Give

This fall, I volunteered with an organization whose goal is to empower and unite girls. I entered the term so pumped. I had visions of amazing discussions, close bonds of friendship, and giggling. I also felt like the years I have spent working with children (specifically girls) was ample training for a few hours every Monday.

Of course, I was wrong. It’s been a minute since I was in middle school, so I wasn’t ready for the girls I encountered. The first meeting, my partner and I couldn’t get their attention long enough to even play name games. Fifteen minutes from the end, one girl raised her hand and asked: “So what is this program, exactly?” I realized then that I had way more on my plate than I planned. The weeks that followed, I cried after almost every group and my heart rate was through the roof upon entering the school. Try everything became my motto. More games? More free time? More consequences? More debates? My partner and I were desperate to connect with the girls in a real way.

IMG_0829I wish I could say that we turned out like a pamphlet story: Girls are rough, leaders show them kindness, girls eventually soften, everyone is giving each other verbal affirmations and hugs at the end. However, the story did not pan out that way. But that’s alright! I got to look closely at how hard it is to be a twelve-year-old girl at a low-income school. At some point, I let go of the curriculum because I saw that these girls had so many big points of tension in their life that they had no capacity for truly caring about community action. Could I blame them? No.

I think this lesson is in there somewhere: give something of yourself to people that you know are not going to give back. It may be a little unhealthy emotionally, yes. But if you’re aware of that possibility, it is an amazing way to practice selflessness. The seeds will be planted by your words and actions. I still think about strong women in my life that gave me the gift of just being on my team, no questions asked. They are the heroes that inspired me to volunteer in the first place.

IMG_1498You know what is interesting? After three months of spending time telling girls to get off their phones, keep the conversation relevant, and journal about their ideas instead of writing the names of their boyfriends, I am signed up for another term. You know what is encouraging? A girl who came in during week eight and cried to my partner and I that she didn’t have any friends has signed up again too. I can only hope it’s because she knows she’s got an ally.

I wanted to end this on a lighter note, so here are some of the questions I was asked this term: “What contour kit do you use, Mary Emily?”* “Why aren’t there Meninists too?” “Are you a feminist?” “Will this affect my grade?”*** “Do we have to?” “I’m having a lot of feelings today, can I go out in the hall?”****

*I was not wearing makeup that day.

**We were asked this maybe three times a meeting. They seemed to think feminists were people that yell at you if you want to get married or have children.

***This was an after-school program that was not graded. They seemed to not believe me.

****I let her.

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Trust yourself

Since I graduated college, I have worked seven different jobs. These jobs have ranged from freelance work to slinging espresso in a café. I am hoping that someday when I am fulfilling my purpose through meaningful work (I can dream), I can show my good friend my job collection and say “this is what it took for me to get here.” For now, I’m just quitting my current occupation (again) and organizing my shell collection (again).

Next Thursday is my last day working at Pratt & Larson. I haven’t written about it much, but for the past seven months, I’ve been painting tiles in the polychrome department of a major tile factory.* On paper, it has been the most consistent, hands-on, and art-centric job I have ever had. In reality, it has been the most isolating, dehumanizing, and disheartening job I’ve ever had.

Crazy, right? Anyway, due to health complications** and overall good timing, I finally made the move and put in my notice. I have nothing lined up and I’m waiting for the Holidays to simmer down before entering the “job market” (again). Should I be nervous? Yeah. Am I? Nope. Why?! Pretty much for the first time in my life, I am really listening to my intuition. Translation: I am doing what I want without having to make excuses for myself. That sounds so selfish (trust me, I cringed while writing it) but it is the beautiful truth.

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As someone who was raised in a traditional Christian household, the idea of “trust yourself” seemed like a cardinal sin. I was taught that as a flawed sinner, I needed to trust in the Lord my God and lean not on my own understanding. After having a textbook “Crisis of Faith,” I honestly did not know who or what to trust in and spent the better part of this year bitterly confused. Since I began really searching for God again in October, I have felt empowered by diving more and more into the notion that God is not only in me, but is me. I’m not saying I am the Creator of stars and music (I’m literally envisioning Fantasia), but I am a divine channel of that Creator. Therefore, I need to trust myself.

Now, the idea of “trust yourself” is extremely calming, empowering, and important. Trusting myself is what led me to quit a job that I am immensely unhappy at, told me to start going to church again, caused me to get serious about getting well, made me call my sister, and twisted my arm into getting more intentional about doing things that make me feel alive.

The wonderful thing about trusting oneself is that anybody can do it. Should everybody? I don’t know. Outside counsel is helpful and some people are crazy. However, I feel pretty confident in suggesting you try it out. If you are a seasoned human who is smarter than me, you most likely saying to yourself “maybe try the wise counsel, first.” But if you’re a barely formed adult like myself, hell! Give it a try. Trust yourself. You’ve got the potential of vast intelligence and judgment and the highest vibrations of Spirit in you. Make some decisions!*** Later on in life, we can compare our boxes of old postcards, jobs, boyfriends, and artistic endeavors and talk about how glad we are we learned this lesson together.

*Fun fact! P&L did the tiles in Robert Downey Jr.’s new vacation home! Sad fact. None of them were painted by me.

**Nothing super serious. Long story short, I might be allergic to everything and can’t really eat like a normal person right now and that makes me hungry a lot and have weird energy levels. So cool…not.

***Don’t hold me to their outcome, please and thank you.

Moving is healing

I have Fridays off now. I always thought I could manage a traditional full-time work schedule, but I am learning that I really can’t. What I really crave is flexibility with my time. I want to be able to make scones and tea on a Friday morning and watch the rain fall with my cat. I want to go to yoga or the gym in the middle of the day to boost my mood. And above all, I want human connection to be at the center of my work.  I learned all this and more while running my half marathon on Saturday.

Last week, I ran 13.1 miles across the foothills of the Sisters mountain range in twenty-degree weather. I was undertrained and mentally underprepared. However, I gave myself permission to surprise myself. And I did. I set a new personal record, didn’t get injured, and did not run the whole race alone. In the last few miles, when the pain started to set in, I began throwing around mantras in my mind. I tried Robin Arzon’s classic: I am. Didn’t help. I tried adding something to it: I am strong, beautiful, here. Still no mental relief from my throbbing right calf. I rounded a boulder and it came to me: Moving is healing. I whispered it in rhythm with my stride for maybe a minute before my eyes started glazing over with tears. I realized then that I had been struggling to stay static and I had been impossibly hard on myself. But I wanted all along was movement, because that’s where I thrive. Moving is healing.

I have never been good at being an employee or student, although I enjoy working and studying. I haven’t stuck to training regime ever and I have only recently gotten more disciplined about finishing monthly challenges. My point is, I do best in transition. I have struggled with that part of me for most of my life. It feels good to finally celebrate the fact that I always have new things I’m into, I like being a beginner, I like learning new skills at different jobs, I like not having a plan, I like going new place, and I like moving my body in new ways.

I knew that running my race would be transformative in some way, but it truly left me vulnerable and raw. This whole week, I have felt some amazing things happening inside of me and I have a fresh outlook on my future. I have movement to thank for that and I am eternally grateful.

Thank you for participating in this journey. I started this blog to help document my training for a race that I ended up missing completely and share my search for a sense of faith that I continued to lose.

Currently: not running

I was out with my friend Kammie the other night and I mentioned this blog and she said “Oh, I haven’t read it because I’m not a runner.” I felt a little surprised and then I realized, I need to make running more relatable to other parts of life! Or maybe I need to write less about running? Anyway, if you are here and you are not a runner, welcome.  Thanks for making it this far. I promise my posts are not always completely about running. I also promise that most of them are one hundred percent nonsensical and unedited thoughts.

As of when I am sitting down to write this, I haven’t run in two weeks. Two weeks! That is the longest break I have taken in a long time. I felt a little niggle in my knee about a month ago. I thought it would go away, but it persisted. I kind of trapped myself into having to take time off and, let me tell you, not running has provided me with more challenges than I thought.

The first challenge I expected: mental breakdown. I know that sounds so dramatic (even for me), but the mental game that goes into running step after step is supremely difficult. The reward of endorphins and catharsis is worth it. However, when that rush was stripped away, I felt anxious. I felt restless and unfocused in all of my other practices. I stopped wanting to write. I stopped trying to meditate. I became helpless and a little hopeless. That story is probably not news to you and it certainly wasn’t to me.

The second thing I have experienced: an identity crisis. I have found myself challenging my identity as a strong and healthy person. Remember when I finally was at peace with calling myself a “runner?” When I had to stop running, I asked so many questions about who I was:

If I’m not running, who am I? If running is where my power, individuality, strength, health, etc. lies, then what happens when running is stripped away. Do I become a powerless, nameless, weak, unhealthy woman? I openly talk about running, does this make me an imposter without it? Have I been faking it the whole time? Am I letting myself get too wrapped up in running? Will I be injured forever? Should I just decide to quit?

I harbored all of those thoughts (and more) in my mind for over a week without knowing they were there. When they came to the surface, I was ashamed. I was ashamed for thinking thoughts that seemed so silly and I was ashamed at letting myself get so stressed out about something so privileged and trivial as running. I spent the better part of yesterday working out what fighting that shame looks like.

 I have found that, for me, the best opponent to that shame is play. Someone who is playful is not concerned about always fulfilling expectations. Playfulness lets plans be malleable and identities be fluid. Playfulness looks at not running and says “Oh bummer, I can’t run! What new thing do I get to try?” Play is so full of joy, hope, and lightness. It seems like when I am choosing to be playful with my plans, nothing can get me down.

As of when I get post this and leave, I am going on my first run in two weeks. My knee is feeling a little better and I am chomping at the bit to get back on the trails. However, I am approaching the whole thing with a playful spirit. If I can’t run the whole distance, I’ll walk. If I need to stop early, I’ll do it. If I get to the trailhead and don’t feel good about the whole thing, I’ll skip it altogether. I am a powerful, individual, strong, and healthy person without it. And so are you! Whatever that “one thing” that’s yours is, let it go for a while. Abandon your practices and see what playfulness comes out in your life. There might be a few moment of darkness, but there will also be lightness and healing.

for the joy of it.

It has been a hectic two months. So hectic, that I didn’t realize it had been two months until I checked when the last time I blogged was. Sheesh.

Last weekend was a big first for me. You know that race I mentioned in my first post? Well, I missed it. I mean, I didn’t sleep in or get sick or anything. In fact, I was incredibly prepared and pumped. I just went to the race a day late! David and I pulled into McIver Park’s parking lot last Sunday expecting a plethora of runners and weird, too-loud music. Instead, there were two people taking a leisurely Sunday morning stroll in the rain. I was so crushed.

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We both spent the next hour upset and trying to process how this happened and what to do next. “You want to race next weekend?” David asked. I looked up prospective races, but it didn’t feel right. I kept thinking “Today was supposed to be it. The milestone.” To be honest, I was being a little drama queen in my head. But the race felt like it was supposed to be special. In fact, the race was supposed to be something special, but I was looking at it all wrong. After the disappointing morning, my friend Jen (who visited from Chattanooga!), David, and I went on a cold adventure to salvage the rest of the day. I guess Oregon rain and large waterfalls tend to get my mind back where it needs to be, because everything in my head and heart was at rest by the end of the hike.

Somewhere between the raindrops, I:

  1. Realized something supremely important that (of course) I had learned before but never seen illustrated so clearly.
  2. Asked myself a supremely important question.

IMG_41491. There is a cliché about the journey being more important than the destination that honestly causes me to involuntarily roll my eyes. But when multiple people consoled me through sweet text messages and comments (I forgot to mention: social media was definitely involved in this humiliating experience) saying that I had “done the work” and already had something to be proud of,  that cliché rang true. As I have mentioned before, I love to run and that is a new experience for me. Something about this race was going to solidify that in my mind. For instance, if I raced well and had a good time to show for it, this new way of living would really begin. That is equal parts ridiculous and understandable. Racing is so satisfying and needed to keep fueling that competitive nature that resides inside of me. However, racing doesn’t mean a thing. Missing my race made me look back on the time I’ve spent training and be proud of that instead of a personal record. And man, I am so proud.

2. The “supremely important” question I asked myself was “Why do you run?” I am not an extremely competitive creature. I don’t run to win races. I do run to beat the clock, feel alive, reduce stress, etc. However, I learned near the end of my training that running is only a purely positive force in my life if I am first and foremost running for the joy of it. That outlook has crept into my other hobbies and passions and jobs and all of a sudden, my whole world is transforming. The only way I could make it through the last few miles of long runs was to remember that. The only way I could go for a run this week (I am not going to lie, I was tired and still disappointed) was to remember that.

What’s the moral of the story? First, don’t let yourself go two months without blogging. Because your skills get rusty. But also, the journey is more importan-just kidding! I think I would definitely say, be proud of hard work even if the “end result” is less than satisfactory. Hard work is well, hard and I respect the cuss out of people who are disciplined enough to try something new. Finally, find something to do just for the joy of it. Better yet, rework joy into the heart of something you’re already doing. I promise you it will only do you good.