When you don’t have to choose your Lenten sacrifice

I know everyone, or at least a lot of my most loyal remnant who have managed to stick around to read my sporadic ramblings here on this sorely-neglected blog, are probably sick of my whining about my running injury, but I need some catharsis today. Feel free to click away from here if you’re over me and my hamstring, but there is a bigger point to all this brooding.

So a few weeks ago I was finally given the green light to ease back into running. I was told to use pain as my guide, to go slowly, to not run on consecutive days, to stick to flat routes, and to be patient with myself. I followed most of this advice fairly well. Perhaps I grew a little enthusiastic during a couple of runs and ran at a faster clip than was prudent, but it wasn’t like I was sprinting or anything. What’s more is I had absolutely no pain while running. I assumed this was a very good sign.

Well, you know what they say about the word “assume” – it makes an #@! out of you (“u”) and me.

One Monday morning I woke up after taking a complete day off of any exercise on Sunday (I always incorporate one day of full rest into my week now), and my left hamstring/thigh/bum area, or what one runner who suffered a similar injury aptly referred to as her “thutt,” was aching a bit. I thought it was a little strange, especially since I had been a lazy bum the day before, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Maybe I was just stiff from inactivity? I continued to religiously perform my rehab exercises and to not push myself too long or too hard. I’d told my running pals I hoped to be back running with them in the mornings in March.

Yet, here we are in the first week of March, and I’m faced with the grim reality that I won’t be returning to my morning runs yet. My “thutt” is nagging at me and telling me it’s not ready for running, or maybe it was the spinning class I took. I don’t know. That’s what is so weird about this injury. I can’t figure out a correlation between what I do (or don’t do) and the pain. I mean, running a half marathon hurt it, but that’s to be expected, especially since my hamstring was actually fraying at that point. Now that I’m on the mend, I can’t tell what’s aggravating it because it doesn’t usually hurt when I’m active. It’s later when I notice the pangs. It once again hurts to just sit, so I have to bring ice to the carpool lane. Yesterday I had to sprint after a defiant toddler, and I felt a sharp twinge in the area.

I am sad, angry, and frustrated, but I’m not entirely surprised. When I first received my icky MRI results, I voraciously (obsessively) read everything I could about high hamstring tendinopathy. My husband also consulted an orthopedic surgeon friend of his, and I’ll never forget what he said. “This is a frustrating and very difficult injury to overcome. I worked with one athlete who went to physical therapy five days a week. He healed after three months but then immediately re-injured the hamstring upon returning to his sport.” Fabulous. Like I have time for daily physical therapy sessions. I’m not an Olympic athlete. I just want to run for fitness and compete in a few races a year. Is that too much to ask?

I read myriad forum posts with titles like “hopeless hamstring tendinopathy” and “high hamstring tendinopathy – does it ever heal?” These created further warm and fuzzy feelings in me. Not. I read about a woman who had been fighting the injury for six years, and I selfishly prayed I would be spared the same kind of perpetual anguish. To be fair, I also discovered some hopeful stories. There were runners who had overcome the injury, but all of their paths to healing were different. Some actually ran through the injury just at a slower pace. Others quit running completely for months. Some received all sorts of injections and massages. Some simply focused on eccentric exercises. But they got better.

When I had my follow-up MRI, I was thrilled because my body had healed tremendously. The partial tear looked great and so did all of the other injuries my first MRI had revealed. I had some minor residual tendinopathy, but nothing major. Woo-hoo! I was so confident I’d be back to running at my former level in no time. I even looked up upcoming races and decided training for a 10K in May would be perfect. Pride can be blinding. So, yes, I am understandably confused how the “minor” findings could lead me to feel like this. One running step forward and two big, hobbling steps back.

Ah, but it’s just running. I recall reading someone “tsk, tsking” an injured runner on a forum reminding her that she didn’t have cancer. True. We need to focus on our blessings and follow Hungry Runner Girl’s wise advice and to stay positive and hopeful. She also writes about how one of the most difficult things about being injured is feeling like you’re not in control. This totally resonates with me.

She writes,

I think one of the hardest parts about being injured is the lack of control that comes along with an injury. One thing that I love about running is that I can control it (especially when there are so many things in my life that I have no control over). When I run I can control my speed, distance, effort level etc. etc. etc. I go into a workout knowing what I am going to do and then I do it. No questions asked.

I think injuries are frustrating because you really just have to let go of any and all control and just let your body do its thing on its own time. You may think you are healed and that you are ready to run and then wake up the next day hurting again (not that this is happening to me right now but it has many times with past injuries). You have no control over how long it is until you are back in the game, what races you are going to miss out on or how long it will take to build your endurance back up.

What I am trying to learn during this time —> to let go of the things that are out of my control and just go with the flow.

I need to just not worry about it because: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

I love that: If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

It’s not the end. My “thutt” doesn’t have final say. So take that.

I know I have control issues. A desire to be in control has led me to deny myself of food (I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control what I eat or don’t eat and the number on the scale), to get all OCD about my mothering, to fear a new, unexpected pregnancy and then to get angry when that pregnancy ended in miscarriage, to sweat the small stuff, and to let life’s little but constant messes and curve balls cause me to just about unravel.

I also know that because of these very control issues of mine I have been given some pretty uncontrollable circumstances: Pregnancy bedrest after premature labor during one pregnancy and premature dilation in three out of four pregnancies. Miscarriages. A mom with a debilitating sickness that can’t really be cured. Addiction in my family while growing up. Feisty, spicy children who posses unrelenting tenacity. A husband whom I adore and love but who hasn’t converted to my faith like I thought he would and like he once thought he would. And now a recalcitrant running injury that is keeping me off the road and demanding that I rest, wait, be patient, be hopeful, trust the medical establishment, and relinquish control.

People sometimes ask me about natural labor and why I actually chose to do it four times. Because I am a martyr at heart and fall for any excuse for self-flagellation, and hair shirts aren’t really in style anymore. I jest. Seriously, there are many reasons, but one major impetus for me was that I wanted to be in control. I was more afraid of not being in control than of feeling the pain. I didn’t want an epidural to numb me or pitocin to speed things up. I wanted to know when to push. I wanted to feel everything, not because I am fiercely tough, impervious to pain, or a glutton for punishment, but simply because I was afraid that giving up some of the pain meant I’d have to give up some of the control, too. (I also happen to be in love with endorphins, which makes the not running thing even more difficult.) I refused to have IVs, to be tied down to a hospital bed. I wanted to be in charge. But despite having beautiful births with little medical intervention, I was never in charge. I did my part, sure. I listened to my body, accepted the pain, and worked hard, but the babies came on their own terms. Life is like those precious babies: Full of surprises, something we try to control, plan, and apply our own timetable to. But that’s not the way labor – or life – works.

So here I am on the verge of another Lenten season with my sore “thutt.” I am making my Lenten resolutions with the girls, and I plan to do more than just give up things this year. After all, I am having to continue to give up running – and control – whether I want to or not. Yes, it’s just running. But there’s a bigger lesson here. All the anxiety I have suffered, my control freak ways, all the doubts and the intense hunger for affirmation – all of these hinge upon me fearing more than trusting.

I don’t really have to choose one of my Lenten sacrifices this year. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the lesson here doesn’t lie in the choosing but in the accepting instead.

 

And his kingdom shall have no end

In December of 2012 (yup, quite a long time ago) a good friend of mine whom I “met” online but also have had the great pleasure of spending time with in-person approached me about taking a line Nicene Creed and explaining what it meant to me over on her website as a part of a Year of Faith series she is hosting. Well, the line “and His kingdom shall have no end” immediately popped out at me, and I had one of those amazing, a-ha! moments where I knew exactly what those words meant and what I wanted to write about them. The real bummer is I didn’t actually sit down to write anything when I was so infused with wisdom and months later when I did sit before my computer, my mind was as full of doo-doo as Thomas’s diaper is right about now. But I  managed to extract out a few words that I can only hope make sense to some people out there. (Now it’s time to extract my boy’s bottom from his wasteland of a diaper.) Theologian I am not. I’m just an ordinary wife and mom who tries to write as authentically as possible about her faith (or lack thereof). At any rate, thank you to Melanie for having me over at her beautiful blog.

Here’s an excerpt from my guest post:

Three years ago I moved to a new town after supporting my husband through a decade of medical training. It was the end of what sometimes seemed like an interminable chapter marked by tight finances and long hours for him at the hospital and long hours for me as a mom to three active, little ones in 1,400 square feet in a “transitional” neighborhood that never started to transition.

During those long, lean years, I always tried to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and to remind myself this hard work and all the sacrifices we were making had a payoff and also that there were millions of people suffering under the weight of poverty, sickness, or both, and there would be no end to their labor or suffering. (And, no, I never referred to sticking to a strict grocery budget or sometimes feeling like I was a single parent as suffering, although I did whine about some of it too often.)

But when we moved in to our beautiful, new (new for us, but of the old and charming variety) home and my husband started his new job, I found there wasn’t nearly as much light as I’d imagined. Those first few months felt like I’d fallen back into a dark tunnel and was trapped in a mire of disappointment. Later, I’d realize it was only reality and that it was my great and quixotic expectations that left me floundering in their sobering wake. Life was indeed not perfect. My toddler still threw epic tantrums. Our basement flooded. Our pet fish died. I opened a box after our move to find one of my favorite dishes reduced to shards. I felt alone. I had no friends. My mom became sick.

I sat one night alone at the dinner table with a beautiful feast spread, growing colder by the minute. It was my husband’s birthday. I’d put the kids to bed early and planned on surprising him with a quiet dinner for two. He’d texted me and told me he’d be late. That was around 6 p.m. Two hours later I started to cry, shoulders slumped, my tears falling down upon my plate making the cold food soggy.

What was supposed to be a birthday celebration turned into a lengthy pity party.

This just wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

Shortly after my breakdown, I remember reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day And his kingdom shall have no end aloud to one of my children and realized that I’d been thinking that this new phase in our life was going to be my Australia. (For those of you unfamiliar with the story, a little boy has an awful day or he thinks he does – he’s trapped in that “life’s not fair” funk, which makes you feel like a victim even when you’re not – and he keeps saying he thinks he’ll move to Australia.)

Of course, things did get easier in our new home and our new life, and I love living in our neighborhood now even though we still have bad days, and sad things happen to my family and in the world. But how many times have I been searching for my Australia or really, my Eden, a place where everything goes as I think it ought to, where the government doesn’t infringe upon its citizens’ religious freedoms, where the dignity of every person – from the unborn to the elderly – is valued, where everyone I let go ahead of me in traffic warmly offers me a wave of thanks, where there are no outbursts (from my children or from me), no dust on furniture, and no basements flooding?

His Kingdom will have no end. And neither will humans’ miserable lot in this earthly life.

Read the rest here. You can also find other far more erudite guest posts as part of Melanie’s Credo Series: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith Beyond here.

What will they remember?

Each Advent season we head out to a local Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect tree. I am honestly okay with a Charlie Brown tree, but my detail-oriented husband is a perfectionist about things of which I am not and always has a hard time selecting the tree. The kids show him their favorites, and he inevitably finds a bald spot or notices the tree’s overall shape is too sparse or too asymmetrical. Eventually he reluctantly acquiesces with one of the kids’ selections after I remind him no real tree is going to be a flawless shape and height. But we’d rather have real than artificial.

Then we return home, and that’s when I start wanting things to be perfect. The tree is just a tree, but the memories we make decorating that said tree better be glittery-gold. So I make homemade cocoa. The girls dip candy canes into warm pools of chocolate. Then they watch The Grinch as my husband laces the tree with multi-colored lights. None of that elegant-only-white-light business; that’s not the kind of perfection I’m after. We do bold and bright in the Wicker house. The same holds true for the ornaments. There are no themes. The decorative danglers cover the gamut – from homemade angels with pictures of the kids’ heads for faces to a bristly hedgehog that was my husband’s as a boy.

I love sifting through the bottomless container of ornaments. So many of them conjure up memories or old loves like the golden horse head molded out of clay that reminds me of my beloved Palomino, Sunny or the Baby’s First Christmas ornament that I received during my first month of motherhood. This is a tradition I savor. My children do, too, and I hope these are the moments they will remember instead of the less sepia-toned ones like the daily fighting that occurred each morning over whose turn it was to open the drawer of our Advent calendar where four M&Ms (all the same color so as to dissuade another fight) were hidden.

 I once wrote about how moms are not memory-keepers, but memory-makers. We can’t control what our children will remember or what they won’t. Nor should we obsessively try to document every moment on Instagram. Sometimes we just need to live it even when it’s not so pretty and we’re afraid of what type of emotional sediment might be settling in our children. But again, isn’t real better than artificial? We want real, human memories not contrived ones.

But living it can be so tough sometimes. For whatever reason, my Advent season this year was more stressful, or maybe it just felt that way. (Not being able to run is still taking its toll on my emotional health, but a recent MRI looked very promising, and it seems that my hamstring tear is healing quite well!) These 12 days of Christmas have been much more manageable and enjoyable, too. My husband did not get his perfect tree although it was darn close and a real beauty this year. I didn’t get my perfect memories. That’s life. We gathered around, and kids started pulling out several ornaments from the big plastic storage box all at once. I barked orders about not getting new ornaments out until each child hung up the one in her hand. Then Thomas broke an ornament. It looked like a ball, so he hurled it across the living room. And, of course, all the girls were sad as if that was there favorite ornament of all time. We comforted Thomas because we thought he was scared from the glass ball shattering at his feet. Maybe he really thought it was a ball. Poor guy. No matter that there’s no throwing in the house. Little goober gets away with everything. But then he snagged another ornament off the tree and chucked it across the room where it promptly shattered into colorful shards.

I remember how I felt standing there in the shadow of a beautiful, sparkling tree. I examined the pieces and knew there was no way to salvage that ornament. At that moment, I felt the same way like I’d been broken into so many pieces there was no way I’d ever be made whole again.

Nothing seemed to be turn out the way I had hoped or the way I wanted it to. The Advent memories were not very Norman Rockwell-ish at all. We were a mess. And a very noisy one a that.

So I wonder: Will the children’s memory banks see past all that? Will they take ornaments out each Christmas and smile fondly, or will they remember the shards reflecting the tear-stained faces in their broken shininess?

A few summers back an evening storm flashed in the sky. The girls and I gathered together and read The Storm Book What will they remember? and Storm in the Night What will they remember? by candlelight. They cuddled close and listened to the beautiful imagery of both the books. We weren’t doing anything grand, but no one was fighting and everyone, including me, just seemed content. It felt like we were exactly where we were supposed to be together safe from the storm churning outside. I remember thinking, “This is what I want them to remember. The stories shared. The way their mom’s face looked serene and joyful in the soft glow of candlelight, the way the rhythm of her voice sang out the lyrical words from good books, the way later that same night she did not push us off to our own beds but fell asleep beside us and loved us as well as she could in her raw humanness.”

I cannot go in to great detail because I know it is my job to protect my children and to be their champion and that sometimes means keeping things private, but one of my children is going through a rough patch. It has been going on for some time now, and I’ve been desperately trying to fix things.  However, like so much of parenting, I am learning a great lesson in humility. I wince because I fear we have made some bad memories together, and perhaps this is partly why I am found myself almost maniacally trying to make our annual Advent traditions even more golden and lovely in an effort to snuff out the not-so-nice moments that are coming all too regularly.

We are getting help. We are working on it. I am trying to remain hopeful and to remind myself that this too shall pass. I am trying to not let my fears that I have failed her as a mother or that she may always struggling this much eclipse the hope I have not so much in myself or even in my precious child but in an all-loving God who can make up for each of our humanness, who can take our very brokenness and transform it in to a beautiful life.

A friend of mine sent me a poignant post about how maybe Advent is supposed to be a little sad because we so desperately need a Savior. We are broken, hurting. We are not satisfied. We need hope – Christ – to be born in our hearts. We are not like that shattered ornament. We can always be redeemed and pieced back together.

I am not sure what my children will remember. Maybe they will recall the creamy cocoa, the silliness, the Tomie dePaola Advent and Christmas tales  What will they remember?more than the fights over who got to hang up what ornament and then Mommy’s shouting over the din that she won’t take anymore of this. But maybe they will have some memories that are less than sparkling. Maybe they will have a little Advent darkness, and maybe that’s okay. I’ve enjoyed the Christmas season so much, partly because our Advent wasn’t so easy. I similarly feel that when I am back running again, I will be wiser and appreciate each step I am able to take that much more.

My kids might have some darker recollections, but perhaps they will have the Christmas memories, too. The memories where we all got it right – not perfect but right for the moment. There were broken ornaments and sometimes broken promises, too. There were silly stories and happily ever afters, but there were some tear-jerkers thrown in there as well with endings that weren’t all neat and tidy. There was a mother who did her best. Sometimes that wasn’t nearly good enough for what her children and family deserved. But many times it was. It was somehow amazingly enough. There was hurt, but there was love that was inexorably linked to mercy and forgiveness.

And there was always grace, and it almost always was born out of the darkness. It came in the child who hugged the sad Mama and told her something she’d heard that sad Mama tell her, “There’s nothing you can do to take my love for you away or to earn it.” The grace came in a “just because” note a child scribbled down and shyly handed to her mother. It came in an apology. Grace filled our hearts as we filled cups during an Advent tea for the grandmothers. It was marbled in an email a father wrote to his daughter. It came in a love note of thanks from a husband on Christmas evening, the best gift a wife could ask for and one that made her cry tears of joy and thanksgiving. It came in a hot cup of cocoa, a homemade ornament with the face of a child propped upon a lopsided gingerbread body, and a sweet, family sing-along. Grace slipped into our lives just when we needed it. It was a gift that grabbed a hold of hearts even if we were lousy at preparing ourselves for it. Somehow, like Christmas for the Grinch’s Whos, it came all the same without boxes, packages, or bags. Without perfect mamas. Perfect children. Perfect memories. Grace was there. Joy was there. This is what I hope, God-willing, these children of mine might remember.

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