population will ever complete a marathon. But Laura has traveled farther than most to get to this place.

She has surmounted a great many obstacles in her young life, not the least of which is a debilitating disease. Laura has chronic rheumatoid arthritis. There have been times over the past few years when even walking was nearly impossible. And now she is going to run.

26 miles.

Unfathomable!!

For this courageous woman, pushing her own personal boundaries is not enough. She is using her odyssey to help others. She has raised nearly $4,000.00 for C.A.T.S. (Center for Assault Treatment Services).

Running to help heal the bodies, minds, and spirits of the countless sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors, one step at a time…

I am, quite frankly, in awe of her.

As a fellow endurance runner, and as one who holds this brave young woman in the highest esteem, I send these words today to Laura. Feel free to eavesdrop.

Dearest Laura,

To even dream of running a marathon requires a great deal of daring. It is not for the faint of heart. But, it seems to me that you have been preparing for this moment for years. Life has asked a lot of you. You could have allowed this to defeat you or make you bitter. Instead you are burning it as fuel.

As if that were not enough, you have allowed your own pain to make you a valiant defender of the broken. Your gift to C.A.T.S. will provide freedom and healing to many. It will give them the ability to breathe again. Thank you for that.

As a fellow marathoner, I have a few words for you as you go into your first:

You have already done the hardest part. Getting out there week after week and running farther than you have ever run requires exceptional fortitude…and a wee bit of magic. 🙂 It is not glamorous. It is sweaty and hard. This you have done.

Like you, I usually only train to 21 or 22 miles. In my first marathon this messed with my head a little. Would I be able to find those extra 5 miles on game day? The answer to that question is YES!! Event day will bring an energy to you you didn’t know you had. And all those miles you’ve logged have developed in you the physical stamina to do more than you have yet asked of your body.

The most excruciating part of any race for me is the couple of hours before start. Nervous energy, which will serve me later, just makes me a wreck…like a race horse pawing the dirt in its stall.  I wonder if I’ve eaten enough. Or too much. Should I go to the bathroom one more time? But when the run begins, I’m home. This I know. This I’ve done.

I know you are running with friends and you probably know all the standard wisdom. Don’t go out too fast. Run YOUR pace. Don’t do a lot of needless weaving in and out of people. (It adds mileage!) Walk when you need to. Stay hydrated. etc….

Drink deeply of this day. Listen to the cheers. They are cheering for YOU! People who have never dreamed of doing what you are doing…people who can only imagine what it has cost you…are in awe of you. You are a hero to them. Take it in. High five the little kids who will line the path. Notice all the beautiful things along the way. This day is gift.

Laura, you are an extraordinary young woman. I wish you could know how you have inspired me. Your story will inspire countless others as well. I will be praying for you on Sunday morning from the time I wake up and anxiously awaiting news of your finish. You can do this.

Blessings to you, dear one.

GODSPEED!

Dear friends, will you also pray for Laura on Sunday morning? The run begins at 7:20 Pacific time. Also, if you are interested in helping her reach her goal of $4,000.00 for C.A.T.S. (she is almost there), leave a comment and I will send you donation details. Finally, if you would like to leave her good wishes or advice, I will be sure to pass those along.

The Man Watching

The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

*To my lovely friend who caused me to revisit this favorite poem of a favorite poet, Thank you.

Delicious Agony

I wish I could tell you how much I miss the bells. The censer the priest uses has bells. So while I watch the vapors rise heavenward with our prayers, and while I breathe the fragrance of God, I hear the joyous sparkle of bells. But bells are incongruous with Lent. So they are gone, for now. My, how I miss them!

There is this lament.  The priest begins it all alone from behind the altar. He brings it out to us, along with that solemn, silent censer. The melody is so tragic it would break your heart even without the words. But the words, oh the words…

O Lord of hosts be with us for we have none other help, none other help in times of sorrow. O Lord of hosts, have mercy on us.

The weight of this moment is almost unbearable.

So, why can’t I stop singing this song?

I even asked for a copy of the music so I could get the melody just right. The thing is, it is not a dismal cry of despair to me. There is something very warm and right about it. This made no sense to me. Until last night…

Last night a sweet friend poured out her heart before me like water. She was in that desperate place of barely breathing….very nearly out of hope. She asked me how I had learned to live in a place of joy, how my awareness of the sacred had become so keen. Mine is a story of extravagant grace. A grace that is willing to rend, so it can heal. Beauty grown in a furrow plowed by pain. It was an anguish I did not choose, but it was a result of my choices, all the same.

I told her of my persistent striving…

“…somewhere deep inside me I believed I had to be good enough, that I had to do enough, that I had to prove that I was ok for God to really love me. I would have told you that was not true. But I lived my life in terror of not measuring up. And as long as I put up a pretty good front, I could almost convince myself that if I worked a little harder, if I did a little more, I would finally get there.”

I told her that the devastation I thought would kill me turned out to be the beginning of freedom.

“Failing epically, seeing the depth of my own depravity, liberated me from this delusion. It became clear that I would NEVER, EVER be good enough…I have come to understand grace for the astonishing, extravagant miracle it is, in a way I never could when I thought I had bought part of it myself.”

So long as I was trying to attain God on my own the idea of being without resource, of being needy, was abhorrent to me. This song would have been to me a dirge. A pathetic whine from those too lazy to improve themselves. But now, it is to me truth and rest. A grief that is the birth pains of joy. A delicious agony. God IS my only hope. He is enough.

I wish all of you could stand with me, hearing and breathing it. I couldn’t find a recording. So, for those of you as musically nerdy as myself, here it is. A gift for your Lenten walk. From my heart to yours.

The Lenten…Feast

Oxymoron?

Lent is a season of absence…of hunger…of longing. Beginning Monday, Christians in the eastern tradition will not eat meat, dairy or eggs until Pascha. A vegan diet is a clean diet. Plant foods digest quickly. What this means is that we will frequently know the gnawing of a stomach that is empty. And our stomachs will inform our hearts. We will wear longing in our bodies. Viscerally. An inescapable meditation.

Christians of many traditions will choose to clean other clutter from their lives during this season of preparation. Some will fast from media. Others from activity and hurry. Seeking to create a quiet space where they can hear the voice of God. And the voice of their own soul.

But Lent isn’t only absence. Church tradition also encourages us to to admit into this quiet space gentle voices that will help wash our souls. That will strengthen our spirits, even as our bodies know hunger. We need this. Lent is hard. Fasting doesn’t just rid our cells of toxins. Toxic places in our hearts reveal themselves as well. The Church will help with special gatherings unique to this season, beginning with the solemn, beautiful Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday afternoon.

Here are some other voices I will invite into my quiet Lenten space this year:

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha This will be my third time to walk through Lent with Schmemann as my wise and winsome guide. He illuminates the exquisite services of this season making them even more lovely and profound.

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives Elder Thaddeus was a wise and gentle spirit who cared for his people in the midst of great personal suffering. May I learn to love as he loved…to see as he saw.

Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Gratitude is always the antidote to self-pity. In a season of want, I have an idea Ann will be a worthy companion. I have been challenged, inspired, and deeply moved by her blog. I look forward to traveling further with her.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart Nouwen is a familiar friend. His tender, honest voice always manages to enable even hard truths find a place inside me. This teaching, drawn from the desert fathers, on solitude, silence and prayer, will be rich fuel for the journey.

David Teems, Speak To Me: For a Faith That Comes by Hearing Favorite Scripture passages, articulated in the poetry of the King James Bible, and accompanied by delicious musical artistry, sing their way into the heart. And I am drenched in fluid peace.

The Sisters of St. Paisius Monastery, A Treasury of Spiritual Songs and All-Night Vigil The hauntingly lovely music, the tenderness and truth sing silence into the room. Into me.

The Brilliance, Brilliance Rich lyric…sometimes drawn from Scripture or prayers of the saints. Elegant, spare arrangements. Profoundly beautiful.

So if you happen to hear my tummy growling, don’t worry about me. Where it really matters, I am feasting.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
II Corinthians 4:16-17

What about you? What does Lent look like for you this year? How will you go about creating a space of quiet? Who will be your companions?

Sometimes I Wish I Weren’t Me

I am not thoughtless enough to complain about my circumstances.  I know my blessings far exceed my merit.  But the person inside…the one nobody sees…  Sometimes, I hate her.

I am sick to death of my lack of originality.  I battle the same demons over and over.  I am plagued repeatedly by insecurities that don’t even bother with camouflage.  They tell me the same ridiculous story and I buy it every time.  And just when I think I am gaining ground…that I have learned to recognize the lies and the deceit for what they are…they strut right back into my life and own me.  And I am sent reeling from the surprise of it.  Like some pathetic dog that crawls back to an abusive master, tale wagging, thinking that somehow this time it will be different, only to be kicked in the face.  Again.

I want to be strong.  I don’t want it to matter what people think of me.  It matters.  I don’t want to need to feel significant.  I need it.  I don’t want to have expectations of those closest to me.  I have them.  What is wrong with me?

I am tired. And sometimes I don’t want to fight any more. I don’t want to submit.  I don’t want to obey.  I don’t want to expose myself to the attacks of an enemy whose cunning is too much for me.  I want to be someone so impotent and inconsequential that he won’t care what becomes of me.  I just want to be done. Would it matter?  If I just withdraw from the game, who would care, really?  What would be different?

I wonder.

What kind of arrogance is it to think anyone wants to know about the crap inside my heart?  My friend, Anne, tells me that when we share our stories, no matter how dark and difficult they may be, we give others permission to speak.  We help them understand they are not alone.

To the best of my ability, I have used the pages of this blog to share beauty.  Words, images, and stories that speak of transcendence and the otherworldly.  But there is a dark side to the world beyond.  And that is where I find myself at present.  It’s not the first time.  Not nearly. But it is the first time I have been sure I had to write about it.

I’m not sure why.

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love…
…Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Psalm 51: 1,12

Sacred Threshold

IMG_4707

sacred the power, being, or realm understood by religious persons to be at the core of existence and to have a transformative effect on their lives and destinies.

threshold any place or point of entering or beginning…

 

I probably should not write this at all.  I know I will not say it well.  For every breath I help you breathe with me, there will be a thousand others unbreathed. And yet, words brought me here.  I wonder how many of those who shared their words with me thought they did not say it well?  For every fragrance, every whisper of wonder, of holiness, on a page or across a table…how many others were left locked up in their hearts?  So I write.  I treat of that which defies explanation.  I invite you to peer with me inside a mystery…

Sometimes life takes the most unexpected turns. A couple of years ago I came to a place of crisis with God.  I felt I had pursued Him all my life, and that He had eluded me.  And I was angry.  Perhaps I had approached Him badly, in error, but it was not for lack of trying.  Funny how sometimes the very road we try to take to God is the one that perpetually leads us away from Him. I felt compelled to prove myself to God, as though I must earn His love.  I would have told you I did not believe this was true.  But I lived my life every day as though it were.

I came to a place of devastation when it became clear to me that I was incapable of being good enough…when I could truly see the blackness inside me.  I was in deep despair.  I felt that if I were to surrender my endless, futile attempts to find worth in myself that I would simply cease to exist.  It felt like death!

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.


“When we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God.”
~Richard Rohr God began to woo me.  I know He has done it all my life, but much of the time I was too busy doing things ‘for Him’ to take notice.  He met me on runs and in early, quiet hours when everyone was still asleep.  He met me in novels, in poetry, and in His Word.  I saw Him in His creation and in great works of art.  He spoke His healing words to me through friends.  You know who you are.  There will never be enough words to say to you how important you have been to me.  I love you more than I can say.

Then came the most unexpected gift of all. Up until about three years ago, I had never known anyone personally who was Orthodox.  My only encounter with Orthodoxy was purely historical.  But all of a sudden, I was ambushed.  Blessed Ambush!  A friend, then several aquaintances, then a circle of beautiful, wise women, and finally a family.  Books, podcasts, music…I couldn’t get enough.  And worship! That was the most compelling of all.  Orthodox believe that in the Divine Liturgy we literally enter the Kingdom of God.  I believe it.  I believed it the very first time.  There is a blessed otherness…such a profound sense of holiness.  Sometimes I can hardly breathe for the weight of it.

Today, on Saint Nicholas Day, I crossed a threshold.  Today I became part of the Orthodox Church.  Mike and I have walked most of this last year with the congregation at St. Ignatius.  We have fasted together, celebrated together, struggled and learned together, and entered the Presence together.  My soul has been nourished in ways I could never have imagined.  And I am learning to live in God…to revel in His Presence…to come to Him honestly with all the best AND worst things about me, and to experience His joy in me.

God knew my heart so much better than I did.  He knew how to help me find Him. My friend, Monte, tells me that when a lifeguard goes to help someone in distress, he will not engage the swimmer until he stops struggling, otherwise the distressed swimmer can drown them both.  But once the swimmer has exhausted himself, then he can be saved.  Once I was thoroughly exhausted, God helped me find the means whereby I could finally know Him.

Yesterday, I made my first confession in preparation for today. I began with a written prayer, then shared those things with the priest that weighed most heavily on my heart and those that present persistent challenge.  It was a solemn and weighty experience.  He spoke words to me that Christ would have spoken had he been there.  After this, I knelt and Father Stephen placed his stole over my head. He told me that just as the stole covered my head, Christ’s blood had covered my sins.  Hot tears flowed down my face as his words planted themselves deeply within me and forgiveness became a palpable reality.

This morning, after affirming that we accept and submit to the essential tenets of the Orthodox faith, we were anointed with Holy Chrism (oil).  As Father Stephen made crosses with the oil on our foreheads, eyes, nose, ears, chest, hands and feet, he said “the seal of the Holy Spirit” and the whole congregation cried out “SEAL!!” I felt like my chest was a great ball of fire.  I could not stop the tears.  That God would be so kind to bring me to this place where I could breathe Him and wear Him when I had been so ready to walk away from Him is too much for me. Receiving the Body and Blood for the first time with my dear sisters and brothers was a completely transcendent experience.  Heart pounding, knees trembling, filled with wonder.  May it ever be so.

At lunch today my dear friend, Gail, said to my fellow celebrants, Giorgio and Mike, and to me that today we only lifted the lid to the treasure box.  She assured us that there are enough treasures inside to last us a lifetime.  I believe her.

“You do not resolve the God question in your head…it is resolved in you when you agree to bear the mystery of God.” ~Rohr

Photographs in the post courtesy of our friend Joel Smith.  At the top of the post, Mike and I with Father Stephen.  Above, with Mike and Gail Hyatt, dear friends who have been such an important part of our journey and today stood with us as our sponsors/godparents.  Also, Keith Coley and Giorgio Kemp.  Beautiful irony: Giorgio was in my third grade choir.  His mother Rhonda was my homeschooling mentor.  We have danced in and out of one another’s lives for years.  What a blessed gift to be Chrismated on the same day.  Many years, dear friend!

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