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!!

My First 5K!! No Looking Back

I ran a 5k this morning. The 4th Annual Theresa Lang 5K, in my hometown of Joliet, IL.

I got to say that today! My first ever. I chose this one because I was friends with the woman honored in this race– it only makes sense that her event be my first.

I felt her spirit with us when I saw a young girl in the parking lot, a volunteer, totally jazzed with energy. She was yelling and dancing and positively HOPPING with joy. She just exuded fun. That’s how Theresa was, and why she is still mourned deeply by myriad people. That jubilant spirit is why she is worthy of this event.

FIrst, it is so wonderful to wake up early, run, and then go on with my day. Like it’s just part of my routine!!

My biggest fear had been that I would tragically sleep through the race entirely. But I made it!! I started with everyone.

Second, my experience was made so much better because my close friend Jennifer signed up to support me– so I wouldn’t have to run my first race alone. She’s invited me to other 5k’s this year, coming up soon. I think it’s so cool that this is a part of our friendship– something we have in common and can do together! Plus, it’s healthy.

This was only her third 5k, so we’re both beginners. And though she can run faster than me, she never left me behind. She stayed within 5 feet and slowed down if I was really struggling. She’d ask me if I wanted to walk or run. She was very accepting of my ability, which was such a gift. My original goal had been to run the whole thing, but I didn’t. However, I’m still proud!! I finished. And I wasn’t last!

Just having someone there with me made the race so much more meaningful.

I heard there were 140 runners signed up– online, it says that I finished in 42:18, 96th place. I’ll take that!!! And though a 5K is supposed to be 3.1 miles, somehow my Nike Running app calculated us at 3.42 miles? I’m not complaining!

When it started I was pretty intimidated– it seemed like most of the runners passed me up right away. But I took the advice of Jen, who told me to just run steady, that we’d end up passing a good amount of them who would be walking and etc.  And she was never annoyed when I had to slow down. But she would also encourage me to go faster.

When I had to walk or was losing motivation, I told myself I wasn’t allowed to look behind me. It didnt’ matter who was back there– it only mattered that I keep going!!

She also tried something out of her comfort zone– for the first time, she ran without music. She wanted to get the full experience of the other runners. I didn’t have music either.

And considering that I ran late last night and didnt’ get enough sleep, I think I performed extremely well. Lesson learned for the future: NO RUNNING the night before a race!!

I’ll continue running 5K’s, and I will continue to grow in ability and endurance.

Running is a skill and a passion for me.

Today is such a milestone!!

Probably the best was taking a few pictures after the race, with Jen and I, one of me alone with my arms in the air– holding that gloriously cold bottle of ice water. And one of me near the “Start” sign.

Theresa Lang’s 5K today marked the beginning of my official running life.

I’ve already got my eye on another next month!!

On All Souls’ Day

Today is All Souls’ Day….

I didn’t make it to Mass.

But I will honor it with a blog post.

I send up a prayer to those in my life who have passed on and crossed to other side to be with Him, in Eternal Rest.

I lost a lot of important people in my family when I was young– and consequently, I carry a bit of sadness with me. I have wonderful days where I feel the full grace of God’s love in my life and I couldn’t be happier– but that’s also tempered by a feeling of loss that never quite abides. However, I think it’s made me a better person.

Because of those losses, I am so much more appreciative of what I do have. Of the people in my life who have blessed me.

I think it’s made me a much more empathic person– because I understand how grief can shape your character and also cause you to feel angry for a long time until you learn to see the beauty even in the darkness. It forces you to grow up faster. And it gives you a serious personality, even as a young child. A lot of people would characterize me as extroverted and friendly– and I am. And the joy that I exude at those times is genuine. But I’m also very intuitive about the sadness in others, which is sometimes a gift and sometimes feels like a burden. I feel what they feel, and sometimes wish I was less aware of these feelings in others. But when someone confides in me, I feel honored. I’m not the person that’s angry you called me at 3 a.m.– I’m the person who just asks what’s wrong and what I can do to help. If you need to be picked up, I’ll be there. Or I’ll just listen or give you a hug, or whatever I can do.

Sometimes it’s weird– I still have to draw boundaries about it. You don’t want to put yourself in danger, physically or emotionally, and you need to be aware that some people use a front of vulnerability to evoke pity in order to take advantage. I’ve become savvier over the years about sensing this facade. I’ve learned to know when I can give my time, and to whom– while also taking care of myself and my own physical and emotional boundaries.

I have been naive, and I have suffered for that as well.

But I’d rather have a heart that’s too big than one that’s too small.

I also feel that these losses early in my life have been a blessing in disguise. I feel as if I have a team of Guardian Angels, looking out for me. I feel that they protect me constantly. No matter how much someone wants to argue with me about God and the “facts” of faith, I have daily, hourly evidence in my life of God’s grace and the power of prayer.

Sometimes I wish I could just dismiss my faith– it would make my life simpler. My conscience smaller. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to intellectualize everything.

But at the core of my being, I feel that I am deeply loved by Him– and that I owe it in return to extend that love to others.

I struggle with that, of course. But it’s a choice that I make whenever possible. And as I age, I make better decisions.

So thank you Lord, my dear Father, for all those in my life who have influenced me– positively or negatively.

They all have something to teach. They all did the best they could. They all are human, both saint and sinner.

Amazing Grace (Underneath My Seat)

As I unloaded my laundry from my car just now, I spied something teal peeking out from underneath the passenger seat.

And I had to laugh when I saw it, because it was a journal I had thought I lost. Last summer!

I remembered going to eat alone at my favorite local diner. But I couldn’t remember leaving with it– I even asked the server and cashier if they had seen it? I thought another patron must have found it and was enjoying my journal (it was blank.)

But just now, there it is– wedged underneath my car seat.

The most notable thing about this incident is that the journal itself is religiously themed– called “Amazing Grace.” It also says, above it, “my stories, my faith, my life.”

I remember feeling particularly disappointed to have “lost,” this journal. It has inspirational quotes on every page, with Bible verses sprinkled liberally as well. I thought it was gone, and I forgot about it.

But all along, it was just hidden–and God was waiting for a better time to show it to me.

This is why I entrust my life to God.

He throws the best plot twists! My life is more exciting than anything I could write, because God is writing the story of my life. All I have to do is keep turning the pages, and enjoy the story.

I think our faith is a lot like this journal. There are times when we doubt ourselves– and may even doubt God.

But He is always there, whether we see Him or not. He is patient. And when we least expect it, our faith blazes again and shows us just what we need– just when we need to see it.

Opening the journal, I found a verse I think is perfect:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me– watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Matthew 11: 28-29 MSG

A Groundskeeper, Holy Communion, and a Hug

Today I have a great story.

I went to Father Ray’s home to pick up the hosts, but no one answered. Usually he holds Mass at his home on weekdays– I haven’t been yet, except last week when I got there by the end to pick up the hosts.

I was disappointed– I thought I would have to call and cancel again. I didn’t want to let this woman down.

But a man who appeared to be some sort of groundskeeper saw me standing outside the house.

“You lookin’ for Father Ray?”

I told him that yes, I am. I explained.

He said he had keys and could let me in to get the hosts for me.

At first I wondered if it that was all right– I thought only priests could do that!

But he was very confident about this offer, so I took it as a sign it must be all right.

The man let me into the church,  and went straight to the Tabernackle.

He opened it up, and offered me the chalice (is that the right word?) full of hosts.

In that moment, I couldn’t believe that I was about to touch the Eucharist, directly in the Tabernackle.

I’ve been a Eucharistic minister before– but always under the usual circumstances at Mass. To be there, reaching to gather two hosts on my own, felt entirely sacred on a new level.

Gingerly, I took two from the cup, and deposited them into my pix for safekeeping.

This is what a pix looks like, along with the two books I bring with me each time to perform the rite:

Continue reading

Heart of Mary (for 99 cents!)

The Heart of Mary now beats in my car.

I found a cheap necklace today for 99 cents– and knew I needed to buy it. I don’t care that it’s not real gold– it’s the symbolism.

I feel protected so often while I’m driving. I’ve been pulled over but not ticketed many times. (Not because I flirt my way out of it!)  I’ve avoided near-accidents in ways that only can be explained by a feeling of grace. I must have a whole team of Guardian Angels.

I took down the stupid unicorn air freshener and necklace I previously had hanging in my car. Rosaries are too long and clunky, since I’ve tried those before. This necklace is just the right length, and it won’t get in the way of anything.

On Oct. 3, I prayed my first Rosary. I know, it seems ridiculous that I’m almost 32 and have never done one before. But although my entire family on both sides (and my step-mother’s side!) is Catholic, they are not punitive type who threatened I would be damned if I didn’t compulsively pray. I felt that praying a Rosary was intimidating, so I never tried it.

But I decided to try it in honor of my Aunt Mary Jane, a Catholic nun for 59 years. On the second anniversary of her death, I wanted to feel close to her. I used to call her whenever I wanted to talk about Catholicism, God, or matters of faith. She sent me icon cards my entire life, braided palms with me on Easter, and gently encouraged me to keep going to Mass. But she never shamed me when I felt distant from the church– and that’s why I was able to come back to it as an adult. Her faith was so strong, she knew I’d find my way home without pressure.

So I put on a black dress, with a broach of hers I’d chosen after her death. I wore the golden cross she had given me.

I went to a local church that’s kept open all day for Adoration. I brought one of my rosaries (I have several) , and I picked up a simple pamphlet there– on the basic steps of how to pray the Rosary.

And I did my best to begin.

I was alone in the church, and felt safe and peaceful.

Soon, I was crying. The rhythm of whispering the Hail Marys was healing, and it was more cathartic than anything else I’ve tried.

It’ll take practice. I don’t think I did it all right, it’s a lot to learn. But it’s something I plan to try again and I want it to become part of my routine. I’m inviting the Blessed Mother into my heart, and already I feel better.

So now I gave her a home in my car as well, and I feel closer to my aunt by doing so.

The Magical Headband and Guadalajara

You already know I have a “Happy Hat.”

Now, I have a Magical Headband!

I bought it on a whim from Charmin’ Charlies’, in the Joliet mall.

Every time I wear it, I get so many compliments. Just putting it on, I’m in a better mood.

Lately, I’m wearing it almost every day. I’ve had it a few months now, I’d say.

It’s quintessentially Amee! Orange, and cheerful. It’s got a flower on the side, it looks like it’s blooming four different layers of that fiery hue. There’s a cluster of white “stamens” in the middle– it’s simple and pretty.

It picks up the hint of red in my hair, and makes it a warmer brunette. Without it, my hair looks messy and boyish. Bulky. Add the Magical Headband and, viola! Balance is achieved by adding femininity and reducing the bulk of my awkward layers.

Tonight, I ate dinner alone at the same place I often go. I ordered the my routine meal.  I was feeling a bit lonely, and someone spoke to me.

I was sitting solo at a booth by the window, and an older woman in the booth in front of mine made eye contact as she was getting up to leave.

She had a soft accent that I couldn’t place. I could mostly understand her.

“That’s a beautiful flower,” she said, with such a sincere smile. I couldn’t help smiling in return.

“Thank you,” I said. “Orange is my favorite color. I like that blue shirt you’re wearing!”

She had some flair as well– dangly silver earrings, a long necklace. Her hair salt n’ pepper. Her smile bloomed.

I’m often unsure if I should ask where someone with an accent is from, but she seemed so kind. I knew it would be okay.

“Mexico,” she said softly. “You ever been to my country?”

I told her no, but that my best friend  is on vacation there, right now. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I was thinking of her earlier.

She told me she’s from Guadalajara, and I told her I’ve never been there. Or anywhere else out of the country.

I tried mentioning Aguascalientes, the city where my best friend is now visiting. Her grandmother lives there. The woman couldn’t understand me, so I wrote it on the paper place mat. She nodded,  happy I knew someone who had been to Mexico, even if not Guadalajara.

I asked her, “What’s your name?”

It sounded like “Louise,” but that wasn’t right.  So she wrote it on the place mat.

“Lusita.”

“Amee,” I wrote.

I asked her, “Do you ever get to go home?”

“Every year,” she said. She stays for a month!

I told her that sometime, I hope to go to Guadalajara, and many other places. I thanked her for saying hello. She reached out and patted my hand, I patted hers. She made her way to the register, to pay her bill.

Lusita was alone, too. She was happy, and she spread joy to me.

Thanks to my Magical Headband!

Moments like these, God is with me. Moments like these, I feel grace.