Unrelenting Blogging, Running and Courage: Six Year Anniversary!

Word Press informed me today it’s my six year anniversary as a blogger.

Hard to believe this chronicle of my life still stands– I attempted to erase it once. Exes had commented, past friends were keeping tabs on me, fellow bloggers encouraged me. Thank you to those who have subscribed, followed, commented and encouraged this unrelenting literary journey! Some have left, but most have stayed.  It’s edifying.

I went through a period of wanting my life without documentation.

My emerging narrative had no focus, I felt it was a waste  of time. But as events unfolded, I found this humble blog to be a refuge.

I would write what I want, without censor or error by editors. Without deadlines.

This journey began as a public vow of accountability during Lent, to uphold my Catholicism and Lenten promises. To challenge me.

Six years ago, I was searching for meaning in a relationship with a man. I thought that was the dream I should chase. I thought my treasure would be in another’s heart– in the reflection of what he loved in me.

Now I have accepted loss in relationships that haven’t lasted. I wrote about some dates, and the struggles to combat loneliness and failed compatibility. But I kept the details away, not wanting to jinx something still evolving, nor preserve details of suitors who did not work out.

Now I have accepted uncertainty and blog when I feel compelled.

I am still restless, but have re-directed my energy. Now the relationship I feed is that with myself– and running is the mechanism driving me forth.

Now I have races and goals for which to train! The joy I find is in surpassing my doubts.

I seek my own approval, reward myself with courage.

I’m making plans without fear.

I’m still Catholic, but now I forgive myself easier. I don’t depend on Lent to hold me accountable to my own promises.

I allow myself to be human, faults and mishaps included. I enjoy Mass but it’s not the center of my life as it once was.

I’ve chosen to build my life around developing a routine of running. I’m struggling with rising early and getting to sleep early enough to maintain that schedule. But already, it’s bringing me peace.

I’ve signed up for training classes for an upcoming race, my first 10k with lots of hills. I’ve joined the local run club in my community. I’ve attended group runs. I’ve enlisted a running buddy to start soon. I’ve purchased running gear necessary. I’m learning to layer properly in differing weather so I can persevere.

I’ve also failed twice this week on something I consider major: I missed my training class Thursday, and slept through a group run this morning.

I’m worried because my next race has a time limit for me to qualify as a finisher– I usually need 1 hour and 30 minutes to run five miles. This race requires 1 hour and fifteen. I felt intimidated— but signed up anyway. Now that fee has been paid! I want that finisher’s medal.

Today as I ran, I pushed myself. I knew I had to wean my mileage and maintain it below a 15 minute mile. And I did, except for two short bouts of walking. I noticed my knees hurting by the end, 3.16 miles. But I don’t normally feel that when I’m running regularly.

Tomorrow morning I’m meeting someone from our running group early. I’ll go faster.

I’ll be the runner I know is within me.

I think I’ve found something special with running.

And it’s in every road, every time I put on my shoes.

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Friendship and a 5K

This morning I woke up early and ran my fourth 5K! My friend Jen and I ran together. It was her first.

And I think it was my favorite one thus far.

Because neither of us cared about our time or being competitive.

We were just doing something to be healthy and to hang out together.

Plus, it’s sponsored by Guardian Angel Services, an organization both of us care about. We’re both in social work.

Jen and I have been friends since freshman year of high school– 1995. That’s 20 years! Holy cow.

The event was called Angels Against Abuse, and before we ran there was a speaker. She talked about how she found the strength to leave her ex-husband, the man who was “the father of my children.”  She repeated that last phrase emphatically– and I got it. Wouldn’t that be the primary arrow aimed at any woman trying to move on and escape an abusive relationship? Aren’t women always pressured to forgive all because they are expected to sacrifice not just her happiness, but her own well-being and safety in the name of keeping the family together? She said she knew if she didn’t leave, one day he would kill her. The most incisive moments for me was when she read excerpts of the love letters he would write her after the abuse. The promises, the begging, the hope he would spark that he really did want to treat her better. Her belief that *she* was the one who could heal him– he’d had a rough life.

She credited her counselor with helping her manufacture courage to start her own life with her children– safely. That counselor was her advocate at each court date, all the way until the divorce was finalized.

Afterward, they hugged. I was definitely tearing up.

And subsequently, the race stated.

There were times she needed to slow down and walk, and there were times that I did. And both of us are happy to comply and wait until the other was ready to run again. We’d talk a little.

And she was always positive, always fun!

It was equal. And both of us suggested running again to the other and encouraged each other to keep going.

We were also laughing because we got hit with not just substantial wind resistance, but rain!!

It was really coming at us! Luckily I had a hoodie from the event, but I was soaked. My toes were squishy in my shoes.

I joked that we were “hardcore” runners now! I I felt like such a bad ass.

Crossing the finish line was such an achievement!! I’ve never had to deal with so much weather in a run.

I did see my time at the end,  but didn’t make particular note of it.

Then we grabbed some refreshments and snacks, thanked each other for a great race,and went our separate ways.

Neither cared about how we ranked. We had achieved our goal!

And now it was time to go home and enjoy it.

In two weeks we have another 5K, in Chicago. Cannot wait!!

Goodbye, Excuses!!

Just got back from my first synced-up run with Eleise, week 2!!

We are getting better.

Tonight I really felt like I was on my game, because I downloaded a Nike app to sync up with Eleise, who also has it. We mostly figured it out, and I loved that it tracked our progress and even motivates us!

Tonight it was hot but I just spritzed ample OFF! And we ran as scheduled. And for the first time, I really broke a sweat! And we changed up our route– thus far, we make small changes each time.

Tonight we ran on concrete, asphalt, grass, a trail– and it just got easier.

She’s the music supply on her phone, always ’80s. We were both cracking up when “Thriller,” came on just as we were about hit a trail through some woods.

I’ve come so far since I first tried running, two years ago this spring. The main problems I had were that I had no place to store my keys and phone whilst running, and thus used a purse I could sling over my shoulder. It was light so it worked fine but it was still kind of annoying and bulky.

Now I have this neato stretchy zippered belt contraption, which houses my keys, phone, and cash or ID if I need. It’s adjustable and once I close it up, I forget about it. It doesn’t get in my way, I can’t even feel it! Amazing.

Also, last time I had no way to track my progress. Without some type of app or device measuring my results, I quickly lost motivation.

Now I have both an accountability partner in Eleise AND and new app to coordinate!!

We’re also catching up and just plain having FUN! We’re motivated, but not competitive.

YET. I’m sure that day will arrive!

She’s talking about doing a 5k. I threw up an automatic wall at first because it just seemed like too much– but I like that she’s always thinking ahead and looking to set goals. I’m considering it!

Tonight we ran 3.14 miles, though did walk a bit of it. But baby steps, right?!

We had a blast tagging each other on Facebook in our runs and even took a post-run selfie— mind you, in the the pitch dark! I turned the flashlight on my phone, and she took it with hers.

THIS IS SO FUN. I know I’m going to sleep great tonight!

Also, I noticed I wasn’t getting winded tonight. Already, my breathing is getting better.

I walked 4.1 miles yesterday and my legs weren’t even sore!

I’m going to learn all about this sport and how to get in the best shape and health of my life.

Dear Forever Valentine, Thank You

Because you (I!) deserve a love letter today. Self, you are always by my side!

First, I am proud of you.

I see a woman who has nothing to prove this year. She is wearing overalls because they are what she feels comfortable wearing, and she’s STOKED at the ’90s are back in that style! With it, a pink and white baseball shirt because it’s a little feminine but also practical. Today she is wearing no make-up. Her hair is shorn in a pixie, which makes her feel free– she loves the feeling of the icy wind on her neck. She often goes without a hat, but zips her coat up to the hilt instead.

This year has been about realigning with what you need, and putting that into action. And you are making great strides every day! Even when you think I don’t notice the progress, I do. Even when no one else does, I see.

I believe in and admire you, Amee. I adore that name– your mother chose it with care. It’s not something to be found on pencils, which you used to resent. It’s singular and a little bit exotic–French. There is nothing typical about you. You forge your own way in every aspect of your life– you don’t do things like everyone else.

You are unafraid to sacrifice in the present for something you know will be better in the future. You are committed to what you need even when it’s not fun or popular. You are learning to value your own voice most. You can weather questions and the assumptions of others with increasing grace.

Like all humans, you have walls to protect yourself. Your heart is not impulsive as it once was, although sometimes I know you long for those days. Those were beautiful times of innocence, important to teach you lessons. Of loss, of how to lose yourself in giving. Of appreciating someone even when they don’t understand why you love them. You seek to understand others and comfort them.

You know how to love with abandon, commitment and safety.

You accept that not everyone deserves what you want to give– you are more patient. You demand that people prove to you that they are sincere. Never admonish yourself for that– it’s been learned with fire.

You always rise. You may slow down, you may hold yourself back with caution.

But conserving your energy and valuing what you possess to give others is something wonderful and smart.

Keep doing that.

Everything that you need is on its way to you. It is happening at exactly the right time and speed– just continue to trust in your judgement.

You are more real than many who put up a better facade. When you’re not happy, you don’t pretend. You’re polite and professional when needed, but never insincere. That is something glorious– the ability to know how you’re feeling and not be ashamed of it. That takes tremendous courage– it’s a skill not everyone has yet learned.

That writer heart of yours beats steady. I can always depend on you. We are always together.

Whatever comes your way, you will handle it with aplomb.

I am grateful that you preserve that delightful spark of silly, that propensity for wackiness. I am glad that you see beauty in the most ordinary circumstances.

You are loyal, affectionate, serious.

Thank you for not changing for anyone.

You are my favorite. I love you! You are beautiful and strong.

You are making peace with uncertainty and deciding to be your own hero.

And that is the best Valentine’s gift I could ever give you.

Always,

All the Love You Possess

Love is a Force

which cannot be quelled.

which cannot be outnumbered,

nor rationalized away.

Time does not erode its steadfast warmth, abiding affection,

or choice to forgive.

Love is implicit trust over fear,

the grace and mercy which save.

Love is there when you are open to receive it,

when you are humbled, awed, thirsty.

It may not appear as expected,

but in a guise– to test you.

Thus, look for a small spark

of something to embrace, to accept.

Dare to hope, to invite

the miracle of love within.

Even if you don’t believe,

manifest your courage now.

Show love to others,

give what you don’t have.

And when you need it most,

once you’ve forgotten about you,

love will reappear and

you will be ready.

Michael Sweet Threw a Bible, and I Caught It: My First Christian Rock Show!

I’ve been avoiding music shows lately– I’m tired of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll being championed.

The gold set list on my black leather jacket-- God and rock 'n roll!

The gold set list on my black leather jacket– God and rock ‘n roll!

Tired of hearing rants about how wasted they got on the way to the show, challenging the audience to do shots. I know it’s all part of the image and that partying is what the industry is built upon. But I don’t drink or do drugs and although I go for the music and have a great time, I get tired of being one of the only sober people in the room. Tired of being hit on.

Luckily, my friend Tammie had invited me to see STRYPER last night! And I felt totally at home.

Everyone from the bands to the road crew setting up seemed to be sober. Maybe a few weren’t– but it definitely changed the atmosphere for the better. They played Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill in Bolingbrook, IL.

People DRANK Coke, rather than bragging about doing it. I saw crosses, not cleavage, everywhere. Mostly, I saw a lot of respect. For the band, for the audience, for the venue.

The show was exactly what I needed after work, especially since a co-worker told me, “You look like a nun.”

She didn’t mean it as a compliment, although nuns ARE awesome. I ran home and dressed up for the first time in months, it seems. I wore a white shirt that I love with golden crosses all over it, and my favorite dangly heart earrings. I put on eye-liner and mascara and actually used hairspray! I searched frantically for the Stryper album I still have on CD, but couldn’t find it. My phone was nowhere to be found so I Facebooked my friend that I was leaving, Googled directions and wrote them down, and got to Tailgator’s within about 25 minutes.

My friend Tammie was waiting for me at the door, bless her. She’s always been a steadfast friend. Even better, she had bought our tickets in advance and we had a table RIGHT by the stage! In the left corner, where Michael Sweet would step out later on a few times.

The two opening bands were wonderful– Ignescent, and Signature. The first was definitely a Christian band, and I don’t think the second was, but I really enjoyed both! As always, I missed a lot that I couldn’t hear– but the musicianship and performances were great. I loved the fact that Ignescent front woman Jennifer Benson was a petite woman about my size. Seeing her up there rocking out– for the Lord!– was so inspiring. I loved that she still locked like a rocker, but modest as well. She had on a black dress, black shredded jeans, and a cute black skirt and black shoes. On the way to the bathroom, I met her! She talked to me for a few minutes and had the best smile. She was really sweet.

When I returned, Signature lead singer Sami Carava walked by me and gave me a sweaty kiss on the cheek, and I grinned.

And as set-up began for STRYPER, I saw the set list being duct-taped down, right in front of us! Black tape.

Bass player Tim Gaines was directly in front of us.

I asked Tammie to use her phone to look-up the verse on the banner behind the drum kit, Isiah 53:5. She had a Bible app! We scrolled down and found it, and I loved it.

Once the set began, I was transported.

Earlier, Tammie had posted a Facebook photo of a BIBLE Stryper had thrown into the crowd Friday night at an acoustic show at the same venue. This was the electric show. As soon as I saw that, I decided my goal would be to GET ONE myself! She also had a yellow guitar pick, given away for their 30th Anniversary tour– they began in 1984.

I saw the tiny hornet-yellow picks set up on each mic with an apparatus that had them lined up for the band members to toss to the crowd.

During, “Call and Respond,” Michael Sweet was throwing Bibles.

I JUMPED out of my chair and waved my hand without shame. “ME!! ME!!”

He looked at me, smiled and tossed one to me. I caught it!! It’s pocket-sized, perfect.

And suddenly, GOD is rock n’ roll. I am so excited to see a legendary band like Stryper endorsing the Bible. Plus, it’s the most genius gimmick ever. It’s the NIV, New Testament. It’s black, with a black band sticker.

They embodied the virtue of charity, throwing out several Bibles and guitar picks.

Sweet was riveting. I loved the Abalone squares on his guitar, and the fact that he wore nice black leather shoes, like a gentleman. Black jeans with yellow crosses down the leg and on his back pocket.

And it was so clearly about the MUSIC, the Lord, and the fans. He talked to us. But unlike every other front man I’ve ever seen, he wasn’t leering or gyrating. He was there to praise, not seduce. To commune with the fans, not challenge them to get wasted. He asked for a show of hands of fans who had been to past shows– smiled in recognition at some of them.

I realized why MUSIC is the booming business it is. It’s healing, on a soul level. And how much pressure Christian bands must face to conform– the gigs they lose and the money the pass up, to adhere to their faith. The pressure they all face to sexualize themselves to sell more albums.

I’m going to look for more Christian bands. Not so say I’m abandoning secular music– but I love the atmosphere of a Christian show and I’ll take the challenge to find more!

During a set break, Tammie showed me the Rosary she had made with rose petals from her mother’s funeral, 15 years ago. I was so happy she let me hold it, it was the most intricate Rosary I’ve ever seen. I’m Catholic and she’s Non-Denominational Christian, but we focus on what we have in common. Earlier this week, we’d talked about attempting to learn to pray the Rosary together. I love that she wants to share that with me, even though she’s not Catholic. What an extraordinary display of friendship.

Whenever I have doubts about this blog, Tammie is there reassure me I should keep going. She’s been a subscriber since she learned about it.

I felt Christ’s presence in that room. Maybe that’s a bold thing to say, but I’m alright with that.

I’ve been looking frantically for His presence– I only thought I could find it in Mass. I’ve been anxious because when my work schedule changes, I won’t likely be able to go to Mass as often, or maybe at all. But now I know you really don’t need to go to a church to find Him.

God, Christ, whoever you identify with– He’s all around us. If you only have the courage to look.

Seek the GOOD– and you will find it.

And I was reassured that I’m not alone in my faith walk. I never wondered what denomination anyone was– it didn’t matter. I felt united under God’s rock concert. We’re all struggling. We’re all trudging forward, best we can.

A man at the table to my immediate left held up two fingers in a cross sign. I saw people closing their eyes, being still- seemingly in prayer.

I loved when he said the band was going to “stop trying to be modern,” (If I heard that right!) and just go back to their roots. This was their last American tour stop before heading out to Brazil. What are the odds that I got to see them!? God’s brought me there for a reason.

I’m an old-fashioned gal, who doesn’t often feel at home in this newfangled world. Hear, hear! I was bummed that earlier I couldn’t find the CD of theirs I had bought in 2005, which still have! I wanted to show it to them, maybe try and get it signed. But look what I got instead!

God’s abundance. Thanks for reading this far– I know I’m a verbose lady!

They closed with an encore performance– “To HELL with the Devil!” That’s the only song I previously knew, and it was absolutely perfect. I was AWED that Sweet’s voice really IS as operatic as it sounded every time I played it in my car.

I bought my first and only Stryper CD in 2005, when I was living in Freeport and working as a news reporter. I interviewed a woman who was selling a bunch of random things in her home– and I snatched up that album.

Now I write on my own terms– with this blog.

The best moment of the night was after they closed with their encore performance, “To Hell with the Devil,” of course!! FINALLY, the audience all got to their feet. I had thought they were a little TOO respectful, all sitting down the whole time.

But it was also just like any other rock show– there were still drunk women lunging at the stage.

Last night was I reminded I’m right where I need to be for me, right now.

Especially when as the road crew packed up, a man HANDED ME the set list with a smile! I screamed and taped it on the back of my leather jacket. I didn’t worry about anyone stealing it, and no one did.

Tammie was so happy for me, too.

Robert Sweet fist-bumped me, and Ox Fox shook my hand as they exited the stage. They were so gracious.

We stopped at the merch table on the way out, and I decided to buy myself a birthday present: I’ll be 34 next month. I don’t have anything planned as of yet. I’ve gotten down on myself in the past for not having the markers of “adulthood” yet– not being settled down with a family and mortage.

I’m still renting and I’m single.

But God gave me this FREEDOM for a reason. And I’m grateful. I’ll enjoy it as long as I’ve got it!

I spied a hoodie with– what else?– To hell With the Devil– on the back, in yellow script lettering. I asked if there any smalls?

ONE left.

Most of my money these days goes toward basic expenses: food, bills, gas. Books. I rarely buy clothes.

But I decided I deserved this. And I gave myself permission to splurge and get it. Now I’ve got a perfect new hoodie for fall, and I can’t wait for Stryper fans to stop me and talk to me about it!

I’m sure that’ll inspire some conversations about religion and God, with all sorts of people.

I can’t wait.

A Shout into the Void: the Bravery of Hazel and Gus

Just watched “The Fault in Our Stars.” Took myself out for a movie date.

And Hazel Grace just knocks me out. I understand how she feels.

The most difficult thing to do in this life is to be courageous enough to receive love.

There is no greater feat.

It takes me awhile to open myself up to a relationship. I need time to trust someone.

It’s easier to love someone else than to allow someone to love you– especially someone that YOU love, or might consider loving.

The intimacy is staggering. And when you’re fighting a common battle, you’re allied together and everything is more intense– it happens faster. The way these two openly adore each other restores your faith in humanity.

I love that this movie validates that YOUNG love is important. So many are dismissive of it. I was, at that age.

I love that Hazel’s parents have a strong marriage and love their daughter enough to allow her the greatest adventure although she is sick. They accept Gus and don’t try to stop their love affair. They recognize it as special. Early on, they’re concerned about the future for Gus, since her health is precarious.

I am happy to see that Hazel Grace embraces and manages her health with dignity. In meeting Gus, she sees a reason to strive beyond what she would have ever imagined previously. She climbs stairs. She carries her oxygen tank on her back. She stops to rest when needed– but she doesn’t avoid obstacles just because she might have trouble breathing.

She knows life is only this moment. She loves herself enough to accept challenges. Talk about tremendous.

As Hazel tells Gus in an effort to protect him from the future suffering of loving someone terminally ill, she is a “grenade.”

But don’t we ALL feel that way? Gus reassures her that loving her would be an adventure he can’t resist.

Her heart falls open. She allows him to love her. And slowly, she begins to trust enough to love him back.

You don’t need to have a serious health condition to understand the fear, the ambivalence, of this young couple.

They see each other at their darkest moments– they cling to one another for stability in a world where they feel out of control. When their bodies and the unpredictable nature of their cancer and disease dominates their lives and limits possibilities.

They refuse to accept a death sentence– in each other, they see a reason to live. They make it their missions to normalize the journey– to treat each other as any other boy and girl in love. They drink champagne. They spend time together. They revel in each other’s strength and energy. They even make love.

They see each other and reflect that beautiful image back until both of them believe it.

You see the way Gus changes Hazel. It’s truly a sacrificial, star-crossed affair. He succumbs to his body’s limitations– but her health improves and she goes on. She remembers. She treasures him.

Hazel is a heroine I will never forget. I haven’t yet read the book– but now I’m going to have to buy it. A friend recommended it to me a few years ago. I should have followed up back then. John Greene knows what he’s doing with these characters. I can’t wait to read it.

Spoiler alert! I adore that Hazel loves Gus enough to get ANGRY with him– to tell him that it’s arrogant of him to feel that he’s a failure because he hasn’t made some huge “impression” on the world professionally. Because his life matters to HER. Even if everyone else doesn’t love him, SHE does. And he has a responsibility to take care of himself and enjoy his life because she is not budging from his side. Her steadfast optimism is what saves Gus from giving into bitterness.