Run Girl Run

Tomorrow morning I’m running my first marathon #excited #terrified #mostlyexcited.  I started running in middle school, and did cross country and track in high school. I joked that running was a way to put my height to good use [long stride] that didn’t involve a ball and hence hand-eye coordination.  I kept running recreationally through college and beyond, sometimes loving it and sometimes hating it, sometimes with an attitude of joy and gratitude for what my body could do, sometimes to punish myself for “overindulging” on cookies or pizza, my caloric penance for my sins.

I have yet to talk to a woman who doesn’t struggle in some way to make peace with her body, to figure out how to resist the siren call of a society that says our worth is in the smallness of our pants size and the flat planes of our bellies.  It’s taken me many years to make peace with mine, and while I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% ok [and that’s ok] I feel more comfortable in my own skin as an almost-34 year old than I ever did a decade ago, and for that I’m grateful.

Running has played a huge role in that, especially over the last year.  Last fall I coached Girls on the Run, and I found that trying to teach pre-teen girls to view exercise not as a way to burn calories but as a celebration of the amazing things their bodies could do was deeply cathartic for me.  Celebrating with them how strong their bodies are and the joy of exercise changed my own self-talk and I found the words I spoke to them seeping into my own subconscious on my runs. “You are so strong! I’m so proud of you! You are amazing! Look at what your body can do!”  Super cheesy, yep – also super cathartic and healing for a Type-A perfectionist whose usual self talk is emotionally beating myself up. “You only ran 5 miles?? You should have run at least 6! You ran a 9 minute pace? You should be at 8:30” There’s a cheesy quote about self-talk, about how if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend you shouldn’t say it to yourself, and I’ve found that deeply helpful.  

I’ve always loved running, and run a few half marathons, but said for years that I’d never run a full marathon – I’d heard from friends that it made them get burned out from training and hate running, and I didn’t want that to happen.  I want to run for life, not for a medal, so I decided it wasn’t for me. Then last spring my friend Amanda ran the Big Sur marathon, and a group of us went to cheer her on at the finish line. Watching folks cross the marathon finish line was unexpectedly emotional.  There was a couple in their 70s who crossed the finish line [running, not walking!] holding hands and grinning ear to ear #relationshipgoals. There was a mid-40s woman whose two young daughters were cheering at the finish line, holding a sign that said “Good job Mommy!” #allthefeels.  There were ordinary people of all shapes and sizes and ages doing something really freakin’ hard, and people they loved cheering them on.  I felt my eyes fill with tears and I thought “Oh crap, I think I have to do this now.”

So I signed up for the SF Marathon, excited for the chance to run across the Golden Gate bridge and along the ocean and generally enjoy this beautiful city I feel so thankful to call home.  Training was fun at first – it was novel to follow a workout plan [I usually just run as much as I feel like that day] and then about a month ago I hit a wall and was totally burned out on training.  I was tired of staying in on Friday nights – and skipping a glass of wine – so I could get up for long Saturday runs. I was tired of half my weekend being consumed by running and recovery. I was tired of pushing myself so hard in training runs, doing lap after lap at Kezar stadium surrounded by high school cross country team boys loping effortlessly by me [ah, to be young!].  I was tired of having to plan my vacations around when I could run and stressing over not getting enough mileage in. I was over it and I was grumpy. I asked my mom to pray that I would have “a renewed perspective” on training and be thankful that I could run at all.

The moral of the story here is be careful what you pray for.

Last week I came down with what I thought was a bad cold – which turned into a bad case of bronchitis and me not leaving my house for four days, so sick I could barely walk two blocks. Instead of doing the taper runs I had so diligently planned, I was laying in my bed watching old Friends episodes and freaking out that I wasn’t going to be able to run.  I looked up if I could defer my entry to next year [I couldn’t] and my eyes filled with tears as I thought about not being able to run the race after 5 months of training. I went to the doctor and I’ve never been so happy to be given drugs! glorious drugs! in my life. I’m lucky that I’m normally pretty healthy, so not being able to breathe properly for a week was a humbling experience.  It made me think deeply about what a gift good health is – that the point of running a marathon isn’t a sub-4 hour time, the point is that it’s a miracle that our bodies can physically move that distance.

The day after I got my drugs-glorious-drugs, I went for my first tentative run post-illness. I was nervous, but I ended up running 6 miles and feeling pretty good. Considering that 72 hours prior I barely had enough energy to do my laundry, this felt pretty miraculous,  As I crested the hill of Land’s End, the same hill I run up every Saturday – and usually take for granted – my eyes filled with tears of gratitude. For health, for access to great medical care [which I know not everyone has], for the resiliency of our bodies. I thought about my dad, who died of a heart attack almost 11 years ago now, and of how precious and precarious life is.  I thought about how proud he’d be to watch me cross the marathon finish line, how much I wish he was here, and how life is such a precious gift.

So, I’m no longer fretting about my mile splits or finish time.  I’m going into tomorrow deeply grateful for the gift of health, and for the opportunity to do something I love in a place I love, surrounded by people I love cheering me on.  I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to do something hard, because life is hard, but we can do hard things.  I’m deeply grateful for the pain, because the pain means we are alive, and it makes the joy – and the post-run ice cream – all the sweeter. 

Passing the Peace

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to find a local church and attend Sunday service.  It’s really helpful to be reminded that church – and God – is bigger and more layered than just my church (love it though I do).  Going to church in different cities, especially outside the US, is like adding different shades and textures and layers of color to the picture I’m painting of God, of community, of the body of Christ.  It’s good for me to remember that my church’s way of doing things is just that – one way. My Sunday morning experience at City Church San Francisco is one tiny dot in the mosaic of the body of Christ – a beautiful dot, heavily pigmented with the color and laughter and tears and prayers of the hundreds of people who I am deeply thankful to do life and community and church with – but one dot nonetheless.  

I was researching churches to visit while in London (no small task- there are loads!) and came across an Anglican church called Saint James. Their mission statement caught my eye “We seek to be an inclusive, welcoming and adventurous Christian community, honouring God and one another  – and we’re keen to change the world, starting with ourselves.”  Um, can I get a freaking AMEN!?!? Also, you had me at “keen” #BritishChurchGoals.

Thanks to some London tube adventures, I was running 15 minutes late and was tempted to just skip it, embarrassed to walk into a new church late.  But I reminded myself that I’m working on accepting that I can’t do everything perfectly, and that I don’t want to miss out on experiences because I can’t do them perfectly.  

So I snuck in 15 minutes late and was greeted warmly by a smiling, white-haired British lady at the door and slipped into a wooden pew just as the priest began his sermon. He had the congregation laughing two minutes in, his dry British humor, infused with warmth, highlighting what it means to be human, to yearn for love and connection, to try to be the person you do desperately want to be and to fail, and to be met with God’s love and grace in the process.

I admit I’m biased to put extra weight behind anything someone with a British accent says, but he was so sincere and winsome with his words, it felt like hearing Truth with a capital T – the dulcet tones of his accent were really just the icing on the cake [clotted cream on the scone??]

After the sermon came the part of a church service I most dread when I’m new – communion. Every church does it differently, and I always get hit with a serious case of #communionanxiety that I’m going to do it wrong.  Do I take the bread and wine right away, or wait until everyone has been served and take it all together back at our seats? Do I dip the wafer into the chalice of wine, or take a sip directly from the cup? [and try not to think about how in no other circumstance would I drink out of the same cup as 100+ people #germaphobenightmare]. We took it in the round, forming a semi-circle at the altar so we could see one another, and it was beautiful.

I’ve heard Brené Brown say that she goes to church for two reasons – to receive communion and to pass the peace with people she would never invite to a dinner party.  I think that is so beautiful. During the passing of the peace, as I shook hands with total strangers all around me, I knew nothing about their political beliefs or personalities, their socio-economic status or their secrets.  I didn’t know if I’d love chatting with them over coffee after the service or be counting down the seconds until I could exit the conversation. My opinion of them – and theirs of me – was wholly irrelevant. It was a holy moment to say aloud to a stranger “Peace be with you” and mean it, to bless them not because I like them or they tell funny jokes or we have some sort of shared history but simply because, as a person made in the image of God, they are beloved and worthy of that blessing.  

At the end of the service, the priest invited us to lay a hand on the shoulder of the person next to us as we received the Benediction, and my eyes filled with tears as I placed my hand on a stranger’s shoulder and felt the weight of a stranger’s hand on mine, a physical manifestation of our connectedness to each other, as the Body of Christ, yes, but also as the human family.  We belong to each other.

This morning I was back home at City Church, and I passed the peace with a room full of people I know and love, and I was deeply grateful for that sense of community and belonging.  I served wine at communion, and I spoke aloud to strangers and friends the same sentence “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” It was deeply meaningful to speak the same truth aloud to folks I’ve never met before and some of my dearest friends, to children and their parents and grandparents, to folks from all sorts of different backgrounds, carrying all sorts of different stories. To be reminded yet again that the same truth connects us all – we are all loved, we are all worthy, and we belong to each other.