There are times in life where we’re cruising right along… things are easy… … life is good! Those are the times when it’s easy to ride the wave, have blind faith, and go on autopilot. Maybe offer up a few “thank you, God” shout-outs and keep it moving. It’s easy to sing… to laugh… to run… there are positives everywhere!
Then, life happens and knocks you down. Sometimes it’s a quick take-down and resiliency kicks in to bring us back up. Other times, it’s things you think you’ll never recover from: grief, divorce, illness, tragedy. This is when my faith gets tested the most. It’s not as easy to blindly believe when I feel lost or beaten down by life. It’s hard to remember (or easy to get angry) that it’s all part of God’s plan.
A while back, I heard the phrase “Cope & Move On!” I don’t remember where I heard that, but the mantra has stuck with me for years. There have been points in my life where coping was all I could do that day. As I was going through two seriously hard divorces, there were many days where I would bring my daughter to school, cry in the car all the way to work, then suck up the tears, work all day like I was “normal,” cry all the way back home, suck it up to parent, then cry at night. This was my routine… coping was all I could do. Barely. It was not living life, these were times of just getting by.
I recently lost a dear friend of mine to cancer… someone who touched my life in the best of all ways. Janet was the older sister I never had. A beautiful sister in Christ with the most amazing gift of words and prayer that I’ve ever known. She was taken quickly by an agressive form of cancer four weeks ago. Those of us left behind are just learning to accept our new reality. Seeing her seat empty at church each week won’t ever look or feel right. Nothing about this feels fair, just, or purposeful. All of our hearts are broken and the grief is so heavy. We’re coping, barely.
Janet passed on my daughter’s 9th birthday, March 4th. It was another time of stuffing the tears, so I could celebrate my girl, and then releasing them to grieve later on. It was tough to feel such deep, conflicting emotions all at once. However, that day, I saw an image on social media that brought me to tears. I had never seen it before, since it would’ve stuck with me being that it’s about my daughter’s birthday. March 4th: the only date of the year that gives you words of encouragement… to March Forth. Wow! That hit home and I sent it to Janet’s family with hope that it would bring some comfort. Janet’s husband mentioned this quote at her funeral and it shook me to know that it brought them a flicker of peace. It’s not a coincidence, in my mind, that this date speaks to inspiring us to move through life with the promise of something in the future. It’s fitting for both my daughter’s birth and for Janet’s homecoming.
I pray daily for her family and our circle of friends… to be there for each other and to not lose faith in God. That would break her heart… it would dishonor her and the legacy she lived each day. Her faith was steadfast, even through her suffering. She was the model for practicing what she preached. If we choose to be resentful and angry, it would go against everything she taught. There are times for that, but it can’t be the end game.
Yesterday, I ran my first trail race ever! It was called the Texas Two-Way Torture Test – the name alone should’ve been a red flag! It was a 10 mile loop course with some seriously steep hills all through the Texas hill country. The teams had 2 partners who each ran a different direction around the loop… start together, hi-five in the middle, and meet at the end. I warned my running buddy that he would be waiting for ages for me to come in. When I signed up for this event, I didn’t realize it was a trail run. By then, I had already committed to my running buddy, so I went through with it. I was a nervous wreck about this race – the unknowns kept tripping me up.
It was a small race and I was often running alone. Trail running is something I’m definitely not familiar or comfortable with… even hiking makes me nervous about my footing! I had to be so careful of every single step, and I still almost bit it a bunch of times. Skidded down a few declines, trying not to fall! It’s so different than road running, where you can get in the zone and run mindlessly. I went into the race knowing that it wouldn’t be my best pace and embraced taking my time, running cautiously, and enjoying the beauty. Honestly, I was just hoping not to come in last (which my daughter teased might happen)! In fact, I was talking with another runner before we started & she mentioned it was her first trail race too. She smiled and said, “well, it’s my only one, so I’m gonna PR!” We both laughed and I shared it with my running buddy. It was a genius way to go into this race!
I kept thinking of Janet as I ran the course… how she lived her life in gratitude. The frustrations I had along the way (allergies making it hard to breathe, sliding all over the trail, ankles going every which way, hills that intimidated me)… these were nothing compared to what she endured. Not only that, but she did it with such grace. That shifted my mind to being thankful to be out running on a beautiful day, on a course that I never would have been on, to see the views that I did. Grateful to be healthy and capable of running, regardless of my speed or performance. I felt sore in muscles I never feel with typical running and loved that it was pushing my body and my mind. When I finished, I did better than I expected and enjoyed the race way more than I anticipated!
I don’t understand why God took Janet home so early, but I firmly believe that it was done with a higher purpose that will be revealed in His timing. Until then, I strive not to just cope, but to Cope and Move On… a little at a time.
In Honor of Janet
Last night I took a leap of faith and went to a large singles mixer. I was a nervous wreck, anticipating being sized up and the judgement that follows. I never expected to be dating in my 40s and it’s still startling at times. So, I ran around all over to find the perfect outfit, which is completely elusive when you’re trying to find something under pressure. Disheartened, I came home, shopped in my closet, and took my time getting ready… full makeup and hair for the first time in a million years. I convinced my friend to come with me, by telling him there are always way more girls than guys at these things. Good ratio for him, pretty pitiful for me. But, I told myself that I was going in with zero expectations, which helped calm my nerves.
The entire bar of a hip hotel was reserved for this event, so everyone was single and ready to mingle. The ladies were given tiny locks on ribbons to wear around our necks and the guys were given keys. A given reason to approach each other to find the partner to open each lock. After the locks were opened, there was a follow-up game where nametags were given out and you’d have to find your next match, lemon/lime or salt/pepper for example.
I was reminded how it can take me a minute to warm up to a crowd… I was slow to mingle and took my time people-watching as I sipped my wine. After a bit, a couple guys chatted me up… conversation was ok, absolutely no spark, but that was fine. However, the night went on and I could hear cheers as people found their matches around the room. It was like being back in junior high all over where I’m watching from the sidelines as my friends all start dating.
I was a bit of a late bloomer (aka totally awkward academic type) and that girl comes out full force in situations like this. It wasn’t till later that I learned to accept my dork factor and work with it instead of trying to hide it & pretending to be cool. In fact, the best conversation I had all evening was with another self-professed nerd. He asked me,”what is your earliest memory of being nerdy?” I told him what a great question that was, probably 3 times, before answering. Then, it popped into my mind. I was in either first or second grade, on Long Island, and checked out books from my school library to learn to speak Italian. My family is 100% Italian and each of my grandparents spoke the language, but refused to teach it. They used Italian as a way to speak over us kids… to talk about adult stuff. In that day, the biggest honor was to be American and that was what they wanted to pass down the generations… traditions remained rich, but the language was lost.
I told this guy that story and then asked him the same question back to hear his story. He said he was into computers for as long as he could remember, as a kid. I unwittingly replied that, “if you had a computer as a kid, I’m probably a lot older than you. I didn’t have one till junior high and it was black with orange letters.” He didn’t know what to say to that and quietly walked away… No loss, really, but it was amusing!
The entire evening, my lock never opened. I wore that lock all night and felt ridiculous but not surprised. It didn’t feel like rejection, exactly, more like being alone in a crowd. I did meet some lovely ladies and talked up my friend to a few of them (#wingwoman), but left feeling uninspired… wondering if I would ever have a match, a great love.
This morning, at church I heard a message that spoke right to my soul. The timing was a crazy coincidence (or more likely, a God-thing) that my pastor spoke today about LOCKS & KEYS! He could’ve said, “this one’s for you, Andrea!” It was that on point. He taught about how God is the master locksmith and is refining each of us to be able to unlock our hearts, our passions, our purpose. To be our own answer. He spoke of how God uses trials and struggles to carve our own unique key, so that we may use that pain and wisdom to connect with others. To enhance the lives of others.
I’m so guilty of trying to find the guy who would finally see me as worthy of love, instead of knowing that I am, and always have been. Not truly believing that God made me who I am with intention. Instead, constantly looking to others for validation, approval, and love. This has only led to heartbreak. And each time that’s happened, it only further affirmed that I really am unlovable, unworthy, never enough. I didn’t guard my heart, as God asks… I gave it away quickly, thoughtlessly. A vicious cycle to be confined to.
I think last night was exactly what needed to happen for me. The loneliness that tends to trap my mind needs to be repurposed into learning to see myself as worthy. To accept and enjoy being myself, just as I am. To turn off the negative talk that repeats incessantly in my mind. For until I know that I am worthy, without question, no one else ever will. Maybe I can then support others in similar positions. I can often easily empathize with others, but then have nothing more to give, since I’m still in my own mess.
This quote summarizes it so well.
“If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.”. ― Eldridge Cleaver.
Let’s get those keys carved and unlock our best lives.
A week ago, I was running my Saturday long run (which is a pretty short run these days) when I saw notices for the Austin Marathon taking place the next day. Yellow diamond-shaped signs saying DETOUR AHEAD were all along Congress Ave., where the race begins with a steady incline for 3 miles.
As I passed those signs, I felt a wave of bittersweet longing. I had run that race last year, my first full marathon ever! The journey that led to the marathon was daunting, as it is with anything difficult. My next thought was how awesome it would be if life gave us those signs. To prepare for what’s to come. Brace yourself, it’s about to get real! Instead, life plays out and takes us by surprise…
A few years back, I had been dating someone who was also a runner. We often travelled and ran 1/2 marathons in new cities. I loved that we had that in common. At the Expo before the San Antonio 1/2, we were picking up our packets and I was eyeing the runners preparing to run the full marathon the following day. Their energy was palpable… all that nervous excitement was contagious. I quietly said, “I’d really like to run a full someday.” I surprised myself by even saying it! I had done a few halves by then, but never even considered a full. He smirked and snarkily responded, “Oh, really? A full? How about I’ll ask you tomorrow after you finish the 1/2, if you want to do a marathon.”
We each ran the 1/2 the next day and, in all the races I’ve done, that one had the most grueling climate. It was 80 degrees with 90% humidity. Runners were falling out all over the course… Medics were handing out popsicle sticks covered in salt to prevent heat stroke. Marathoners were peeling off to do the 1/2 instead of the full race. The conditions really were brutal.
At the end of that race, I met up with my boyfriend, wrung out of my running skirt, and sank down, my sweat staining the pavement. Without missing a beat, he sarcastically asked, “So, you’re gonna do the full, huh? Ready to do double what you just did?” He laughed right in my face.
That crushed me. I cowered and relented there was no way I could ever do a full marathon. There are times in my life where harsh remarks have dimmed my spirit and this was one of those times. It should’ve been a red flag, but I wasn’t yet strong enough to deal with it head on, or to end that relationship. I married him, instead…
It wasn’t until a year after that marriage ended that I revisited doing a full marathon. It started out as this quiet thought that became louder and more often in my mind. Maybe I could do it… I’ve since learned that voice is usually the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart.
I began researching Best Beginner Marathons and Austin was on every list I came across… convenient, since that’s home. Disclaimer: whoever comes up with those lists has issues with understanding Beginner Marathon. Austin’s course is intense!!!
Training was demanding, exhausting, challenging, painful, time consuming… all of the things. And, I loved it… I learned so much about myself from it. Each time I broke a new distance record, I felt empowered. Amazed that my body could do that. It wasn’t always pretty, and never easy, but it was possible.
I’ll admit, there were many runs that had an angry backdrop of proving him wrong!!! But it wore off, in time, and evolved toward building myself back up instead of allowing past hurts to cut me down. That’s where the running is about so much more than just running. It’s about the internal changes that manifest… That transformation feels miraculous. It can only be a God-driven shift.
Crossing that finish line was one of the greatest moments of my life.
It’s surprising to find myself feeling called to write about faith, running, and love when ALL of those things are so messy for me right now. It’s a reminder of how God’s plan doesn’t usually make sense when you’re in the midst of something new.
Life can change in the blink of an eye…
My faith has blossomed over the past few years… I’ve been so blessed to have landed in a church that is focused on transformation. It’s exactly what my life was needing and still is.
I started going to church every Sunday through my second divorce. I sat alone and would weep each week. Crying is a very private thing for me and has been throughout my life. I was taught that being “too sensitive” was a weakness, a flaw, so I used being strong as a way of coping. But, that’s impossible for me at church. The music and the message pierce my heart and draw the tears I try so hard to stuff.
Going to church was very much an “alone in a crowd” situation for me. Seeing the couples sit close and watching a husband put his arm around his wife would sting me with pangs of jealousy and loneliness. I felt like such a failure. That I had used up my chances at love and was destined to go through life alone.
My friend invited me to sit with her and her group on Sundays and I was quickly adopted into the “family.” I was led to a Church Family that has forever changed my life. To have generations of people that provide wisdom, faith, and love has filled such a huge void in my life and has given my daughter the extended family we don’t have here. It’s given us the community that church is meant to be.
One woman has especially touched my heart… She’s the most beautiful blend of Southern Belle with a twist of sass. She is the epitome of what we are called to be as believers… a faithful servant of God. She cares for people so truly, so authentically. She has the most powerful ability for prayer that brings immediate tears and relief, simultaneously. She radiates a warmth that allows anyone around her to be raw and vulnerable. She drops everything to be present for the ones she loves. She’s spoken more truth and scripture into me than anyone else ever has. She’s taught me to see myself as God sees me, which has helped to heal the deepest wounds in my heart. She speaks words of comfort without judgement or criticism. Her gorgeous blue eyes sparkle with such love, such joy. She is the older sister I never had.
She’s also fighting the final stages of cancer.
Cancer is pure evil. There’s no other explanation for it.
It’s heartbreaking to see such an amazing woman, so grounded in faith, to suffer this way. For her to endure chronic unbearable pain for months is beyond reason. The cancer is viciously spreading with a speed that is unheard of.
Without a doubt she is fighting this attack with every ounce of her being. She thanks God for every breath. She’s being lifted in prayer daily by so many and still, it progresses. It’s heartbreaking to know that she may miss so much she’s looked forward to… graduations, weddings, grandbabies. That this disease has taken so much of her former life… Her freedom, her peace, and her comfort have all been stolen.
The only relief comes in knowing that she will be at home with God in Heaven when it’s His time to call her up. That her misery will be over, eternally. There’s no question where she’ll be when it’s her time. Knowing that is the only peace I can find.
I don’t know how to deal with this… the grief comes in waves of anguish and sorrow. Her mind is failing at this moment and I’m afraid I might’ve missed my chance to tell her how much I love her. If she knew that this experience has shaken my faith, she would be devastated. It would dishonor her to allow that to continue.
All I can do is try to find purpose in the pain. To honor her in a way that allows her legacy to flourish. To live life as she does, the way God calls us to live… To take in the broken and give a safe space to heal. To give grace to myself and others. To know that actions of humility and mercy speak louder than any words. To find my worth in God and guide others to do the same. To love on my daughter in a way that allows her sprit to bloom. To share my story in a way that grants peace. To know that God places people in our lives with such purpose and to be mindful of nurturing those relationships. To strive to draw closer to God. To run toward redemption.
Recently at church, our pastor was talking about the afflictions we all have. Addictions. Illness. Compulsions. Abuse. Shame. Secrets. The burdens we carry. He has such a beautiful, genuine way of speaking and you could see visible raw reactions among us. I looked around and had this clear, strange thought… what if we all just wore our “labels” instead of hiding them. We all have them. Each of us carries pain from past and present that affects us daily. It pierced my heart and I began to cry… to know all the pain and brokenness that exists just breaks my heart.
My daughter is obsessed with this show, The Masked Singer. It’s a quirky show with celebrities, fully dressed in these incredible costumes from head to toe, who then perform songs while judges try to guess who they are. The entertainers share some personal background info as clues. What’s gotten me, are the stories they share of being afraid to sing, of the insults they’ve received, of taking a chance by coming out on stage to perform. We all tend to hide behind those masks, don’t we? Some are just as elaborate as the Masked Singer, although they’re invisible.
Brene Brown talks about masks and armor in her book, Daring Greatly. If you haven’t read that book, go get it right now. Amazing. She says, “Masks and armor are perfect metaphors for how we protect ourselves from the discomfort of vulnerability. Masks make us feel safer even when they become suffocating. Armor makes us feel stronger even when we grow weary from dragging the extra weight around… Our protection mechanisms may be more sophisticated now that we’re adults, but most of us learned about armor during these raw impressionable years, and most of us can be brought back to that place in a heartbeat.”
I think that it’s easy to get caught in that pit of being stuck in life. Repeating old patterns and bad habits. Resisting vulnerability and ownership of the part we each play in the mess we create. I certainly have. Pastor Randy says, “if you want to change your life, change your choices.” Ohhhhhh… that hits home, doesn’t it? There’s so much of life that’s beyond our control, but there’s also a lot that we bring on ourselves.
For me, it’s been dating and relationships. My closest friends have all seen that other areas of my life were pretty much in check, but relationships were a complete disaster. And not just once or twice, but for as far back as I can remember. My affliction is feeling unworthy, unlovable, disposable. It’s a message I received at impressionable ages that has shaped how I’ve viewed myself. It was then solidified by just about every man I’ve been involved with. I’ve had two failed marriages, both of which crushed my spirit. Self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps?
In a session with my therapist, I talked about the negative tape that loops in my mind… constant insults that cut me down. I hear it incessantly. She asked me, “who’s the voice that has your back? Who sticks up for you?” I weeped and realized I didn’t have one. How could I possibly expect someone to love me when I didn’t have a clue how to love myself. I started praying for God to be that voice and He absolutely sent a few people in my life so I could hear it clearly.
I’ve searched for the man who would prove the rest wrong. Who would love and accept me just as I am. So, I kept looking (and looking) outwardly. I did work on myself as well, but mostly sought out the next relationship, if I’m being honest. It was a cycle on repeat… trapped in my own troubled ways of thinking. I didn’t enter relationships from a mind space of how this person would support and care for me, I was in it whole-heartedly from the beginning and had high hope for him to be “the one.” The anxiety this caused was massive… crippling. I would label myself as a hopeless romantic, although just plain hopeless was probably more accurate! I was arrested in my affliction.
Running has helped me to build confidence, find endurance, and has certainly helped me to get through the tough times. My daughter and I have started running together and I keep telling her, “you are stronger than you think!” It’s easy to cheer someone else on, but hard to know it for ourselves. We all need to hear that… to find that voice. I hope she will hear that voice as she gets older and goes through her own trials.
In the past few years things have started to shift. After my second divorce, I began turning back to my faith. I had wandered off for years and ended up in a church that has led to a spiritual transformation. In the past few months, even more so. I’ve finally started to look up! To stop trying to force a relationship to fill the void in my heart. I’ve been blessed with amazing friendships with people that have become my Church Family. It’s been life changing for me. To finally feel some peace in my heart. I’m definitely not cured, but I’m open to recovery. I’m focusing on trusting God’s plan and healing my heart. I know God alone can arrest my affliction, but He needs me to do my part. To change my choices. As I’ve started to do that, I’ve definitely felt the shift toward serenity. I know it will be a journey, but I’m keeping Romans 12:12 in mind… “To be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
A few months ago, my daughter asked me, “Mommy, if you could do anything, what would your dream job be?” She’s 8, super smart, opinionated, quick-witted, funny, and really inquisitive. I thought for a sec and said, “You know, I’m super lucky and blessed to love what I do already!” I’ve been a Chiropractor for 15 years and I really do love helping patients and seeing their lives transform. She pressed and said again, “No Mom, your DREAM job!” Without thinking, “author” flew right out of my mouth! Honestly, I was as shocked as she was! I’ve always been an avid reader, since I was little.. in fact, my girl had just been teasing me about how many books I was into. We counted 9 – reading ADD perhaps? But to write a book? A book worth reading??? That would absolutely be my dream…
I think there’s pure magic in reading something that touches the heart and changes the mind to see the world differently, even just a little. Ever since she asked me that question, I’ve felt little nudges to start writing.. and so I have. Today, I registered the domain name and here I am writing my first blog. It’s a huge (scary) leap of faith for me. Feeling exposed and vulnerable… but that’s what life is all about, right? That’s where God really digs in and does His best work. My prayer is that sharing my experiences will help others along a similar journey.
Running and faith are so interconnected for me… I’ve been running pretty regularly for years, since my first divorce in 2012. It was an ugly divorce, a long grueling process. My world was crashing and I felt like I had only a few options for handling it… I would try to make light of things and say, “Well, I could either hit the bottle or hit the pavement.” I was trying to manage staying sane through the divorce, while raising my little girl (less than 2 at the time), running my practice, and dealing with the lawyers. I was on the brink…
I’ve never been athletic, never played sports growing up. In fact, I still will duck anytime a ball comes toward me! Oddly enough, though, I ran here and there over the years. Never longer than a few miles and not with any goal in mind. There was always something cathartic to me about running, even when I couldn’t go more than 2 minutes without feeling like I would die right there on the trail.
I decided to train for a half-marathon and it was life-changing. At a time when there was so much of my life out of control, running was one thing I could work at, see improvement, and feel a sense of pride. I didn’t have much support back then. No running group or running buddies. No support from family. In fact, a family member said, “What makes you think you could even do that? You’re not a runner!” But, something in me needed to keep going. The first time I crossed that finish line, it was incredibly emotional. The sense of accomplishment was completely overwhelming. That’s the thing about running… the only way to cross that finish line is to do it on your own. There’s something so incredibly gratifying to that…. so empowering! After that, I was hooked and now have completed many halves and even a full marathon.
I’m not a fantastic runner. I have good seasons and really rough seasons. But, it’s not about that for me. It’s about how I feel. It’s about being outside in God’s beauty. It’s about putting that training plan up on my fridge and marking off my runs. It’s about my daughter watching me set goals, train hard, and accomplish them. It’s about praying while running through the hills and valleys of life. It’s about connecting with the running buddies I’m blessed to have. It’s about knowing when to listen to my body and reel it in. It’s about feeling strong and passing other runners when I can! It’s so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other.
That verse from Hebrews is what I hope my writing may do: to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. I feel that my daughter really provoked that in me, brought that dream to reality. Here’s my first step down that path, my first blog. Hopefully, the first of many.