Free Hugs and The Art of Burning Like Fabulous Yellow Roman Candles

I’ve always been enamored by idealists, the dreamers. The mind-speakers. The norm challengers and status-quo re-writers. The people of second and 99th chances. The ones who stomp in puddles and sing in the rain while everyone else is inside dry, … Continue reading

How I Spent The Holidays, 2012 Edition. ((aka Sex Ed with my Parents at Christmas Dinner, Sending a Message in a Bottle, and Creating Other Memories I Will Never, Ever Forget.))

The past ten days or so have been a total blur. I’m exhausted, elated, haven’t showered in three days, and for the life of me, can’t seem to remember what day it is and I’d have it no other way.

Something beautiful happened these holidays. Some of it, out of the ordinary. The rest of it, just simple moments treasured a little bit tighter and with a little more gratitude.

There was eating large handfuls of cookie dough, not worrying at all about the possibility of salmonella or the fact that we hadn’t eaten one vegetable that day.
There was a visit to The Peace House,where I was once again reminded that peace truly does exist in this world and all we need to do is create it. 

There was the pilgrimage to my parents house via Route 1 in which I sang along with Cat Stevens to “Peace Train” at the top of my lungs while simultaneously taking pictures of open fields and farms with one hand while driving with the other.

I watched Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” Graceland documentary with my dad as we mused in gratitude at music’s ability to bring together two disparate cultures, calling attention to peace, friendship, and unity in the midst of apartheid’s evil. We sang along to the fast high-pitched choirs of The Gaza Sisters chanting, “I know what I know; I’ll sing what I said…”

I took long walks with old friends.

I talked on the phone for an hour with a dear friend about our goals for 2013 and dreamed something bigger.

I taught my 28 year old sister with Down Syndrome how to use a plunger after someone in the family—-no one will fess up as to who— clogged the toilet. “Smells like poop!” my sister observed. “Yes, but not for long!” I reminded, shoving the plunger deeper into the toilet.

I got yelled at by my dad and sister for still being asleep at 9:30 AM Christmas morning. When I didn’t then promptly rise out of bed one minute after the yelling ended, my sister came in my room, turned on all the lights and jumped on my bed. And I deserved it.

I signed up for my first half Ironman in Boulder, Colorado, August 4, 2013 and went on my first training run: a cold, slow, 2.5 miles spent envisioning months of grit-your-teeth workouts with surges of endorphins, reminding me I am alive and have breath and a body.

I asked my parents “inappropriate” questions during Christmas dinner. “What was sex ed like for you when you were in high school?” After some confused looks from my aunt and mom’s faces, I realize the more appropriate question would have been, “Did you have sex ed?” to which I would learn, “No.” My brother blurted out that the only thing he remembers from high school health class was that his health teacher showed “a 70 year old man’s dong” and was told that, “at this man’s age, his thing will still work. But hers— her’s won’t.” I haven’t heard my mom laugh that hard in years.

My family and I watched The Christmas Story on Broadway the next day, thanks to my dad. My sister ate a foot-long hot dog, to which a 10 year old girl wandering around the restaurant pointed, and exclaimed, “That’s a big hot dog!!”

I spoke out about my feelings of seeing skimpy Aerie model’s plastered on illuminated billboards in Times Square, posing in nothing but a bra and underwear and indignantly stated that this contributes to the continued portrayal of women in hyper-sexualized, objectified, imagery.  I vowed to call it out when I see it and to not look the other way when the world represents my gender with stereotypes that do nothing but perpetuate the association of women as sexual objects instead of strong, competent people, imbued to make part of my life mission be to encourage women to celebrate the alternatives of these messages to discover the unlimited possibilities of who they can be with their lives, minds, and souls. (For more on this topic, see “Why it Matters Whether A Toy is Thin and Sexy or Not.”)

I sipped peppermint mocha with a mentor and walked away inspired, grateful, ready to make changes, and considered myself lucky to have such an influence in my life.

I biked down 34th St., Baltimore’s premier street for the best Christmas lights in town, with 500 people on bicycles during December’s Baltimore Bike Party. Stuck behind cars full of kids sticking their heads out windows, oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over Christmas lights, I sang along with some bikers who played “Tiny Dancer” from the back of their pimped-out bicycle. “Blue jean baby, LA lady…” we sang, gazing upward at white Christmas lights strung across the street, connecting neighbor to neighbor (and apparently biker to biker).

I went to the BBP’s dance party afterwards at the Pratt St. Ale House and made new friends. I celebrated a recent friend’s invitation to a “small group for people who are sick of small groups,” as she described a group of friends who are reading a Quaker book right now and finding ways to grow in their faith outside of organized religion. I almost got teary eyed. These are some of the very people I’ve been waiting to meet. I just didn’t know how to find them.

I ate lots of chocolate, especially at unusual times, like breakfast, without feeling one hint of guilt.

I had multiple sleepovers with soul-to-soul conversations, staying up entirely way too late every single night and I didn’t care.

I came up with three book ideas and glanced heaven-ward, asking God for just one to come out of my mind and onto matte paper.

I went on a New Year’s Eve late afternoon hike with my boyfriend and chiseled out pieces of ice encrusted on the water bank’s edges. We smashed them against the frozen stream, each time shouting out a regret of the past year or a promise to ourselves for the new year. “I’ll find a new job I love!” I exclaimed, smashing ice against ice. “This is for every time I people-pleased this year!” Smash. “This is for having a sense of humor next year!” It was free therapy, like whack-a-mole at the board walk, or popping mailing bubblewrap, only slightly more aggressive and freeing.

We said, “Why not?” to stopping by a small group of people gathered in front of the War Memorial on our way home. We dashed to the steps, where about 25 people gathered for an inter-faith prayer vigil to honor the lives of the city’s 216 homicide victims this year. Muslim and Christian pastors offered prayers and together, reading aloud the names and ages of each victim. The names of several one-month-olds were called and each time this happened, the woman next to me and I both gasped. We put our arms around each other tightly for the remainder of the vigil while tears rolled down my cheeks and snot dripped onto my scarf from my frozen nose. When the names were finished being read, tealight candles forming the number “216” were lit and Brian and I thanked the people who spoke, especially Michael, the Muslim man who used his words to express the need for people of differing faiths to come together in the name of peace and our God of Love to work together to end violence. He gave me his email address. Looking Brian and I in the eye, he sincerely invited us to sit down over coffee. I can’t wait to email him and get to know someone who worships Allah, the same God, I believe, that I worship, just with a different name. We walked back to the car, moved, calmed, and in awe of the beauty that still exists in the midst of darkness.

Moving into the latter part of the night, we gathered together eating meatballs and cookies and lots of guacamole around a table of six friends. My friend Rajni and I brought up the topic of our 2013 bucklist. “Bucketlist?” our friend Sam asked. “Yeah. It’s like a list of things that we want to do with our life, only we’re going to do them by December 31, 2013.” “But bucketlist implies you’re going to die at the end of the next year. Is that what you really want to call it?” “Ok, so not a bucketlist.” “An…. action list?” Yes. An action list. So we went around the table, each sharing tokens of our newly-created 2013 Action Lists. “Visit an Indian reservation,” Rajni shared. “Develop my sense of humor and stop taking life so seriously,” I offered. “Run a 3 hour marathon,” Sam declared. “Grow an urban vegetable garden,” Brian stated. We toasted to each of these dreams, played “2012” one last time while still in the same year, and left the house for New Year’s Eve fireworks at the harbor.
We ooh-ed and aaahh-ed over each burst and slow fizzle of dissipating firework in the cold nighttime sky, celebrating each and every one until the last firework of the grand finale. “Encore, encore!” We pleaded. Shrugging it off, we decided our night had only just begun. The six of us rolled, somersaulted, and crab-walked down Federal Hill Park until we were so dizzy that we fell down when we stood up. We walked along the harbor promenade and finished off a bottle of wine on the dock, deciding to send a message in the bottle off into the cold harbor waters. So we each wrote a token of kindness, like “live love,” and “This is your sign! Follow your dreams!” while singing The Police’s “Message in Bottle” and signed it: January 1st, 2013 Baltimore, MD and video-recorded the ceremonious toss of the bottle into the harbor. We walked away from the pier while one member of our group (I’ll protect their anonymity) peed on The Ritz Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton residences at the inner harbor are lavish condominium homes to the rich. Very rich. I applauded this person for his work, deeming it a big, “f*ck you” you to the rich. I realize we should love all people. I swear I try. But I just wonder where these people, with their Ferraris in the garage and high rise condo overlooking the harbor, were, when those 216 homicides took place this year and if they ever bothered to listen to the story of someone who knows the reality of life on the streets.

Proceeding onward, we walked right into the send-off a wedding. People in dresses and tuxes lined in a row with sparklers pointed in the air cheered on a bride and groom hopping into an old-school black carriage-like car. We stood near the line in our jeans and winter coats cheering on the bride and groom, as if we fit right in and had been at the wedding the whole time, whooping and hollering and celebrating along with a bunch of strangers at the dawn of a new year.

We meandered closer toward our destination, as if to hope that walking slower would make time slow down too, and stopped at the sand volleyball courts, where we made sand castles and wrote “love” in the sand with fingers in mittens. Sean, arguably the most social of the group, asked a guy dosing off in a parked truck to come out and take our picture. So we jumped in the air and the camera flashed and we said a big “thank you” and “happy new year” to a kind, tired stranger, desperately trying to prevent the final grains of sand from slipping to the bottom of this night’s hourglass.

As we headed back home, Brian hopped on my shoulders unexpectedly for a piggy back ride, and a group of young women cheered us on saying, “You go woman. I know, that’s right.” I couldn’t help but smile (and pray my knees would hold up just another block longer) and wish for the night to slow down. We spent the rest of our stroll linked arm-in-arm as a group, protesting adulthood, swearing it off entirely, proudly proclaiming we’ll live forever young. We wished every single passer-by on the street a “Happy New Year!” and it’s as though for one night, the entire world was civil and kind, like amiable old friends.

Rajni slept over and we stayed up chatting until sometime after 3:30 AM, excited about life, pondering adulthood, and how to live out our dreams and nullify normalcy and regularity, trading it in instead for life and vibrancy and contraire adventures. I climbed into bed and whispered into the atmosphere a “thank you” to God, bidding him/her goodnight, grateful for every stupid, beautiful, outrageously alive memory newly stamped in my mind and fell fast asleep.

I share these memories because I don’t want to forget them—the constant laughter, the friendship. I share them to etch every detail into a place I can come back to so that I can remind myself one day of what 25 felt like. I’m sure you have those memories too. Those times in life where you didn’t have a camera to capture every laugh, or a piece of paper to jot down every funny quote someone said that night, but still, you remember these moments. And I wonder what it would look like if we shared these memories to each other, to the world. And how much more beautiful this place would be. And how you would inspire me. And perhaps I would inspire you. And together, each human would inspire every other human. I wonder what would happen if instead of feeling pressure to adhere to societal definitions of “success,” we created our own anti-conformity and raised our hands in the air or sang or danced or cartwheeled or rolled down hills and rejected all that we’ve been taught for instead, what we feel, what makes us truly come alive, what makes us experience the beauty and wonder of life in all of its fullness. Because it’s possible. It’s happening already. We’ve only just begun. 

January First.

1/1/13.

Let’s see each other 12/31/13 and share deep belly laughs or shed a few bittersweet tears together as we talk about where this year has taken us and how we traded in fear for fearlessness.

Yes.
I can’t wait to see what we do with the year.

Because there’s 364 days left. And it’s all uncharted…

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The Journey, Not the Destination.

Photo credit for each picture in this post: Kim Meagher

This gallery contains 4 photos.

September 23, 2012: I’ve often heard it said that it’s about the journey, not the destination, that counts. I’ve also heard that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step (or in this case, pedal). Keeping the two … Continue reading

“Figuring Out God’s Will For Your Life,” Revisited.

A reoccurring trap I find myself getting stuck in during this life stage is continuing to act with the same anxiety-ridden prayers and ways of relating to the God I was presented with from some Evangelical circles. The prayers where He needs to tell me exactly what to do, please, because I have to make a decision and it HAS to be the ONE decision He wants for me and I need to make that decision soon, now, because I can’t get it wrong! Afterall, I most certainly can’t spend another day doing something that isn’t your will, Lord!…

I think we do a disservice to both ourselves and to God when we continue praying to THAT God… the God who has prescribed a specific set of instructions for your life- and if you don’t follow them, in order, then clearly you’re not following His will and aren’t living out of His/Her “specific” will for your life.

Is that what God wants for us?
I mean, where do we draw the line?

Do we ask what “God’s will is” for our breakfast choices? Lord, show me if I should eat cereal or eggs for breakfast this morning. Help me, Lord, I need to know!

Is it “God’s will” for you to stay or to go or to move or to switch jobs or to leave the country or…

…I can hear those questions now. They roll around in my brain often (the jobs part, especially, not so much the eggs. I’m more of an oatmeal-on-the-run kind of girl).

But I’m done. To those thoughts and harried, twisted, fretful prayers, I bid you farewell.

You say we need faith like a child?
Well, then start simplifying, Child of God.

God has created each of our lives to have meaning, purpose and significance and S/He gives us gifts to show the world more and more of who She is. I just wonder if God is not so concerned with us “getting His will perfectly right;” rather, that we are finding Him along the journey in which He is walking with you. Beside you. Next to you. Embracing you. Encouraging you, present with you in this season, every season, every decision. Perhaps He’s not disappointed when we go left or when we turn right, U-turn or keep the same path, walk or run, or at our weakest moments, crawl. Yes maybe it truly is about the journey, not the destination. The process of becoming, rather than doing the “specific will.” I’m beginning to think all that He just wants you to know is that in life, there will be some goings and some comings, some dark valleys and some unsullied joy, some mess and some yes, some no-s and some grow, and that somewhere along the way, this journey, no matter how traversed, circuitous, or wild goose chase it’s been so far, he will certainly “lead you beside still waters” and refresh your soul.

And so tonight, as I catch myself praying one of those fretful prayers for the umpteenth time, I will stop. Look up. And remember that the God who has gotten us this far, can surely lead us to the next step. I will stop focusing on the destination and find solace in knowing that we will get there, someday, wherever “there” is, anyway. But what’s most important is the journey He’s taking us through, as we seek His face in the glory of the mountains and trees, seek His love in desert, and seek His heart in the times of uncertainty.

Yes, we’ve got a good Maker. And while we seek Him and take a look at where we are and how we’re doing, S/He’ll be making you, be making me.

For more thoughts on “God’s will for your life,” check out this talk by Donald Miller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggLQwxS-rcI

“If you have a donkey and it talks to you, God has a specific plan to your life. If you are a virgin and pregnant, God has a specific plan for your life… other than that, you kinda get to do what you want… You get to be really creative. The people who understand this CHANGE THE WORLD- the people who understand that me and God get to do something really cool out of the creativity of my imagination and the desire of my heart; they get their entire passion. But the people who say, “I’m so afraid that I’m not honoring God!”- they don’t do anything.”

I’m trading in my box. (A reflection on letters, hula hoops, and being the person God has created you to be.)

I received a letter in the mail today from a well-intentioned soul encouraging me to buckle down, get married and “procreate” (their words, not mine). I don’t think it’s prudent for me to share who the letter was from, but it was someone from whom I love receiving hand-written notes. I held the lined yellow paper closer to my face, but cautiously further from my heart, and continued to read. “Please stop and think outside the box.” “You should reproduce yourselves in children…” “You can help the world by producing several more children.” Warm tears made rivulets down my face. A deep cry ensued. Not a weepy cry, but a hemorrhaging cry from somewhere deep inside you that knows you will not be tamed, not succumb to the expectations of others, will grit your teeth and persevere to become the person God created you to be, no matter how hard the growing pains it will take to get there.

I continued to read words from pages to which I could find no visceral attachment. “You are in your best childbearing years. Please don’t waste them… You’ve always gone to our Father in Heaven for guidance, so open the door to your heart and let the light shine…”

I continued to cry. I mourned the loss of, apparently, young adulthood, because all of a sudden someone’s talking to me about creating life. A very adult thing to do.

I cried because I think God has called us to serve the least of these. And what I believe that looks like for me is not having a family right now. And if I do one day, I wish to adopt.

I cried because I heard from many influences how “good” it is for women to be Mom-my and wife-y. I haven’t heard as many say to go chase after the thing that gets your blood moving, that gets oxygen to your brain, that says to be contraire, to go another way, to try, to risk failure, to travel, to live with wreckless abandon the story you wish to co-author with God, not the life that someone else has scripted and wished-up for you. No. I’ve heard plenty of voices remind me to multiply and fill the Earth, to be pro-family, but not as many voices remind me that we are already family. One day last summer, I met a gentleman at a volunteer event whom I will never forget. In conversation, he mentioned his wife. I asked if they had kids (mostly because I had moved back to Baltimore and was looking for more friends). He responded, “No; we didn’t wish to have any kids. We wanted to have more time available to serve God in other capacities.” I was amazed. Why did his story seem so shocking? Have we such narrow-minded a view to think we can’t be a family without having children?

Pent up energy, passion, righteous anger, and tears continued outpouring out of my soul. But of all that I was crying about, I cried most of all because I was being encouraged to do something that God has not called me to do.

The biggest disservice we can do is to take someone away from God’s calling on their life simply because you think you know what their calling is or should be. God is wayyy more original and bigger than that.

God may very well call you to family. You may be impassioned to create and raise children in the home. You may be equipped to be a president, a CEO, a full time employee serving God with your forty (or fifty or sixty) hours a week. We, especially women, need to get past this and link up. We don’t have time to tear each other down with who is “doing it better,” “doing it right,” or “doing it wrong.” We only have time to encourage each other to be the best person we can be– the best teacher or doctor or pastor or construction worker and/or Mom we can be. We only have time to respect one another’s decisions and simply observe such choices as that person’s way of following through with what God has placed on their heart. Enough with the comparisons, the critiques, the should’s and the should nots.

You see, the problem with boxes is that they’re secluded. You pack things in boxes. You tape them shut. You store up old papers and things you don’t really need inside of them. They’re not permeable. What was that song we used to sing when we were kids? A circle is round and has no end? I say, let’s trade in our insipid boxes and jump in the circle of global sisterhood that affirms and encourages your other sister no matter how similar or different your lives look. Better yet, let’s not stop there. We live on a circle called Earth. All seven billion of us. It’s time we leave our boxes by the curb for recycling and become the men and women, sisters and brothers we were meant to be, doing our best everyday to create Heaven on Earth, no masks, no masking tape, no boxes, just all of us, anyone who wants it, inter-connected inside of one big, brilliant, beautiful, never-ending hula-hoop circle of love.

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You Don’t Have to Raise Your Hand Anymore.

Sometimes I still get caught waiting… waiting for permission.

I’m not sure where along the way I developed the notion that you had to ask for permission to voice your opinion, to share your hurts, to offer another viewpoint, to experience different churches, to try different ministries and ways of serving, to find God in ways other than the Bible.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than the “nice-girl-syndrome” that both the church and society often place upon females, being subtly taught to smile, always smile, be polite, share all of your toys, be nice…

But I don’t want to be a “nice girl” anymore.

No. I’m discovering that we were meant to be courageous, be brave, contrarian, strong, and bold… to be women of peace but not passivity, to be women and men of kindness, but not doormats. To be loving, but remembering that the command was to “love God as you love yourself.”

I truly believe that l, and many women and girls too, today, are acting like we are raising our hands, properly seated at our desks, feet crossed around the ankles, waiting to be called upon. Just yearning for one person to call on us, to let us speak, to let us try. I’m absolutely terrified and yet at the same time completely ecstatic to remind that you don’t have to raise your hand anymore. You don’t need permission, because dear Child, in Christ, you are already free. You already have permission. And not only do you have permission, but you actually have a responsibility. To speak out against injustice. To make the church more just and equitable, no matter the gender or sexual orientation. To try. To mess up. To get it wrong. To receive grace and open arms, ready to welcome you in as you spread your wings.
So use that voice. Lift up that head. Turn your whisper into ebullient communion. Yes, step out; You don’t become bold and strong and brave by sitting in your seat. No, that’s not for you.

It’s scary, I know, stepping out onto the edge. None of us can hit fast-forward and watch the scenes unfold in our lives to make sure that we’re not just telling ourselves nice things for a moment of comfort, condolences for lost time, but really… deep within my core… I really believe it. I believe we are rising up, each one of us, finding our voices, waving and embracing and opening doors with the hands we used to raise. We’re going to find freedom.  We really are. Yes you are going to pursue your impassions and when people disapprove, in due time, you’re going to feel a small self-assured smile come over you. It will be your clue, your token, your sign of knowing you’re doing the right thing. You’re living the way you were meant to live… something to the tune of what Sarah Bessey once wrote: “To piss a few people off and sing freedom to the rest.”

I’m so excited. My desk is gone and my hand is no longer raised. It’s time to head out to recess and sing, hop, skip, run, jump into reckless songs of freedom. Class dismissed.

Dwell in Those Moments

8.15

After days on end of realizing that if I don’t make a change soon, feeling agitated, unsettled, and stuck are going to become the pedestrian emotions of my days.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m extremely grateful for a job, for God’s provision, for a roof on my head, food to eat, crickets to listen to, my new road bike that I never want to hop off of… love and life itself…

But something is desperately missing.

I am not the passionate girl I was once used to be.

Oh I’m coming alive, trying new things.

But some of the dreams I have on my heart are layered in feelings of impossibility, doubt, fear, and one more triple-thick layer of self-defeating thoughts, desperately trying to remind myself that like A.A. Milne once wrote, “you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Those are moments of doubt… they are wasted moments. Those are the most wasted moments we can spend on life, EVER.

No, we don’t have to put up with those wasted moments any longer.

You see, there’s these other moments you get; moments that feel like drops of honey being fed to your mouth by the Hands of God. These sweet, sweet, intoxicating moments of life where you grit your teeth, dig in deeper, love that much harder, push that much further, and simply refuse to let the obstacles speak louder than the dream…

You… you decide to do hard things.

You simply do hard things.

Those are the only things in life that hold any real value; the things you earn only through sweat, sticky fingers, tireless devotion, unconditional love. You might as well do them so when you reach some ripe old age and can’t turn back the clock, you’ll have a fist-full of dreams to release into the sky like peace doves and red balloons- those you pursued, that is, not those you avoided.

And those moments- those moments where you kick yourself in the… rear and realize that enough is enough, enough time has been wasted, enough energy compromised on people pleasing and doubting yourself, and doubting the person God made out for you to be, heart full of unique passions and convictions… those moments where you look your dream in the face and say “yes” it’s possible and you whisper “yes” as you inch one step closer to the dream, even if you’re shaking… Those moments…

Those moments where you are absurdly fearless of the place between reality and your dreams.

Those moments where you truly fathom that life is precious but ever slipping through your fingers, with time that you can never re-live and edit and you know, deep down in your heart, that you can and will live your best life now.

Those moments…

 Dwell in those moments.

In those moments where God meets you half way, like half way up the hill you’re climbing on your bike, or half way up the hallway to a job you really hate but are too scared to leave to pursue what you actually care about for fear of its ambiguity or enormity.

And you hear His voice.

You know it’s Him.

And He reminds you to go back over the story, the one He’s been telling time and time again through people like Moses or Rosa Parks or your very self. The story that says trust… have faith… dig deep. The stories that have movement from complacency to action, that take you on some weird, unable-to-be-explained-in-the-present-time wilderness journey that makes you wonder if this is all some sick joke…  and you make it to the other side. You make it so that you are able to take the risk. Able to take the test. Apply for the job. Sign up for the race. Make your life count. See the fruit of your journey in the desert.

Dwell in those moments.

In those moments where you decide that being nice is well… nice. But you are DONE with living the innocuous life.

Dwell in those moments.

Where you decide to risk failure, point to your horizon and run straight after it, letting doubt, fear, and the opinions of others simply vanish and evaporate to try and trap someone else in a spiderweb. You, you, my friend, have been set free from that web. You are untangled, you are unraveled, you are unfettered, you are free. It may not look like it now, but oh yes, you are indeed free.

 Dwell in those moments.

Those moments where you’re an unstoppable lion.. or lioness with a fervor that cannot be tamed.

Dwell in those moments where doubt and fear have been kicked out of the building and all that’s left is open doors, open palms, green grass, room to breathe…

Dwell in those moments where you KNOW, deep within your core that anything is possible, but that you have to go through some… stuff to get there. And you don’t care anymore about what the “stuff” is because you’re committed to making it past the “stuff.”

Dwell in those moments, child, because you’re worth it… and if each of us operated out of the voice inside of us that actually pursues what is meaningful to us, that says the words we truly want to say, no matter how scared you are of someone’s reaction or being labeled as “too emotional…” if each of us sang our songs, wrote those letters, spoke up so that others can actually hear you, pursue the ideas that just popped in your head and refuse to let reason and logic engulf it…. If each of us actually said a hearty, “hello!” to the homeless person on the street holding a sign instead of sitting there squiggling around in the seat of our car, trying to avoid eye contact and the urgency of “what am I supposed to do!!?” If each of us vowed to take off our masks and dulled-down beliefs or feelings… If each of us rose up each day with this fire, this fervor, this passion, we would literally astound the world, ourselves, and each other.

Dwell in those moments.

Come back to them when they feel far away.

And may we always remember to pay attention to those nudgings on our hearts… for the world will be better for you having pursued them.

Lessons Learned in Running a Marathon

During my freshman year of college, I heard this talk at church based on a book called “The Dream Giver.” The gist of the story is that God has put dreams on each of our hearts, and through taking the courage to pursue those dreams, and facing any and all necessary conflict, God will not only change us in the process, but use our dreams to serve His purposes to change the world.

I remember walking back to campus that sunny Sunday afternoon with my friends, all jazzed up about the dreams that were filling up my heart, fresh blood filling my veins. And I started writing down dream after dream, some small, and some big, some common and some less common, and I created what has become known to me as my bucketlist.

In fact, if you hang around me long enough, you’re bound to hear me sporadically get inspired by an idea and I’ll shout out loud, “aw man, that’s going on my bucketlist!” (and as a side note, if you ever want to check it out, just come over and use my bathroom. It’s taped to the wall next to my mirror so that every day I am reminded of what I’m living for and, most importantly, who I’m striving to live for.)

Anyway, as you probably guessed by the title of this, a marathon was on that list. I didn’t really know what the greater purposes were behind that dream back when I wrote it on the list in 2006, but I couldn’t shake the fact that I just had to do one before I died.

So back in the spring of 2010, a few friends and teammates from college were doing the Baltimore Marathon and I knew that was my cue. At the time, I was reading this book called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by my favorite author Donald Miller (if you’re looking for a book that will get you up off of your… chair… I highly suggest you read this). In it, he says, “…humans naturally seek comfort and stability. Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won’t enter into story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon. A ring has to be purchased. A home has to be sold. The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and fear, otherwise the story will never happen.” The day I read that was the day I clicked “register now.” The story was happening. No more thinking, no more dreaming, no more “one day…” DOING.

And so since that fateful day back in April, I started learning some lessons. Some things I learned pretty quickly. Besides learning right away that 26.2 miles is a LONG distance, I also learned that…

-When you go for a run, don’t lock your car keys in the car unless you want to wait an hour for triple A to show up

-My toenails will probably continue to fall off every other year

-Don’t run past McDonalds after eating ice-cream for dinner… that won’t feel too good.

And I’m continuing to learn stuff. For one, I’ve been trying for three years to race for HopeSprings, a non-profit HIV ministry here in Baltimore. The Baltimore-Towson metropolitan area ranked second in AIDS cases in 2006. This organization was created out of the fact that the church has the call to love and engage in the culture around us. Since my involvement in the ministry in 2008, God has changed my life by showing me His incredible love and grace and beauty that HopeSprings so beautifully epitomizes. After several months of planning, and brainstorming, and dreaming, this year it will happen. You can look for it on the website soon (www.hopesprings.org). This will be an opportunity to race for a purpose and change your life and others’ in the process.

I’m learning, or rather re-learning the practice of discipline. As a division 1 swimmer at Towson, I honestly thought I had that part covered. But staying motivated when you have 40-plus girls cheering each other on and a coach who won’t let you get away with skipping a workout and a championship title to defend looked a whole lot different then training mostly by myself for a race with no potential consequences if I didn’t end up “succeeding.”

But most importantly, I have learned that it’s easy to sign up for the things in life that have little to no risk. Anyone can do that. But to live a life worth telling stories about… for that you have to DO HARD THINGS. It’s my new motto now. DO HARD THINGS. When I’m trying to decide whether or not I should do something, I now have this filter where I ask myself, “will this be hard?…” “Yes.” “Good. Then it will be worth it.”

Hard things allow us to grow. Hard things take us outside of the safe confines and familiarity of our comfort zone. Hard things move us from sitting to standing, from dreaming to doing, from complacency to action.

Through my training and racing, I was reminded by how much better off we all are when we connect to each other, when we spur each other on, when we team alongside each other do life together. The first time my boyfriend and I went running together (in the rain nonetheless), I quickly realized that if I was going to keep running with him, I’d have some catching up to do. Literally. Besides the fact that he’s faster than me, he’s also a good 6-7 inches taller than me. I mean, we’ll be walking somewhere and I’ll either powerwalk to keep up with him or let out a friendly, “Brian!” and he’ll smile patiently as we adjust to each other’s strides. By the time we’re a mile in, we’re on different paces and I’m chugging along with my iPod, knowing he’ll be there at the finish line, as if to be saying, “come on, you can do this. We’re in this together.” And so that’s how it would go. We’d run and at the last stretched of my run, I would muster up all the energy left within me and there would be this awesome person just yearning to reach out and give a high five.

It’s kind of how it is with my dad too. For 58 years old (sorry Dad!), he still has so much kick in him that I really have to push myself to end a run by his side. Though I can probably one-up-him on distance now-a-days, this man ran alongside me every since I could remember, always with patience, always with endurance, always with heart.

Similarly, I was going on a run (by myself this time) around my neighborhood back in the fall. And I was about halfway through my run when I looked across the street and there was this man looking straight at me with his hands in the air giving me two giant thumbs up, smiling. And so I took off running. Those last two miles, I was running off of sheer adrenaline and encouragement. I mean, it’s as if God himself put this guy there, along my running route, to give me the motivation and encouragement I needed to bang out those last two miles.

Growing up in the Christian faith, there’s this verse I came across that’s kept me going through many practices and meets. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3). And so I’d be in the water envisioning the “great cloud of witnesses”- people who have inspired me and encouraged me to keep at it-having seen the dividends of hard work paid off.

And when I find myself short on faith, short on energy, going through the hard stuff, the conflict of life, I go back over the scenes of joy of seeing it all pay off, that moment when you’re reminded that every single step was all a part of the journey.

And so I saw a man bring me back to that point, back to that point where we see just why we all need to keep spurring each other on. That we can’t do it on our own. That even if we could do it on our own, it wouldn’t be half as enjoyable. That no one is alone. And it sounds so simple- spur each other on. Encourage each other. Each of us is going to have a time in our life when we are going to want to lay it on the ground, toss it in the trash, hang up the towel, and give up. But giving up is easy. Keeping together takes work.

On the day of the marathon, I was reminded of this again at mile 23. There was this man next to me, paralyzed from the waist down, using a seated bike to race through those 26.2 miles. And I watched him churn his arms as if to say no one is excluded from this “great race.” And I saw young women wearing t-shirts with names on the back of people who’ve passed away that they were running for, all the while Sara Groves shouting to me through my iPod of all the saints who’ve gone before

At some point, I realized that we’re ALL running this race, but it’s up to us to decide who and what we’ll run for and how we’ll get to where we’re going and when. That time will lapse regardless of whether or not you are pursuing your dreams and we might as well risk something big, something beautiful, or else we will die with unfulfilled dreams and unexplored possibilities. That life without such risks or dreams will result in living boring stories. And I think we are all made to want to live some daring stories. And if nothing else, next time you’re out in the neighborhood, give someone two thumbs up and send them along their way.