Thursday, December 12, 2013

Half Thoughts and Whole Marathons

Have you ever had a half-thought? You know, those thoughts, ideas, or even hints of insight that you seem to see with the periphery of your mind? For me, these half-thoughts float around my ears like ghosts, whispering that they have something important to say but I've got to turn around and chase them down to be able to catch what it is. Over the past year, I have had dozens of half-thoughts flit by me, with hopes of becoming blog posts, but I never took the time to pin them down and find out if there truly was any substance to them.

So that is my excuse for my silence on this blog. Pure, utter laziness that chooses to mindlessly scroll through Facebook for the billionth time rather than chase down a thought that might be worth pursuing.
For over a month now, I've had a half-thought about writing a blog post about the marathon I ran in November. It's still undeveloped, but I've decided to write about it anyway and maybe the thought will take color and form as I process the experience I had.

In January (actually, the same day I wrote the last post on here!) I set my New Year's resolutions as I always do and one of them was to run a trail marathon. At that point, I wasn't really sure if I would accomplish my goal, but at least it would hopefully encourage me to run more. Around July I started to get a little more serious about this goal... there was a 50K in October that I wanted to run and everyone told me that 5 more miles (a 50K is 31 miles, a marathon is 26.2 miles) wouldn't be that much harder than a marathon. I made a customized schedule for running in the 12 or so weeks leading up to the race... and promptly failed to follow the schedule. Excuses... both real and contrived... kept popping up up and hindering me from running the mileage each week I was expected to run. To make matters worse, my shoes began falling apart at the seams...literally. It seemed that my marathon dream was becoming more of a half-thought that was quickly escaping me.

If it weren't for my husband, the marathon dream would have very likely been shelved for "next year" along with so many other aspirations that I have given up on once they became too difficult or complicated. I can vividly remember one day that my running schedule told me to run 14 miles. I wasn't able to get to the trail until almost dusk that evening because I had to squeeze my running in after work. With some confusion of trails and backtracking, I ended up running almost 17 miles, with at least 4 of those miles by the light of a weak headlamp. The run was mostly flat and easy footing (except for the copperhead I nearly stepped on!) but it kicked my butt and I dragged myself home, feeling like if 14 miles (as I originally thought the distance was) was this hard, and if all my runs had to be in the dark like this, I'd never make it in the 50K. Besides, it turned out that I had a work obligation the day of the 50K anyway. Here was my excuse!

I dragged my sore body home, fully ready to tell Tim I was done with the marathon half-thought and I'd just do something "next year". When I got home, he made me dinner, let me shower and go to bed, cryptically asked me what my shirt size was, and went back into his study. When he came to bed he told me he had needed my shirt size because he had been filling out my application for the Bobcat Trail Marathon in November! I couldn't believe it. We didn't have money for the entrance fee, not to mention the new shoes I would need, and besides, didn't tonight's run prove that I didn't have what it takes?

Apparently Tim thought otherwise. He wanted to help me make the marathon dream become a reality and wouldn't let me back out of it. He worked out our tight budget so that we could afford the expenses for the race, the trip, and a new pair of shoes (that we miraculously found for half price online!)

Tim took down every barrier he could to make sure I would follow through with my goal. But the one thing he couldn't do for me was train. So I had to commit myself... and virtually every weekend until the race... to preparing myself. For the next month my free time was consumed in running. During the week I got up before the sun to run a few miles before work, and on Saturdays I committed the whole day to packing for the trail run (I tend to take a lot of snacks and water), driving to the trail, running, and then crashing at home and sleeping. It's a good thing we didn't have any house guests because I don't think the bathroom got cleaned all month and I only kept up with the laundry when my running clothes needed to be washed.

I was getting sick of running, it was becoming a chore. But amazingly, the training was actually working.  It was amazing to see that when I stuck with something and kept pushing through the difficulties that tried to get in the way, I actually began to get stronger and more comfortable with running long distances.

It's getting late and I want to finish this thought, so I'll save a recap of the race for another post. But on November 3, when I finally crossed the finish line of my very first trail marathon in 5:46:22, feeling tired and full of adrenaline all at once, I realized that finishing the marathon was so much more than just running 26.2 miles. To me, the actual race was not as hard as the commitment and perseverance it took to train for the marathon. The race ended up being the icing on the cake, the reward for all the miserable and wonderful miles I had put in leading up to that day. There's a lesson in there, somewhere, but it's bedtime so if you made it to this point, see if you can find a way to finish my half-thought about the challenges and rewards of commitment. You may even find yourself finishing your own marathon while you're at it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Year of Faith

On New Year's Day the four walls of my house and the lazy feelings in my soul were smothering me, so I took a trip to my secret spot at the New River Gorge. I've probably mentioned this place on my blog before, because it's one of those sacred places where significant things always seem to happen. I've been there on piercingly beautiful blue-sky days, starry nights, hushed snowy mornings and storm-clouded summer afternoons. This day, the Gorge was hidden in fog and my spot was a dripping gray blanket of melting snow and hovering water vapor. The fog obstructed the view before me and softened the lines of the trees behind me.

Before I ran away to my spot, I had been trying to put into words the events that have shaped me over the past year and a half.  My mind was jumbled with images too beautiful to explain and memories too sharp and painful to share.  But the fog of distance is already blurring my history, and wrapping both the harsh and the beautiful memories in a soft gauze of forgetfulness, so that only the significance of each event stands out like the dark boles of the trees at my spot. 

My spot plays a role in many of the most important events in my life.  In July 2011, my best friend Timothy Huguenin and I visited the spot for the first time as a dating couple.  We were both experiencing tragedy that we didn't know how to deal with and the spot was a refuge for my hurting heart. I remember the feeling of peace creeping in with the dusk as we watched the sunset on that summer evening.

Seven months later, Tim and I returned to my spot on a brilliant and warm February day... my birthday. My old friends the chickadees and possibly a far-off vulture watched as I accepted a diamond ring from my best friend and future husband that perfect afternoon.  I remember the colors all around us as winter seemed to be melting away and hope made the world look like it was in high-definition.

I can't remember the next time I returned to the spot, because spring and summer 2012 were an exhausting marathon of wedding planning, working at Alpine, and working on the masters degree I had started in May 2011.  (Side note: by God's grace I graduated with a Master of Science in Environmental Education from Montreat College in December 2012.  I don't think my spot had much to do with the accomplishment of this task, although it did provide the occasional reprieve when I was wise enough to take a break!)

In midsummer 2012, I had the awesome privilege of spending two weeks in Alaska with my masters' cohort. This trip was a mountaintop experience in my life, but I returned to West Virginia to have to make the heartbreaking decision that my beloved dog, who was my constant companion and dearest friend, was no longer safe to live with (she had become unpredictably aggressive).  Anyone who has ever loved a dog can understand the pain and guilt I am still dealing with after having her put down. Anyone who has not experienced this cannot understand what I am saying, so I won't try to explain further.  But the reason I share this story is because it marks one of the deepest moments of my life in understanding faith.  In January 2012, I had determined that I wanted to understand--by experience--how to walk by faith.  Over and over again, God brought difficult decisions into my life that spoke the same message to my reluctant heart:
"Faith means daily obedience, even when obedience contradicts your own will." 
The decision about my dog was the hardest and most clear example of this.  I begged God to show me another way, to relieve me from this pain, and He simply said, "Obeying Me is walking by faith."  The day my dog died, Tim took me to my spot and shared my grief.  I barely remember this visit to my spot, because my eyes were blurry with tears, but I do remember knowing that walking by faith--obeying God no matter the pain--was my only option.

Hearts do heal and joy does return, and on August 25, 2012, Tim and I stood in the rain at Blackwater Falls State Park and read our wedding vows to each other.  Walking by faith is not always painful, and sometimes it is a thrilling adventure.  We've been married a little over four months now, and the adventure of learning how to grow in Christ together has been a joy. The busyness of married life, finishing my masters, training for my first half marathon, and working kept me away from my spot for a long time... until January 1, 2013.

This New Year's Day is enveloped in fog. I don't know exactly how God wants me to live out this day, let alone this year.  I don't know what He has in store for Tim and me, how He will want to use us, or if we'll be faithful to the task. But as I watch the fog creep in and hide the snow-covered rocks, I can feel the anxiety and restlessness that was plaguing me at home disappear into the mist.  This is a sacred place because it is where I intentionally slow myself down and set myself apart to hear God. And today, He is telling me: "Fog is nothing to fear.  I enclose your path ahead and behind with fog out of my gracious love towards you.  You can rest in the fact that I hold you even though your past may not make sense to you and your future is a mystery.  I can pierce through the fog and I know all that is to come in your life, but I protect you from knowledge that is too wonderful for you.  It is high and you cannot attain it.  But what you can do is rest, here in my blanket of fog, as I guide you toward My goal for you, which is your goal too: Conformity with Jesus Christ."

The path ahead is often foggy, and the path behind is shrouded with questions.  Rather than fighting to clear the fog, can we truly say that we rest in the knowledge and guidance that God has given us, without begging to see more than He allows?  Someday... when we're ready for it... all will be made clear. But for now, let's walk this year through the fog in the faith exemplified by daily obedience.