Race Day

Once upon a time (about a year ago), my husband Ricky ran a half-marathon and then had to be taken to the hospital due to heat exhaustion.

Once upon another time shortly thereafter (about a year ago), my husband Ricky decided to train for a marathon that would take place in May 2019.

I said, “Okay. Um. I don’t want you to go to the hospital again. If you run this marathon, I’m not coming to watch.”

I said, “I mean it.”

And I meant it.

However.

On the day of the marathon, I found myself in a car, bright and early- driving to the marathon with Ricky. I felt glad that I personally was not running a marathon that day because (cough, cough) my throat was a bit sore.

Ricky and I were both feeling some apprehension about the marathon, I believe. Ricky because he had never run 42.2 kilometers before, and me because I had never watched anyone run 42.2 kilometers before.

All in all, I had a great morning. Everything went smoothly for both Ricky and myself, and I was glad that I was there to be a part of the excitement and to support him. Since I am now an experienced marathon-attendee, I thought I’d give you all a glimpse into some things that you can expect should you ever find yourself at a marathon.

  1. If it is a chilly morning, you will probably see runners wrapping themselves in plastic. Plastic blanket things, garbage bags, things that look like they were pulled from the nearest dumpster- any plastic will do, apparently. They’re just keeping their muscles warm (I think).
  2. There will most likely be a long line for the washrooms before the race begins. I was standing on the other side of the street from the port-a-potties, but as the starting time drew nearer, the line grew longer so quickly that I kept having to find new places to stand so that the line didn’t accept me as one of its own.
  3. Everyone in the bathroom line might seem to be in constant motion- stretching, hopping, jogging on the spot. Probably, they are just once again trying to keep their muscles warmed up, but in reality, it really looks like they all desperately need to use the washroom.
  4. When it’s time to head to the starting line, the runners discard their plastic blankets and some other layers and there is spandex all around. So much spandex and yet, at the same time… so little.
  5. It is a marvelous thing to watch hundreds of runners cross the starting line. They thunder past, and there’s a lot of cheering, and bells are ringing, and then they’re gone. The street feels oddly lonely without them.
  6. If possible, follow your runner. Not on foot. Gracious, no. There are apps and websites that you can do this with. Check out their route ahead of time and plan with them where you’ll be waiting to wave at them or high five them. Take pictures and videos of them.
  7. I had packed a backpack with snacks, hot tea, and a book to carry with me. I was glad for it. There was some down time. It was also lovely to just sit in the spring sunshine and be surrounded by all the good endorphins that you could practically see in the air. I also think that taking a friend to support you in your watching of the marathon could be very nice. I have two of the best ready to take in the next marathon with me. Joy and Seth, I’m talking about you.
  8. Be prepared to see some things that make you feel like crying because they are beautiful and strong. Sometimes watchers will temporarily run alongside the person they’re supporting. Sometimes people get super excited when they see their runner coming down the path. Sometimes the runners have the most intense expressions of focus, weariness, and determination on their face. Sometimes you are just hit by the wonder of the whole thing… all of these amazing people, sweating and panting and straining together. All winter they prepared for this. And now they’re here… this is their big moment. What they worked so hard for. They’re doing it. How would it feel to… Maybe I should…. Haha. No. I actually have no interest in running a marathon, but it sure is an amazing thing to witness.
  9. Be prepared to feel so very proud of your runner. It’s such a big thing to accomplish. Ricky trained all through the winter, guys. Through the dark and the snow and the freezing cold- he ran.
  10. You will probably be super hungry by the time you get yourself and your runner home, so the first thing to do is make food. A chicken wrap packed with veggies does the job perfectly.
  11. After eating, you should take a nap. After all, you had an early morning, and you covered a lot of ground. And if the marathon runner wakes up from their nap before you do, and heads outside to play some ping-pong and basketball, it’s okay. Don’t feel guilty or weird about it. Just rest.
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The lonely street after everyone crossed the starting line.
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Okay, well, normally you are a very reasonable human being, so I guess we’ll excuse this one time that you thought running 42.2 kilometers was “so fun”. 
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Me- sunburned and utterly relieved that everyone survived the marathon.
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Post-race banana grin. He’s amazing. 

 

 

I’m looking forward to watching Ricky run another marathon in October. You can watch the video about May’s marathon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLFI5BlOT9o&t=0s

The Place for Me

When we first began to seriously consider moving to Toronto (about two years ago, I think), one of my fears was that there wouldn’t be enough trees in Toronto to satisfy my craving for green, growing things.

(It might sound like a silly fear, but in my defense, we had recently driven through a neighbourhood in Toronto where there truly did not seem to be many trees.)

I had that fear in my heart.

And you know what God did?

He found us an apartment on a corner, and the street on one side of us is Treeview. It is lined with beautiful trees.

Can you believe it?

I just made this connection in the past few months, and I love it.

We’ve been living here exactly one year now. In the first few months of living here, we were often asked how we were adjusting to life in Toronto, and my answer was always that the “adjustment had been surprisingly simple.” And I meant it, too.

However.

I finally hit a rough spot. It happened at the beginning of July.

It was a feeling of “I-don’t-belong-here,” and I think it came because the job that I had been doing ever since we moved had come to an end. Along with the ending of the job came the realization that outside of my job, I hadn’t really formed any connections with people here. Being the introvert that I am, it doesn’t really bother me to spend days on end on my own. However, the idea that I might actually not be capable of forming new friendships did bother me. Also, sometimes it feels like, in order to be a truly good Christian, you need to be able to quickly form close connections with other people so that you can show them Jesus’ love. I wasn’t doing that, and therefore felt guilty.

To sum all that up… I felt lonely, and like I didn’t have anyone to give to here. (Which is ridiculous, I know. There are so many different ways of giving all around me.)

Pair “lonely-in-Toronto” with “growing-relationships-with-wonderful-people-at-my-church-in-Kitchener” and “scared-to-find-a-job-in-Toronto” with “there’s-a-school-in-Hawkesville-that-I-know-and-love-and-so-why-would-I-ever-pursue-anything-else-besides-teaching-is-such-a-noble-fulfilling-job-and-i-miss-it-so-much-and-maybe-some-year-soon-i-could-teach-there-again”. This is a formula for wanting to return to the place I left behind.

And so that’s what happened.

That other life was just such a good one. A job I loved and was getting better at, family and friends close by…

I think I even started to resent Toronto. (Yes, the entire city.)

I shoved back the pain of the lack of relationships in Toronto by telling myself I didn’t actually need them. I have lots of people who care about me in Waterloo, and that’s really all I need, right?

Well, maybe.

But holding onto that mindset would deprive me of beautiful things.

There was a day at the end of August where I had the privilege of going back to the school in Hawkesville that I love and spending several hours in the loveliest, best-feeling classroom with my friend Meghan, and then participating in a meeting with teachers that I admire and miss. I knew that being there was going to be hard in a way, because I was feeling so strongly that I wanted that school to be my place again.

And I did experience that feeling.

I did experience some jealousy, some longing, some teacher-ideas and inspiration creeping into my brain, making me feel like a teacher is what I truly am meant to be.

I felt those things.

But somehow…

At the end of the day…

When I drove away…

It was all okay.

I had expected to feel completely convinced that we should move back to Waterloo as soon as possible.

But I felt the opposite.

I felt like it was okay to be in Toronto. That there are things for me here too. Things that I want. Things that I can do, even if they don’t feel comfortable and I don’t know yet whether I love them.

This life in Toronto is a sacrifice in some ways, but a gift in others.

I think it had to be God who gave me those feelings, because I sure did not want to feel that, and it was not the natural outcome of the day.

That night I slept at my family’s house, and the next day we canned peaches and tomatoes, and made salsa and spaghetti sauce.

I drove home after that day of canning, slightly sticky and definitely exhausted.

When I got home after dark, Ricky helped me unload the car by carrying a box full of jars of freshly canned tomatoes and peaches inside.

I put my Waterloo food on my Toronto shelf, and I think it looks beautiful there.

Next, we went to the living room, freshly painted white. We pushed the furniture back against the walls, some in the same spots and some in new spots. We put all of our books on one gigantic new bookshelf. We hung a print up on the wall, and made plans to soon add more pictures to the wall around it.

And it felt more like our place than it ever has before.

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Soon after I felt these things, I stumbled across two things that made me feel like God was reaffirming for me that it is good and right for me to be here right now. 

One was a podcast episode of Emily P. Freeman’s, called “Be a Placemaker”. She speaks about honestly acknowledging the place we are in, and then doing what we need to do to make it beautiful and valuable. It is available here as a blog post. (Also, how many times have I told you to get some Emily P. Freeman in your life? If you haven’t yet… well. You’re just missing out.) 

“There are some things you can still choose, like making a place where your roots are lacking, like believing for sure that God is with you, like doing your next right thing in love.”

-Emily P. Freeman

The second thing that I found and connected with was this blog post by Rosina Schmucker. Life sometimes ends up looking different than we expected it to, and that’s okay. 


What about you? Have you ever had to be intentional about putting down roots? We’d love to hear about it. Specifically- ahem- about how you went about doing it. 

Cottage 2019

Every year my family goes to the same cottage,

And every year I take many, many photos.

They are essentially the same photos, year after year.

Same place, same people.

But I love each year’s photos in a separate way.

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Sometimes I wonder why we have chosen this-

going to the same cottage for 20+ years.

Are we not depriving ourselves of new and beautiful things?

Maybe,

But also,

We get around in other ways at other times.

And there is a benefit to going back to the same place,

I think (speaking from the perspective of desiring a relaxing vacation).

You know what to expect.

What to look forward to.

What it will smell like.

You know that outside is never far away at the cottage.

(It’s even in your bed by the end of the week- hello, sandy sheets.)

You know generally what your daily schedule will be like-

Go to the water early-ish in the morning to sit or write,

Go to the water mid-day to swim and read in the sun,

Go to the water in the evening to walk the beach, skip stones, climb on the big rock, and watch the sun set.

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You know that on Thursday,

Everyone will debate about whether or not to go to the flea market,

Even though we already know that of course we’re going. We always do. 

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You know what will be the same, and that is comfortable.

But you also notice the differences-

the new deck chairs,

the higher water level,

the new cottages that are being built down the road.

We and the cottage are always different versions of ourselves than we were the summer before.

The things we’ve learned and seen.

The things we’ve loved and been hurt by.

The things we’ve hoped for and the the things we’ve been afraid of.

These things shift, from year to year.

We just pack it all up, squash it into our cars and our vans,

And take it with us to the cottage,

where there aren’t really hiding places to tuck it away.

There is, however, plenty of space for airing things out

by the water

around the table

and on quirky couches.

It’s never perfect,

And sometimes things hurt,

Like walking over a few feet of rocks to get into deeper water

Or realizing that you still have the tendency to eat when you aren’t even hungry

Or that you are actually still selfish,

even though you had decided ahead of time not to be. Gah. 

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If you look at this picture the right way, it looks like Ricky is running underwater. Can you see it? I love it. 

It’s always hard to leave,

And as we get closer to home,

there’s more traffic and concrete.

But somehow, I feel more ready for the fall- even when I don’t know what it holds for me. I feel braver, and like the possibility is beautiful, and I feel like there are many impossibly beautiful things that I might get to be a part of in this life.

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We visited the Tiny Marsh. There were many bullrushes and mosquitoes. 

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Do you know what I see when I look at this picture? I see autumn. Right there in the trees. It’s lovely. 
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I think this might be my favourite of all the pictures I took this week. Grey and gold- isn’t that just the way life is? 

 

What about you? Do you prefer vacationing in new places or in familiar places? 

 

August

August is that person that I am used to seeing every day.

She is comfortable.

She is familiar.

She is full of ordinary warmth.

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In August, summer has settled into itself, and everything feels ganglier and softer and dustier. Mature.

The textures and the layers criss-cross and overlap.

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The seventh campfire, instead of the first or second.

But one day, something makes me pause.

Catches my eye.

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And when I take a second look, I realize that maybe I don’t know her as well as I thought I did.

There is overlooked beauty all around.

And I realize that as much as I love September…

August may stick around for as long as she wants to.

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What do you love about August? 

The Mississippi and the Train

The Mississippi and the Train

It’s the kind of river that shows up often in books you read as a child,

Wide and significant,

An  adventure.

But then you look across the road and there it is,

Full of history, but so very present.

Ordinary and mysterious.

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Loud things always affect me.

They fill me

Or they make me feel sick

Or they make me want to curl up and escape.

A train woke me up the other night.

Its horn was so loud that I thought this train was going to come straight in through our open window and split

Us

This house

The world

Apart.

It wasn’t just the horn I heard.

There was a gentle musical sound wrapped around the harshness of the horn. It sounded absolutely heavenly.

Turns out the train wasn’t going through us-

Just beside us, over by the Mississippi.

In the morning, out on the deck,

I listened to a train run by on the same tracks.

I was glad to hear the same thing I’d heard in the night-

the painful loud layer and the beautiful musical layer.

I am glad that I heard the train in the night without seeing it the first time.

If I had seen it, I might have missed the music.

There are layers to be discovered in the Unseen.

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A Long Prayer

A Long Prayer

Dear God,

There is much that I am uncertain about.

This interpretation, that interpretation…

And if I don’t feel a conviction to do this, does that mean that I am not actually called to do it,

Or

Does it just mean that I should grow some spiritual muscle and develop a conviction for it

?

 

 

Also,

Is it always holier to do the more uncomfortable thing

?

 

I don’t know how to pray, God.

How can I pray, when it only reveals how very little of you I understand?

I imagine that you must be

So

Much

More

Than just a perfect superhuman.

But

What

?

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And what do I do if I realize that my motive for knowing you more

Is so that I will appear and feel more

Wise?

(I hate when my motives get all twisted like this.

Forgive me.)

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I know that learning to know you is a journey-

An adventure!

I will not navigate it perfectly.

I know that there are mountain-tops along the way

With much clarity.

I also know that there is…

Muck.

 

Speaking of muck…

 

I confess that when I hear the words child-like faith

Something inside me splinters

And not in a good way.

 

I have slid into a pit of

“Earning my faith”

By being skeptical about this and about that.

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We talk about owning our faith and how good it is to question and search.

But nobody tells you

What to do

When you are just…

Lost.

 

When the answers to your questions sometimes involve that child-like faith and you just

Can’t

Quite

Regain it.

 

There is much that I am uncertain about.

 

But also…

 

The daffodils in the flowerbed outside our door just keep blooming and blooming, through cold and through gray.

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In The Horse and His Boy, Aslan was all the lions.

 

There are certain things that I hesitate to pray for because I’m afraid you’ll send me what I ask for.

 

“… in You we live and move and have our being.”

 

Some days, the sun shines in a warm way and the grass is green beneath me.

 

Perhaps, right now, many small pieces of you are more necessary for me than one giant understanding. And maybe I don’t even need to worry about putting all those pieces together.

 

Maybe I will just watch for the beautiful pieces and name you as I see you.

 

I’ll be watching, God. I’ll be watching.

 

Amen.

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Question: What are you certain or uncertain about these days? Hearing either is encouraging. 

Confession

This week I have chosen to share a story that I wrote for an online creative writing class that I took this winter. The prompt for this story was that the story needed to involve a confession, and be told in a “stream of consciousness” manner. It was the kind of story that flowed from my fingertips, and it took me a little while to realize how it connected to me. 

I cried when I figured it out.

The pain, the frustration, the weariness of trying to pray- that is what this story came out of. 

And then some of my fellow classmates commented on the story, and said things like, “I understand,” and “I am journeying too.” These things helped (I’m a normal human! Yay!) and these things hurt (I feel guilty for not currently experiencing the JOY that following God is supposed to bring, and guiltier still because certainly it is my own fault that I am not experiencing that joy). I am still pondering these feelings. 

But for now… here is my story. 


 

My forty-five year-old knees hurt. I suppose that I have been kneeling for a long time now. Any second now, I will start to pray. Pray for real, I mean. I’ve had all these false starts.

 

Dear God.

Heavenly Father.

Lord Jesus.

Anyone? Anyone at all?

 

I am a terrible human being.  I don’t know what to do about it, and I have exhausted myself.

 

I don’t know anything about prayer. Never have, and never will, at this rate. What am I doing here? I’m not even a Catholic. Every day on my way home from the hospital, I drive past this church, and in recent weeks, I started to feel the the urge to pull into the parking lot. To open the heavy doors and enter the still, quiet grace. I imagine the grace all trapped inside, swirling over and under pews and colliding with stained glass. That’s why things have been so hard out in the world, I guess.

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For Pete’s sake, I got distracted again.

Focus, Thomas. Focus. Close your eyes. Deep breath.

 

I am tired. I don’t think that I have the strength to do this anymore. I don’t think that I have the strength to stop, either.

 

I try to imagine God being real, being a presence right there in the church with me. Wrapping me up. But all I feel is the stillness working its way into me until my body fairly hums with it. It works its way up my spine until I have to shiver.  Am I being absorbed by the stillness, or am I disrupting it? I can’t tell. I shift uncomfortably, aware of the sound of my joints popping loudly in the silence of the church. It’s not just my mind that is having trouble submitting to prayer. My entire body seems to be resistant to it.

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I know what I came in here to do. Every day, I feel my ugliness winding its way through me, loving me and destroying me.  I’m going to give you a name and a face, I say to it. Maybe I’ll finally be able to get a grip on you and… I don’t know what would come next, but I am worn down from hiding.

 

I look down at the soft and wrinkled pamphlet in my sweaty hands. “How to Make a Good Confession.” I had found it on a table just inside the door. Praying isn’t going so well for me, but I think that I gave it a fair shot. I stiffly rise to my feet and head towards the confessional booth that I noticed on my way in.

 

I sit on the chair by the screen, fumbling as I try to open my pamphlet. I need to see the instructions for how to do this.

 

My throat feels scratchy. I clear it, before whispering (the pamphlet says to whisper), “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.” I hastily try to make the sign of the cross, but I don’t know if I am doing it right. Perhaps God will overlook that.

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There is no response from the other side of the screen, so I determinedly barrel on. The pamphlet said to explain my sin briefly, and include how often I have committed it. “I accuse myself of the following sin. I… I do not love my wife. I do not want to be married to her anymore.” I do not love my wife. My wife who has given me three beautiful children and shared herself with me in every way. My wife who has cancer. My wife who has been in the hospital for the past few weeks. My wife who is unexpectedly recovering rather than dying. It would have been simpler, a more dignified end for everyone,  if….

“I have committed this sin… for several years, now, I guess.” There is no pinpointing when something like this starts. I conclude, “I am sorry for this sin, and all the sins of my whole life.”

 

I wait. The pamphlet says that the priest would give me some prayers as penance, but there is nothing from the other side of the screen. I lean nearer and listen. Not even any breathing.

 

“Hello?” I finally dare to whisper. No response.

 

There’s no one over there. I almost laugh at myself, but my sin is still holding me too close.

 

What am I going to do, God? Is a person even allowed to pray about something like this? Something so selfish? Something that has no right answer?  What am I going to do?

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I stand up to leave. I’ve spent too much time here.

 

As I walk to my car, lost in my guilt, I nearly trip over a good-sized stick that the wind has brought down from a nearby tree. I stop and pick it up, intending to set it on the nearby grass so no other sinners trip on it.

 

Instead, I find myself walking back up the steps to the church with the stick. I open the door, and wedge the stick in, so that it holds the door open just a crack.

 

Maybe now some of that grace will be able to escape.

 

Maybe it will find its way to someone in need of it.

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