Trump Trauma

“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

The filmstrip of my mind clicks through the scenes ever so quickly this morning – with every footfall that lands and crunches on the fallen leaves blanketing the trail. The question is: On what scene will it settle on today as I run my 15 miles and on what memories will it trigger with each mile? For reasons perfectly clear to me, it lands on the scene where the man’s fist smashes down onto the dining room table, rattling the silverware and china, as he howls, “This is precisely why women will never make it in big business.” It was 1987. I was 18. The man was my father.

The image my mind’s eye has summoned is old but very clear, and I feel my neck and jaw muscles tense as the memories begin to unspool, spewing out the events that led up to this outburst. Pounding fists, a carving knife thrown into the hardwood floor, a smashed cocktail glass – behavior that was not uncommon at the antique dining room table where my siblings and I spent most of our childhood dinners hoping not to be called on to answer a question about history, or politics, or science, or philosophy. This was the place where stomachaches were the norm and demeaning insults left one or all of us shell shocked, ashamed, and terrified. Those not within firing range were ever-so-quiet and secretly hoping the focus wouldn’t shift to them until dinner was over and we could scatter like scared mice until bedtime.

sadgirlI’m trying to pick up my pace as I run against the wind in hopes that I can shake the images and return to something more pleasant, but I know that’s not going to happen until God and I have had time to work through things today. Every day, every sunrise, every swaying blade of grass reminds me that He is here and waiting for me – to talk, to listen, to cry, to smile. It’s our time to make sense of the mess, mile after mile – until His hope pushes down my hopelessness.

“Making sense of the mess, one mile at a time.”

It all started this morning as I laced up my shoes and scanned the day’s headlines. Donald Trump’s “Locker Room Talk” continues to trend with more and more of his misogynistic behavior surfacing with each passing day.  His tone. His body language. His facial expressions. His words. They are piercing and triggering to me – so much so that I have tried to avoid most social contact (online and in person) since the video surfaced. I realize now that because of my past, I cannot seem to engage in conversation about it logically and reasonably. It is obvious that I am traumatized by every sexist thing this man represents.

Trauma can be caused by one major event or a hundred things connected together. The trauma I feel when I see, and hear, and watch Trump is the result of a lifetime of oppression and fear, insecurity, abuse, and pain. And, it is never just because of his words.

This memory is brought to you by trauma.

It was right before the end of my sophomore year in college and my father declared that if I was ever going to have any possible chance of getting accepted into law school, I needed a real corporate job. One of our neighbors, ‘Mr. Gold’ was a high-powered executive at a big investment firm at the World Trade Center and, according to my father, if I was “really nice to him” maybe he would get me a job in the legal department. I remember feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as he said it – it was in the tone, the body language, the facial expressions. I felt immediately sick to my stomach and breathless. What did that mean, “If I was really nice to him?”

But, I had spent my whole life being scared, and abused, and marginalized, and bullied by my father, which led me to do everything possible to stay off the radar and make him look good. I tried to stay quiet, do all my chores quickly and without complaint, get good grades, be agreeable, be nice to my teachers, play the piano for his friends, and be responsible. So I gathered my courage and after a few very awkward phone conversations with ‘Mr. Gold’ and a short interview with the hiring manager, I got a job as a summer intern in the legal department.  During the days when fax machines were a novelty, microfilm was the norm, and mainframe data entry was king, I spent 8 hours a day in a smoke-filled file room wondering if law school was really worth it.

But, to be honest, the work was actually the good part. The bad part was the drive to work – spending two hours each way in the car with this 50-something neighbor executive to whom I owed the job and now the transportation. My father’s career advice on my first day: “Try to act like a woman, talk intelligently, and be gracious for everything he is doing to help you be a successful female in the working world.”

Every day, I would get in the car with this man and feel his eyes scan me as I tried to sit as modestly as possible in his sports car with my college-budget business suit and faux leather brief case at my feet. I tried to make eye contact, but when I did, I was reminded of the old black and white cartoon of the hungry wolf salivating as he eyed the lone sheep. He was eerily silent most times, but when he did speak, his conversation was always laced with sexual innuendos and off-color cynicism. I was inexperienced and had no idea how to interpret the message or diffuse the conversation. So, I spent the commute like a stiff mannequin praying that he wouldn’t move his hand any closer up on my seat or turn off into a dark alley.

The image of the stiff mannequin child-girl is paused in my mind’s eye as the headwind kicks up dirt and pushes me backwards. I run for many reasons, and one of them is to feel some sense of power. It’s moments like these – when I’m tired, or struggling, or fatigued – that the memories feel bigger and I feel very little power. Without missing a beat, the filmstrip of my mind returns to the family dinner table. I remember it was hot and I had spent a week feeling humiliated, denigrated, and on high alert. The history of the dinner table was that I was now about to deal with the same behavior from my father, so I sat silently.

Then it happened – as usual. He barked and I jumped, “What is wrong with you?” I told him nothing was wrong. There was no way I was going to tell him what was really wrong. I knew how that would turn out.  He pushed and yelled. So, I finally said, “I don’t feel well.” He laughed. “What? Do you have your period?!”  He scoffed and then pounded his fist down on the table.  “This is why women will never make it in big business!” I slumped lower in my chair, nodded, and tried not to cry as he droned on about women being inferior to men. If I said nothing more, maybe the yelling would stop.

I made it through that summer by moving out, living alone, and commuting via a long walk to two trains just so I could feel as if I had some sense of power. But, in truth, that was simply one more way I ran – one more escape from confronting the hurt and the cruelty. I lived in that place for a long time, well into adulthood. It took me over 20 more years to find my voice and stand up for myself. And it took me 7 more to find the courage to tell my story to anyone.

Now, I find that the power I need is not just in the run, but in the writing. My hope is that it helps someone, somewhere, somehow to find their voice and use it to show the biggest bullies, the meanest men, the greatest manipulators, and the most abusive partners that they do matter and they have the power to write their own ending.

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Seeing With the Soul

When I open my eyes, I am confused that I can see with such clarity – from the neon numbers on the alarm clock to the headlights marching in a line outside my window, to the waning moon. On this day, they are not the usual smudge of light or dark, the way one sees things when they are legally blind. They are sharp, crisp, and in focus. How can this be?

It takes me only a few seconds to realize that I fell asleep the night before with my glasses on and my iPhone in my hand. It’s now 5:44 a.m. How is it possible that I slept through the night like this? I groggily pull the glasses off my face and snuggle back under the covers, but as soon as I do, the alarm begins to chime. It’s actually time to get up.

My gut reaction is to be annoyed. But then it occurs to me that this is actually a pretty incredible way to start the day – with rare and unusual clarity. This is a blessing that I do not want to get lost in the mundane.  To see clearly. To have clarity.  Yes, today, I will not only look, but I will see.  This will be my running mantra I declare as I slide out of bed and dump over the laundry basket in search of clean running clothes.

“Look around, but really see,” I think as I pull my tangled mass of hair into a ponytail and try to rub the dark circles out from under my eyes.  On this Tuesday in September, I will endeavor to be uber-present in this life – vigilantly mindful of the world around me and how it is stitched together to create a perfect tapestry of oneness.

I’ve been running since I was 13, but it has taken different forms and served different purposes depending upon the season of my life.  I once ran because I was competitive. I was fat. I was inadequate. I was depressed. I was lost. It took me many years to realize why I was truly drawn to it – so drawn to it that I would eagerly fall asleep at night in anticipation of waking up for the run.

Most people don’t understand and others just think it’s my addiction.  But I’m learning that running isn’t the drug. Running is actually the recovery.  It’s on the run where I find the most peace and see my life – the present and the future – through a more compassionate lens. It’s where I am reminded of how small I am in God’s universe, but also of how big I am in His eyes.

As I tighten the laces on my running shoes, I notice that the air is getting much cooler as we sneak up on the first days of autumn. And the sky is clear but not yet brightened by the sun, which hasn’t quite found its way to the horizon. This is my favorite time of day. Right here.  Right now. I look around and try to really see. I am determined to open my eyes and allow my brain to take it all in – every waving blade of grass, every ray of sunlight dancing on the horizon, every song of every bird waking up and wishing me good day. I believe that if I can see, He and I will talk.

I am quickly disappointed.  My mindfulness lasts about 10 seconds before the filmstrip of my mind begins clicking through to find a certain scene to play on this 8 mile run. I was to be present today – to see, and feel, and bask in the world in which I exist. But I feel powerless to change the direction of my heart. I am lost in my own thoughts again, and this time, I have no idea what has triggered the scene.

seeing-through-the-soul-imageThe filmstrip of my mind lands on a frame showing the image of a woman in a hospital bed. She’s the mom of an acquaintance. I’ve never even met her. But I learned from my son the day before that she is on life support after complications from a kidney transplant. Still running, I look to the right and notice that the sun is now a starburst on the horizon. I am suddenly overcome with emotion. I stop short, almost hyperventilating, and start weeping. I’m begging God to be with her – to help her family and to bestow upon them His power and His love. I have no idea why this has happened. At the moment, I have absolutely no control of my mind or my heart.

My mantra for the run was to be present, but I am quite the opposite of present as I stand here lost in my thoughts on the side of the trail. And while I feel like I am in another place, I have intense clarity about what I need to do. So, I pull my iPhone from my armband and search for her number. She hardly knows me except for a few interactions with my son and her son, and some mutual friends. I wonder if she will even have my number in her phone or how uncomfortable she will feel with an almost-stranger sending her a text like this at 6:45 a.m.

But none of this really matters. I am convicted to make sure she knows she is loved and protected. I tell her that I am running and I felt an overwhelming urge to send her and her family love and prayers. My hope and comfort during this uncertain and emotional time. I hit send and it occurs to me that I am almost scared to get a response. My hands are shaking as I tuck my phone back into the armband and start running again.

As I finish my run, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. I am more at peace now as a quote from Rumi floats across my mind’s eye:

“The soul has been given its own ears to hear things the mind does not understand.”

None of this was me.  It wasn’t my clarity. It wasn’t my mindfulness. It wasn’t my intuition. This was all God. It was Him opening my heart and doing his work inside my soul. He was the One who opened my eyes. He was the One who gave my soul the ears necessary to hear.

And, it all started with a glorious sunrise and a little faith to truly understand that which I cannot possibly see.

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Power Dressing

I awake to my 49th Fourth of July. It’s 7:30 a.m. and already 71 degrees in Littleton, Colorado. I hop out of bed – secretly thrilled that I logged almost 8 hours of sleep and no one else is awake yet.  The run this morning is going to be glorious. With no pressure to get back for work, I’m giddy as I start planning for my long run. First, what to wear?

In the pile of running clothes stacked in my closet, I notice my Superman top. Well, it’s actually the top half of a ‘Sexy Super Girl” costume that my 12-year-old son and daughter dared me to buy one Halloween – to run in. Feeling fit and brave at the time, I bought it but never wore it. I felt silly – like I didn’t deserve to wear it and people would know I was a fraud. So, it’s been pushed to the bottom of the pile time and time again.

supermantopBut for some reason, today the Superman half-top has made its way to the top of the pile and I’m curious. So, I pull it over my head, examine myself, and think, “Who’s gonna’ see me? This could be fun.” As a spiritual person, I believe in God but I also believe in energy. In fact, I believe that everything has energy and it can be harnessed for pretty much anything you desire. At one time in my life, I designed women’s running clothes for this very reason.  I truly believe in the energy that a person can get from the right clothing.  You don’t have to own a lot of clothing, just the right pieces – pieces that make you feel confident or respected or approachable or unique.  The Power Tie.  The Perfect Little Black Dress.  The Classic Coat.  Sometimes, just dressing for the part can give you incredible power.

On this Independence Day, I am power dressing.  Maybe I’ll run faster, farther, stronger. Or, maybe I’ll just feel happier.

Shoes laced perfectly, I tug my ponytail tighter through my ball cap and hit play on my Above and Beyond Pandora station. I stop and whisper out loud, “Nah, today deserves some Avenged Sevenfold radio.” Clicking up the volume, I’m off timing my footfalls to the bass guitar in the background.  Immediately, though, I feel self-conscious about my clothing choice, but the negative thoughts quickly fade as my mind’s eye falls on my 16-year-old self.

When I was 16, I had to give up running due to injury. So I decided to train to become a competitive junior cyclist.  When I entered the sport, I used the money that I had saved from my babysitting jobs to buy my first racing bike. I was so proud. I thought it was the Ferrari of all bikes, but in comparison to my cycling peers, my pink Miyata was more like a Ford Fiesta.  After buying the bike and upgrading some of the parts, though, I didn’t have any money left to buy professional-grade cycling apparel like team jerseys, sleek sunglasses, brand-name shorts, and comfortable shoes.  The result was a self-conscience teenage girl who often felt like the other racers really didn’t take her seriously because she didn’t look the part.

I was convinced that if I looked better and had better gear, I could pull it off – play the part better.  Little did I know that summer, as I was boarding my flight to Belgium with my Nana, that my theory was about to be tested.  It was July and the Tour de France was in full swing as I watched one of the stages with our European host. Realizing that I knew quite a bit about cycling, this 16-year old American girl and that 30-something attorney from Belgium finally bonded. It took yellow jerseys, time trials, road rash, and mountain switchbacks, but it happened.

As Nana and I said our goodbyes to our Belgian host-family, my Tour de France-watching friend handed me two very authentic-looking European cycling jerseys.  He explained that they had once belonged to a professional Belgian road cyclist who had nothing left of value to pay his legal fees.  The cyclist’s name was Ludo Loos and they were his team jerseys – one of which he had actually worn in the 1980 Tour de France when he won Stage 18.  This was one of the most incredible gifts I had ever been given.  I felt the energy from the moment I held the wool jerseys in my hands.  I couldn’t even imagine what it was going to be like wearing them on my training rides.

Although many people would be aghast to know that I trained in these authentic jerseys every day for over three years, I did – with no regrets. When I wore them it was as if I was channeling the energy of a legend.  As I cranked up the hills and tucked down the descents, I was now somehow akin to Ludo Loos – Belgian Tour de France racer.  I was stronger.  I had more courage.  I had power.  In my mind, I deserved to be on the road and competing with my fellow cyclists.  In my heart, it was possible to become a legend. And today, on the trail, in my imagination, I am Superman.

With the right gear, the possibilities are beyond imagination.

 

(This post originally appeared on the blog site for a friend who is the president of gearmunk.com)

 

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No One Can Love a Stone

On this day, I call myself the Ragamuffin Runner – desperate to make sense of the mess one mile at a time. But only a few years ago, I would never have outwardly admitted that I am “burnt-out, bedraggled, and beat-up,” to use the words of Brennan Manning. I was trying to hide all of that from everyone. Because, you know, messy people are just, well, messy.

I’m thinking about all this on my run because of the mud. There is mud covering the entire trail this morning and despite my best attempts to run around, and jump over, and sidestep the sloppy spring runoff, I’m filthy. And, not only is it splashing up onto my legs, but somehow it’s found its way into my ponytail and the back of my neck. But, I’m not annoyed at all. I’m actually trying to stifle the giggling. This is fun. I feel free and liberated. And, like most morning runs, it doesn’t go unnoticed that this is God’s way of sharing. His way of giving me one more moment to be a child again – and all I needed was to accept the mess.

The sticky mud on my running shoes makes me feel like Frankenstein as I exaggerate my stride because of the extra weight. My Nana comes to mind again as she’s sweetly calling me her ragamuffin girl – dirty and sweaty and disheveled after playing outside in the summer heat. My Nana loved the mess. She adored this little girl – maybe because she loved the innocence of the child who lived in a messy world but didn’t know how very perfect she really was in His eyes.

Everyone needs to see the authentic you – broken and whole

Everyone needs to see the authentic you – broken and whole

In a flash, the movie of my mind clicks to a different scene.  It’s me and my twins in the waiting room of the child therapist’s office. They are only six years old, chattering away about everything and nothing.  We were there because I had decided to take them to see a professional after our marriage had ended and we had become just another statistic.  The kids went in for their session, and like most weeks, I sat in the empty waiting room with my game face on like a good soldier. I remember, though, that this day was different.

After the kids were done, the therapist asked me to come into her office and posed one simple question to me: “How are you doing?” I remember just staring at her.  Not one person in the months since my divorce had asked me that question.  I mean, why would they?  I had it together.  I was the rock.  I had to be strong because there was no other option.  But, as I stood there looking into the therapist’s tired but kind eyes, I decided to be real. I explained that the week had been rough.  I had broken down in tears in front of the children after a long day of work – staring at a messy house, a pile of bills, and frustrating homework assignments.

I remember the conversation almost verbatim.  “I feel horrible that they saw me like that. Sick to my stomach that they saw me cry and break down.”  The therapist held my shoulders and said, “Look at me.  It’s okay to be human in front of your children.  They need to see your emotion – to know that you are not a perfect robot.  Everyone needs to see the authentic you – broken and whole.  Callie, no one can love a stone.”

No one can love a stone.  I heard that from the therapist all those years ago, but it’s taken me many more years to realize what this means in a broader sense.  I once heard a preacher say that people are not attracted to our competence, they are attracted to our confession.  We don’t attract others with our muscle and our might, our intellect and our have-it-all-togetherness.  People find their way to us when we admit, “I am broken, afraid, and worried – just like you.”

After a few miles trying to daintily dodge the puddles, I’ve given in and I’m now gloriously covered in caking mud. Some of it is drying and it’s beginning to crack around my knees.  “Don’t ever let them see your cracks. It’s not okay to show your brokenness, your frailties, your human heart.”  That’s what we learned.  That was then, but things look different today.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

I look up at the cloud-covered sun barely peeking out, and feel peace for I am loved despite my cracks – and, in fact, most likely because of them.  We live in a messy world, but I think that admitting my mess has made me both more lovable and more loving. And, I pray that my children no longer see a stone, but instead see a ragamuffin:  an imperfect mama who loves them even more deeply because of the light that shines through – and from – their own broken pieces.

 

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My Protector Wore a Hat to Church

I woke up smiling today. Oh, how I wish I could have gone back to sleep so I could spend more time with her. The dream was so real. I was my age now, but she was still the age I remember her when I was 20. My Nana was with me again for another glorious dream sequence and I cannot stop thinking about her as I tighten the laces on my running shoes and pull my hat down over my ears just a bit more. I have a feeling my run today – although quite cold as I step into the Colorado dawn – is going to be more therapeutic than most.

I run almost every day and genuinely look forward to the early mornings and the quiet miles. Some days the run elicits tough revelations and dredges up some hard memories. But, even on those days, the run usually ends with a sense of solace because I’ve learned that I never run alone. I feel God’s grace all around me – in the swaying grasses, the cold wind, the sun’s rays, the glistening ripples on the lake. I start out some days with extreme anxiety, but return enshrouded in greater peace. That has to mean something.

My training run today isn’t supposed to be fast – just a bit longer for a Thursday. And I’m lucky because although it’s cold, it’s not snowy or icy and the sun is already starting to inch up above the horizon. The sky is perfectly clear and I can feel the rays already caressing my cheeks. That’s how my Nana used to kiss me. She would gently hold my face, press hers against mine and slowly shift until her lips kissed the apple of my cheek bone. Her touch was life-giving.

It’s at that moment that I promise myself that I will buy a hat in her honor.

It’s at that moment that I promise myself that I will buy a hat in her honor.

The filmstrip of my mind clicks through the dream sequence as if the movie is all taking place on a foggy morning. It’s a bit out of focus, but it’s not really the images that I need to remember – it’s the feeling of comfort that I always had in my Nana’s presence. From what I can discern, we apparently have a date to go house-hunting. I meet her and sigh because she looks exactly the way I remember. She is wearing a skirt, a matching cardigan sweater, and her handbag and shoes coordinate perfectly. And, she’s wearing a fedora.

That’s one of the many things I always adored about my Nana – she was her own person in character and clothing and that’s what made her so unique. I open the car door for her and tell her that I love her hat. She smiles, kisses my cheek, and hands me a hat just like hers. Remembering that part of the dream makes me smile and the tears begin to close my throat.

It’s at that moment on the run that I promise myself, and the spirit of my Nana running beside me, that I will buy a hat in her honor.

More and more memories about my Nana have been surfacing lately – and those memories have started raising questions that I never really knew I had. While I have beautiful memories of being with my Nana, at her house, learning how to sew and draw and cook and say grace, there are a lot of memories that seem almost odd and unexplainable.

Why, at five years old, did I often go to bed in my own bed only to awaken at her house? Why was she always the one to sit beside me at dinner – out of all the grandchildren – and help me eat my dinner? Why is it that she’s the only person who I can remember ever brushing my hair, washing my face and hands, and mending my torn pants?

Why did it seem as if my Nana was always there – whenever I needed her – and even when I didn’t even know I needed her?

Why was my Nana the one who helped me with my school projects, took me to the DMV for my driver’s test, asked me to travel with her, and always took me – the only one of my siblings – to church?

Being at church with my Nana is one of the most vivid memories I have and it’s even more clear in my mind’s eye as I run along the quiet trail this morning.  I remember attending the services at the Presbyterian Church in her town of Red Bank, but what I recall was not that Nana was a devout Christian who knew all her prayers and could sing all the hymns. What I remember to this day, on this run, was that she exuded love – love of the purest kind.  Her love flowed from her soul without effort and without expectations. She was unconditional in her gift of loving.

It’s taken me years to put into words what this woman truly meant to me – and what she still means to me. I always knew that without her devotion, her patience, her kindness, and her grace, I wouldn’t be here to write this down. Yes, I knew her love was special, but I never truly understood the depths of it.  As I stride along and gaze out onto the snowcapped mountains in the distance, I can now put it into words: My Nana’s love was otherworldly. She was the human embodiment of God’s grace.  She was my protector who wore a hat to church. And I thank God for her on every single run.

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The Twelve Steps

The trail is completely covered in tufts of fluffy white snow that sparkle in the morning sunlight. As I maneuver the slippery cracks and ruts of the route, I notice the trees are still blanketed in heavy snow but that the sun is doing its hard work to lessen the weighted down branches. Snow plops from the branches of every tree I run past. It’s very cold.  But, I feel euphoric. This is just the shot I needed to feel present and alive again.

snowyrun

Running is not the drug. Running is the recovery.

People often ask me if I feel like I’m an addict.  Maybe it’s because they know my past or maybe because they see my present. But, it’s usually triggered by mornings like these when they see me running. “You just have to go, don’t you? You just have to get your fix. Running is your drug of choice.” My response is usually an awkward giggle and half-hearted nod. But today, as I breathe in the very cold air and squint from the sun’s glare, I realize that running isn’t the drug. It’s actually the recovery.

Running is the recovery. From the time I was a little girl, I’ve known – and deeply loved – alcoholics and drug addicts. I have seen their demons and have often been in the trenches alongside of them. It’s tragic. I’ve been there, which is why I would never presume to compare my life to theirs. While I have compassion and profound empathy, I cannot begin to fathom their pain, their heartache, their constant struggle, their desperation associated with this type of substance abuse. But I do know what it’s like to feel all of those emotions – because my struggle is with shame.

I’m running almost directly into the sun now and it’s as if these rays are playing the role of the lightbulb illuminating the filmstrip of my mind. I see the frames that show Brené Brown on stage during a TED Talk and I remember that she was my first conscious introduction to shame and what it really is. What it really does.  During her talk, she admitted that, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It is an unspoken epidemic. It is the secret behind many forms of broken behavior.”

Shame is not “I am sorry I made a mistake.”  Shame is, “I’m sorry I am a mistake.” Often, shame is what causes addicts to become addicts – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or abuse.

It was “The Day of Brené” when I was finally liberated. Alone with my laptop and her voice filling the room, it finally became so crystal clear to me. Why do I behave the way I do? Why do I always feel responsible for everyone else’s brokenness? Why do I always feel the need to apologize? Or fix? Or try harder? Or mourn? I’ve never had a problem recognizing my brokenness. I’ve had a problem living with it because it all feels so futile.  No matter what, I believe I will never be good enough. Brene answered it all with one word: shame.

At this point, I’m deliberately running slowly – being careful to watch my footing in the deep, slippery snow as I soak in the frozen beauty. My mind gets hung up on the word ‘frozen,’ as I’m reminded of why I run. If I keep moving, I can’t freeze. “Take the first step because that’s all you need to get started in the right direction.”

So, like the addict I am, I follow 12 wobbly steps in my makeshift 12-Step Program. The biggest difference between my program and the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program is that my program was not designed for recovery – it was designed for coping. It enables me to organize my thoughts and tame the wild voices that try to wrestle control from me – especially when I’m exhausted from trying to validate my existence by doing more, faster, better, perfectly.  When I’m feeling especially vulnerable, I run through this 12-Step Program – over and over:

  1. I try hard to admit I am powerless over the past – and try extremely hard to believe it.
  2. I thank God every day for being there – for being the one and only who really loves me despite my flaws and my mistakes. Who makes me feel worthy.
  3. I try to remember that not everyone is spending their time thinking about what a mistake and screw up I am.
  4. I try to take an honest inventory of myself and who I am – not based on my warped view of myself but based on what I hope others might see on my good days.
  5. I try to resist admitting to others, almost too readily, the nature of my brokenness.
  6. I try to control the urge to reach out to all of the people I believe I’ve hurt and ask for their forgiveness – because often my shameful perception is not their reality.
  7. I try to stop myself before apologizing for things that I couldn’t possibly be responsible for.
  8. I do my best to look at the world more logically – using facts to determine the truth about me and the way I influence the world around me.
  9. I try to have hope – because without hope there really is nothing.
  10. I work hard to believe that other people are broken too. Their behavior is not always and entirely the result of my interaction, presence, or behavior.
  11. I pray for God’s grace and thank Him for the grace He’s already shown me.
  12. I run every day – and every day I work through these twelve steps.

According to Brené, “Shame cannot survive being spoken…and being met with empathy.” For this is why I write. [And why I run.] Thanks for being alongside of me in my recovery.

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The Good Samaritan – Part II

[This is continuation of a story that couldn’t be told in just 700 words]

I was trembling and sobbing with both hands gripping the steering wheel – feeling humiliated and terrified as I focused on my attacker arrogantly jogging from the scene.  My suit skirt was torn from hem to the waistband and my stockings had holes that had started running down my thighs with each tear that fell. I had done it again, I thought. I was such an idiot. I should’ve known he wasn’t who he said he was. I shouldn’t have believed that he really needed help starting his car.

“You’re not even worth it, bitch.” And then he laughed. And then he left.

It’s been a long time since I’ve pulled these feelings back up from the compartment where I had stowed them, I think as I head into my final few miles along the wooded path. I am not absent today as I run – not so deep in my head that I miss the leaves turning gold on their branches or the ones falling slowly to the earth. I’ve been working hard to use my running to help me be more present, more mindful rather than just another way to escape. It’s nice to feel the cool air on my cheeks and see the minute details all woven together to create the tapestry on the horizon.

It is God who justifies.

It is God who justifies.

As often as I do try to escape by lacing up my running shoes, I cannot ever predict what the filmstrip of my mind will show on any given day. But today, the memories were stimulated by the distressed-looking truck in the parking lot with jumper cables dangling from beneath the hood. Just the flash of an image is sometimes all it takes to trigger hours of emotions that will need to either be addressed or suppressed.

 How I handle the trauma on this day will be my choice.

My pace is quite fast today. The irony is that whenever I remember the events from 20 years ago, it’s like a slow motion reenactment of a car crash. I can recall every second, every scent, every microscopic detail. The man had climbed into my car and was sitting in my passenger seat like he belonged there. Within seconds, I was pinned to my seat. Terrified, I awkwardly smashed my attacker’s nose with the back of my fist and screamed, “You’re in so much trouble!”

What was I thinking? That’s all I could get out of my mouth? What a fool.  What a pathetic girl. And he knew it. He looked into my eyes like he could see all the years of pain and embarrassment and just piled more on.  “You’re not even worth it, bitch.” And he laughed like the devil in khakis – jogging away only to return in my nightmares.

These words did so much more damage than his hands ever did.

He could have beaten me, or kidnapped me, or raped me. He didn’t. In fact, all he did was tell me exactly what I already knew about myself. I wasn’t worth it. It was as if he was simply the human embodiment of my disgrace. To quote Brene Brown, my attacker was “shame riding shotgun.” Literally.  And he’s been riding in the passenger seat my entire life. After that day, though, something happened.  My shame was now augmented by anger. Not only was I ashamed, now I was humiliated.  I remember driving home thinking, “Where were You when I needed you most? Why don’t You ever protect me?”

I decided then and there that if I was going to survive, I would have to save myself. I would be unbroken. I would bury any emotions that would cause my defeat. I would never let myself get hurt again.

I have less than a mile left on this run and the sunlight from the East is creating a long, alien-like shadow of me on the side of the trail. Although I am almost back to my car, I know I still have a long way to go – metaphorically speaking.  But I am healing.  When the Hound of Heaven finally tracked me down, opened my eyes and softened my heart, I began to see who I really was.  With every morning run and every beautiful sign of grace, I am healing. I now know that I’ve been protected my entire life. I was protected by God’s grace every single day. I was just too weak to see it or too scared to accept it.

Yes, there are some days that my faith is tested.  But there are more days when my faith is so strong that I weep when the sun’s rays quietly greet me and warm me from the morning chill – leaving me with the feeling that the Lord is right there wishing me a good day. No matter how strong my faith, I now know this to be true: I am valuable. I am worth it. And it has nothing to do with my past, my progress, or my potential. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that I am His beloved daughter. Cherished and protected for no other reason than because I am His.

On the hard days, when shame rides shotgun and the past comes back to steal my spirit, I live by one belief. It’s one belief that gives me permission to be authentic, to love with less fear, and to like myself a little more with every glorious sunrise.

It is God who justifies.  

It is God who justifies.  

It is God who justifies.  

Thanks be to God.

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The Good Samaritan – Part I

As I pull into the dirt parking lot at Chatfield, I feel a tingle rise up the back of my neck and then I physically shiver – it’s that whole-body kind of shiver and it’s not from the brisk early morning air. “Something doesn’t feel right about this place today,” I say under my breath as I take my key and my phone and step out of the car. On second thought, I get back in, grab my bag and remove the pepper spray that serves as my keychain on most normal days. I almost never run with it – always removing it from my car key so I can run more comfortably without the bulk. Whether it’s instinct or paranoia or God, something’s telling me to be careful today.

I'll follow a trail of tears to you

I’ll follow a trail of tears to you

My music is playing through my earbuds but I’ve lowered the volume so I can hear what’s going on around me. My senses are operating on overdrive and I can feel every footfall as the gravel crunches beneath me.  By mile two on the dirt path, I’m already exhausted from an anxiety that seems to be pulling me down into the dust. But then it hits me. It was the near-empty parking lot. It was the dawning light. It was the car that looked abandoned with jumper cables dangling from beneath the hood.  My physical symptoms of fight or flight were the result of post-traumatic stress – triggered from an event that happened 20 years earlier.

It was an unfortunate event that could have changed everything I believed and felt about trusting, protecting, and suffering. Honestly, I think I was born with the curse of compassion. I was wired to feel an almost unnatural and unhealthy empathy for the suffering.  Looking back on it now – and after years of deep and intensive introspection – I think it was because I was highly experienced on the subject. It was the one thing I really knew about and it drew me to those in need like a magnet. In my life, the people who were in trouble – whether physically, spiritually, or emotionally – seemed to always find their way to my proverbial doorstep.

There is no one on the trail this morning and the 300-days-a-year Colorado sunshine is having trouble jockeying for position with the bullying clouds.  There’s an eerie mist hovering over the lake.  I shiver again and the entire ten-minute event from 1995 when I was a 20-something corporate professional launches to the forefront of my mind and starts frantically unspooling. The disabled car. The darkening parking lot.  The nagging feeling to help someone who is stranded.  But what happens in my mind next is not what you’d expect.

As I run, I’m not reliving the slow-motion details of the attack that took place in the back lot of my former employer around 6 p.m. on a cool, overcast October evening. I’m not feeling the visceral fear that I did when the attacker opened my passenger door and arrogantly got in. I’m not feeling embarrassment because I trusted this stranger when he said he, “just needed someone to help jump start his car so he could get to his second job.” I’m not feeling my heart race uncontrollably as the back of my adrenaline-induced fist hit his nose as he tore my skirt. I don’t feel the shame I did when he laughed and spat and ran off yelling, “You’re not even worth it, bitch!”

What I’m feeling at this moment is an indescribable appreciation for this run. For this day.  For this life. I’m happy to have all of this. I’m here. I was protected. “Thank you God,” I whisper to the wind.

But, this is not how I felt moments after the attack and then the weeks and months to follow. I was angry. I was embarrassed. I felt like a soft-hearted fool.  I wanted to shut everyone out. I thought the Good Samaritan parable my Nana shared with me as a child was surely nonsense. I was never going to let myself be tricked again.

During those dark days, I believed it was faith in God and humanity and grace that had gotten me into the mess in the first place, and it was my own quick thinking and strength that had saved me.  The whole horrific event taught me that I needed to be unbreakable –tough not soft. All business, no emotion.  Protect your heart. Protect yourself.  Too bad for anyone who is suffering in my wake because they’re on their own now – I’ll never again be the sucker that drops everything to help others. Good luck out there. You’ll need it.

[To be continued]

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In the Gaps

“How are things now that you’re back from your trip?” I asked a good friend after our work day ended.  This friend has a demanding executive-level job, supports a family of six, and recently returned from a much-needed vacation.  “With everything that’s going on at work, it amazes me that you can keep it so together.”

He said, “I’m good. I feel like I’m keeping it together for the most part.  The hardest and most stressful time is in the gaps.  You know, in the really quiet moments – like when I’m on the train, or waiting in line for something, or drifting off to sleep.”

Sometimes the gaps are where the beautiful things grow

Sometimes the gaps are where the beautiful things grow

The individual frames of our conversation click through the filmstrip of my mind this morning as I run past an old man quietly fishing at the lake.  The sun has just peeked over the horizon.  “It’s in the gaps…” These words come fleeting back to me as I watch the man from afar.  I wonder what he’s thinking about – all by himself, bundled up, waiting for some hint of a fish on the line.  The sun’s rays are shining on the back of his yellow jacket and suddenly I feel incredible sorrow for him. I feel palpable grief rise up into my throat.

Perhaps I feel this ache because I, too, have a very hard time living in the gaps.  It’s in the moments where I am not working on a big project, returning emails, helping kids with homework, scheduling appointments, paying bills and essentially getting lost in the busyness of life that I feel alone and unworthy.  It is in the gaps where I am confronted with my true self.  Those moments where I have to either accept or reject the person God created.  It’s not the place I would invite anyone.  Suddenly, I realize I don’t feel sorry for the man because he’s fishing alone.  I feel sorry for the man because, if he is anything like me, he’s fishing in the gaps.  And if this is the case, he’s not in a kind place.

Where did I recently read about living in the gaps? It was just the other day – even before hearing my friend use the term.  I’ve only run for about 45 minutes and am less than two miles from the car, but I feel as if I’ve run for most of the morning. Please God, don’t allow me to get lost in the gaps out here today. I’ve learned that if I run hard enough, I can usually sidestep them. Then, as I’m heading up the last hill, I remember where I’d recently read about experiencing the gaps.  It was on Twitter.

Bronwyn Lea’s blog post entitled, “A Letter to the One Who is Failing,” had me at the first line.  It was written in the form of a letter with the salutation reading, “Dear Weary One,” and it continued with:

 “I see you. I see you breathing deeply, trying not to cry. I can see you’re discouraged, disheartened, dismayed. I see you’ve tried, are trying. I see that you wish I could not see: it would be better not to have witnesses to your failure, right?”

As I run, I cannot remember everything Bronwyn wrote, but I remember thinking, “The author knows me – the me that feels like a failure at work amongst the young, over-achievers, the me that feels disgraced over my divorce, the me that feels shame since childhood, the me who is afraid of a life not fully lived.”  But, I do remember very specifically that she writes about the gaps – she calls them hard spaces.

“It is in these hard spaces that we dig deepest, discern and test our callings, and in which we learn to lean on the Spirit.”

What I love about her blog post is that Bronwyn doesn’t just weep in the hard spaces.  She doesn’t break down or quickly fill them up with activities.  She doesn’t leave herself stranded and desperate in the gaps. Instead, she reaches for God to provide comfort and hope.  The author works it out through faith, and grace, and a quiet knowing that she is not alone.

“Let’s not give up: we are in the care of the God of Second Chances. He is Faithful to complete the work He has started in us.”

I am grateful to those who write hard and clear about what hurts – using the timeless poetic phrasing of Ernest Hemingway.  It’s those brave writers, like Bronwyn, who help me see life from a less lonely vantage point – through the lens of a loving and forgiving God who will never leave me or forsake me.

 

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Monkey Mind

“Mom, you call yourself a Christian, but honestly, I really think you’re more of a Buddhist.”

I recall this comment from my 18-year old son and smile to myself as I’m stretching mindlessly in the parking lot – leaning up against my car’s bumper and holding one ankle behind me as I cue up my music.  A Buddhist? Okay.  It’s finally Friday morning after a week of relentless busyness and chaos –work, children, chores, dog.  As I stand alone feeling the sun warming my face, I quietly thank God for giving me the strength to take this run. As odd as it may sound, I really do fall asleep at night in great anticipation of the new day ahead that dawns with the possibility of a run.

jesus and buddhaThis morning I’m running with Mumford and Sons playing through my headphones. I was never a big fan until recently after I listened – really listened – to the lyrics.  Their songs are filled with grace, and hope, and God and gospel.

 

“I will call you by name

I will share your road

But hold me fast, Hold me fast

‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer.”

There’s a certain feeling of peace that settles in deep within me as I’m running up this dirt path watching the breeze gently swaying the grasses in sync with the beat of the bass. While there is not a soul in sight, I feel surrounded by love the farther I run with the music filling my head. As always, I know I am not alone.  I quietly whisper, “Good morning,” and try not to get emotional. There are still many miles left for that.

I crest the first hill and I am somewhat startled by a red and yellow hot air balloon just starting its ascent.  I think about Keegan.  He’s one of the most self-aware people I know.  Introspective and honest. He shows me so many things I might otherwise miss about this life. He speaks wisely.  He acts reasonably.  He lives honestly.  His comment about having a Buddhist way about me does not escape me.  In fact, it makes me think about my monkey mind.

You see, I started running in seventh grade because my father said I was getting fat.  I was a terrible runner.  I would immediately get out of breath, my sides would cramp, and I had an uncontrollable monkey mind.  I couldn’t focus on anything except the fact that I was a terrible runner, that I was fat, that I was full of excuses, that I was awkward, that I was embarrassing. I suffered from the monkey mind – all the time. I’ve used this term to describe myself for decades, but honestly, I never knew its origin. It just made sense. It was the perfect description of the way things worked in my head.  But, after Keegan’s comment, I felt compelled to look it up.

I was shocked.  It was Buddha who described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. Imagine dozens of monkeys all clamoring for attention – that’s me.  That’s the state of my thoughts. But, thankfully, even though I was a terrible runner, I never gave up. It took many months, but by the time I was 13, I had run a mile without stopping.  For the first time ever, I felt like I was someone else – someone strong and powerful and competent.  Running had calmed my monkey mind and, for one blissful moment, I had uncovered some inner peace.

I’ve been running ever since – literally and figuratively. I think about this revelation as I reach my turnaround point and look directly into the sun rising in the eastern sky.  Buddha showed his students how to meditate in order to tame the crazy monkeys swinging from branch to branch in their minds. He believed it was useless to fight with the monkeys or to try to banish them. Because Buddha believed that which you resist persists, he instructed his students to spend some time each day in quiet meditation to tame the monkeys. I guess that’s what I do when I run.

Okay, so maybe there are these monkeys I’m taming each morning. It’s possible I suppose.  But I still believe that God tracked me down one Thanksgiving morning two years ago after many years of running away from Him.  He wrestled me to the ground, opened my eyes and softened my heart. It was on the run that I finally saw Him for who He was – kind and gentle and comforting and forgiving.  On my runs, I know He’s there with me cheering me on.  That He’s the one I’m talking to. I guess it’s possible that they’re all there – God, Buddha and the crazy monkeys.

And, maybe I’m not the best definition of a Christian out there. Maybe I do have some beliefs that resemble those of Buddha. Maybe I’m still evolving.  But regardless, my runs are the best time of the day. It may be meditation of sorts, but I’ll still call it prayer.  And I’ll continue to thank God for all of it. Every monkey-infested minute of it. [PS:  See You tomorrow.]

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