Running part I

Sometimes, when I’m lacing up my shoes, I wonder how I got into this in the first place.

Running and I ran into each other, I suppose.

The other day, I met a man here for the first time.  We had each heard of each other but had never met.  He looked at me and said, “Oh, you are the runner, right?”

“Right.” I replied.  Right?

I don’t think I am a runner runner.

Back in the good old days of Phys. Ed. (shudder), my favourite part was Track and Field Day or, believe it or not, running laps.  It is much easier to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and run faster than everyone than it is to actually hit a ball or do those darn layups.  Quite frankly, we just never played enough football in gym class.  Now that was a ball I could manage to throw and catch.

I remember how great it felt to pass others, to run on the inside lane, red faced and gasping, chasing those who were on the track team.  I remember the gym teacher bending over me as I lay on the floor after, purple faced and white lipped, hearing “Good job.”  It never occurred to me to sign up for the team.

Years later in college, I joined the Running Club which was less a club for runners and more of a club for wannabes, led by our hefty athletic director.  It featured a three-day a week training schedule with people grouped by ability levels.  The elite group was the group that didn’t do walking intervals.  We started in those intoxicating days of fall when the crisp air outside has endorphins floating around and the leaves crunch lustily under your sneakers.  We trained for a race, which sadly, was cancelled the day before.

Fast-forward past the years when I was sick and couldn’t run at all to the spring after my first son was born.  After all winter on the elliptical trainer when the snow melted, I was ready to get out.  I started painfully slowly, with short distances.  But, as we prepared to move overseas and wrestled with how to stay healthy and in shape, running seemed like the logical option.  So I bought a new pair of shoes and a jogging stroller and moved to Costa Rica.  For the next year, I tolerated running.  Two weeks into my training, and totally unprepared, I ran an 11K race for experience.  As I climbed the hill with the mob of people on the streets of San Jose, I got this crazy idea about running a race in every country I visited, or at least in every one I live in.

I signed up for a half-marathon with my sister-in-law and over Skype, we’d swap training ideas.  I bandaged my toes and stretched out my ACL and hobbled around as my playlists lengthened.

I finished the half, but not with the sub-2 hour time I wanted.  I thought, maybe next time.  So I kept running.  People asked me if I liked running and I’d say, “I haven’t decided yet.”  I wanted to say no, but decided to give it a fair chance.

We moved here.  I ran a 10K with my son in the jogging stroller.  That made the national news.  The neighbours thought I was crazy.  They call me the athlete, the runner.

I’m not good at running.   I’m pretty sure I have bad form.  I’m slow.  I don’t breathe right.  Long runs hurt me.  I don’t think I’m cut out for marathon distances.  But there is something about it that I keep coming back to.  Somewhere along the way, it became “my” thing, my way of staying healthy, staying sane, and beyond that, something that defined me.  It grew on me slowly, the way this place is slowly becoming home.  So, wherever you find me, you’ll probably find me lacing up my shoes, buckling a child into the stroller and waving hello to the neighbours.


Emerging: Lessons from the Butterfly part II

During the women’s retreat last week, everywhere we looked there were these huge caterpillars crawling around.  It served as a divine reminder to all of us of the way God uses process to transform us and of the change that these women were undergoing in their own personal lives.

After its time spent in the chrysalis, when the pupa is ready to emerge in a butterfly state, its body gathers up stored waste and pumps this waste into its thorax.  This results in an expansion of its body, which splits apart the chrysalis.  At this point, with the exterior broken open, the butterfly has more room to breathe and its breaths inflate its body further, enabling it to break away the chrysalis.

The butterfly emerges, but not as we typically picture them.

Its thorax is over-swollen from the waste fluids; its wings are small and crumpled.  The butterfly is very vulnerable at this point and has two key tasks to accomplish:  eject the amassed waste fluid and expand its wings before they dry.  The waste fluid drips out of the body and blood is pumped into the wings, unfurling them.  When the wings have expanded to their full capacity, the butterfly must wait with wings spread open until they harden.  Any damage to the creature before it has dried can result in a failure to expand completely, crippling the butterfly.  Once it has completely dried, it will flap its wings for a test or two then go to a flower or other location for its first feed.  If it emerges at nightfall, it will rest until morning before taking flight.

The lessons from the butterfly are three:

  1. Sometimes, God in His dismantling and recreating doesn’t make waste disappear; we don’t shed it like a skin.  Sometimes he gathers it all together—be it a conglomeration of hurts and poisons we’ve experienced, maybe the fruit of sins we keep wrestling with—and together they boil and swell in our gut until we feel we might burst from pain or shame.  The point is not to make us break open; rather, He uses them to break a chrysalis open.  He uses the hurt or sin to break us out and move us away from where we were.  The amassed waste serves its purpose in propelling us forward, moving us to a new stage of development.  Then when it has accomplished its purpose, we are to discard it.  We are to let hurt and sin drip away until we are no longer inflated like balloons waiting to burst.  If waste is used and then expelled, it isn’t really waste after all.
  2. Breathing expands you.  The simple act of breathing can take you from one place to another.  Right alongside hurt and recognition of our own sinfulness, we find an expanded capacity to breathe.  In the things that threaten to crush us, we find God opening breathing spaces.  And that does a work in us that pain alone cannot do. Simple dwelling and inhaling enables our souls to find new space to grow.
  3. Sometimes movement in a time of waiting not only limits our capacity to grow and expand; it can cripple us.  A failure to rest can paralyze us.  After major changes and growth, we can find ourselves vulnerable.  When we wait fully, God can stretch us fully, unfurling our crumpled wings.  He uses “drying time” in our lives so we open completely to be who He’s created us to be.  Sometimes we have to settle, wings spread and wait out the night. Then with the first light of morning, we can fly freely and go feed, strong and ready, bright wings unfurling, unfurling, open to the sun.