Of all things visible and invisible

This morning my sweet 2-year-old boy delicately cupped my chin in his dimpled hands, widened his bright, brown eyes, and said to me, “Do laundry. Make dinner.”

I have to admit I was expecting him to profess his unfettered love to me, not give me a to-do list.

I laughed at this unexpected moment but if I’m completely honest, my heart felt an ounce heavier, too.

Lately I’ve felt like my life has been reduced to a list of menial tasks. Many of my friends have careers outside of the home or they at least work part-time. I’ve drastically cut back on the amount of freelance work I do. I have one chapter of the novel I say I’m writing, and it’s not a very good chapter either.  When I homeschooled the older children, I at least felt like that was my job. I was a teacher. I was imparting great wisdom to these impressionable souls gifted to me. These days I feel like I am simply the person who cleans up spills, folds clothes, and makes sure permission slips are signed and returned to school.

I don’t write much. I blog sporadically and am always apologizing for my vapid posts. I don’t run (still resting…and hurting. Sigh). I don’t homeschool. Here’s what I do do: I clean. I nag. I wipe snotty noses. I schlep kids around. I worry that I’m doing it all wrong, that I am ruining my kids. I feel like no one notices all that I do. I feel taken for granted, used, and ignored. Wah, wah, wah. Please tell me you have felt this way before, too.

A friend of mine texted me a few weeks ago and asked me if I ever feel invisible. Um, yes. All of the time. I’ve wondered what would happen if I slipped quietly away.  Of course, the world would still turn. But my household? It would be even more chaotic and discombobulated than it is now. I remember reading Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler before I had any children and being miffed with the heroine’s selfish behavior. In the novel, 40-year-old Delia Grinstead strolls down a shoreline and just keeps walking, abandoning her husband and three older children. The decision is not a premeditated one, and there was no big fight or breaking point that forced her to walk away from it all. She leaves more on an impulsive whim because she is tired of feeling like a “tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges.”

I didn’t get it then. I could not empathize with Delia. Today I have more insight. Today I sometimes feel like that gnat, too, that everyone is swatting away and doesn’t want around to bug them about picking up dirty laundry off the floor or being kind to their siblings.

I’ve taken two pregnancy tests recently (both were negative), not because I really thought I was pregnant (it would have been a miracle) and not even because I am desperately longing for another baby, although I would certainly embrace a new, little life if one was given to me. It was more out of a need to feel useful, to have a sense of purpose, and duty, to be more than a pesky gnat. I’ve written before that babies, while certainly physically exhausting, are beautifully simple to me. Their needs and wants are one in the same. I nurse them when they cry, and they are at least briefly satisfied. They want only mama. I have an excuse to “do nothing” except care for my baby. People allow you that when you have a newborn but when you have older kids, you need to be team manager for the soccer team and make homemade snacks. Or there’s the pressure – real or perhaps just perceived – because you’re “just” an at-home mom.

Lately I’ve found myself pining for those simple, early days of motherhood when it was just my baby and me in a cathedral sort of calm, cloistered off from the rest of the world and to-do lists. The miracle of what happened within my body – the laborious process of growing a human – was obvious as I held the baby in my arms. When I had that pregnancy bump, it was a visible sign of sacrificial love. Those first smiles were big returns for my investment. I felt needed. I had a great purpose. The babies needed my womb to house them. As newborns, they needed my milk and arms to comfort them. As my kids grow older, I feel more like a glorified waitress and maid. My job is to serve (and serve again) and pick up after them, and I’d better not forget to send water bottles with them to school or soccer practice. Sure, there are plenty of bigger teaching moments. I know mothers do far more than keep house, but I do struggle with this dying to self and all this quiet, unnoticed work. There has been a longing in my heart for little ones to nurture – as if I don’t still have young children underfoot (my oldest isn’t even 9 yet, but she’s getting very close!).

I could blame my internal struggle on society and the push for women to do it all. It’s easy to feel like a slacker when you only have four kids whom you no longer homeschool, and you don’t work outside of the home, and your husband even hired a house cleaning  service to help you out for a bit. I mean, what exactly do I do all day?

I don’t watch TV. I don’t squander hours on Facebook. I do go to library story time with two littles. I read lots of books. I search for MIA shoes and socks. I bake muffins with sous chefs at my side. I make sure soccer cleats and shin guards are in their place for practice and that soccer balls are round with ample air. I meal plan. I wash dishes. I wipe counters. I kiss boo-boos. I encourage. I tickle. I wrestle wiggly toddlers into diapers.

But too often I am focused on all that I don’t do and on all that I lack. Or I look at my work and think it’s so mundane and useless. What’s the point? Many times I dwell on all that I do wrong: How I may have handled the emotional, raging child the wrong way, how I bark orders too much in the morning to ensure we make it to school on time, how I bite my nails, or ply my kids with Goldfish instead of making homemade crackers from the recipe I found when I was pregnant with my first. (I’m already forgetting about the homemade, healthy pumpkin muffins we made just this week.)

Then I discover notes like this: A “just because” note that should remind me that all this work I do – the routine stuff and the more important stuff too – has meaning that transcends hazardous waste removal.

rachels love note 1024x768 Of all things visible and invisible rachels love note pg 2 1024x768 Of all things visible and invisible{She’s asking about my hamstring tear. Sweet girl. }

 Those little people do notice and they do love you even when their actions, their hurling of phrases like “I hate you” pierce your heart and cause you to collapse into a heap of self-doubt (or maybe that’s just me).

And you’re probably doing a better job than you think like this must-see video reveals. (Do watch it when you get a chance. My babysitter sent it to me recently, and it was just the pick-me-up I needed.)

I’m traveling through a rough patch right now. People said it would get easier as my kids grew older. I feel like it gets lonelier. I feel more powerless than ever before. There are all these unique people in my midst who have strong wills and their own ideas of how to live their lives. Pregnancy, nursing, babywearing – these were all more obvious signs of love. Now I am more hidden. And so is my work. Being a mom deals far more with that which is invisible. Love cannot be quantified, counted, or priced. It can only be given. Sometimes it’s given in more obvious ways like when you hold a tired child. Sometimes it’s doled out in meal after meal you serve day after day. Sometimes love is offered in a “no, you can’t have an iPod touch even if every other almost 9-year-old in the world has one.” When you give that love, you’re only given rejection and anger in return. Your work is hard. It’s tireless. It brings joy, but it hurts a lot, too.  There’s nothing extravagant about it. I am not building skyscrapers. I am not piecing together perfect prose. I’m not saving lives as my husband does on an almost daily basis. There are occasional love notes and hand-picked flowers (thank God for those gifts of gratitude), but there are no raises, promotions, great accolades, and I’ll certainly never be up for a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, or even finish number one in a race. No podium climbing for me, but there’s another ascending, a drawing closer to Love itself. Motherhood is surely a path to sanctity, especially if we give our work – even the most tedious tasks a greater purpose.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wisely stated, “It is not the nature of our work, but its consecration that is the vital thing.”

All that I have and all that I do, the visible and the invisible – from the bum-wiping to the limit-setting – is not only for my family but for the greater glory as well.

And the MRI says…

…stop running you fool.

Here’s the good news. For those of you who could care one iota about running, I won’t be hitting the pavement for a long time, so I may not be blogging much about it either.

Then again, I may need the catharsis because my dear husband encouraged me to get an MRI last Wednesday (I’ve been processing everything for over a week now), thinking that I may have taken the whole “no pain, no gain” thing too far. Further good news: The MRI showed that my piriformis is just fine, thank you very much.

And now for the not-so-good devastating-oh-my-gosh-how-am-I-going-to-survive-months-maybe-a-year-of-recovery news. Per the MRI I am the lucky recipient of:

  • Partial tear left semimembranosus tendon at ischial tuberosity (AKA partial tear in the upper hamstring. If you search “worst running injury ever,” a forum will immediately pop up debating which injury takes the prize. Guess what? My lucky injury wins. Yay for me!)
  • Reactive marrow edema left ischial tuberosity
  • Proximal left hamstring muscle complex edema with no intramuscular hematoma or rupture at myotendinous junction
  • Edema does surround left sciatic nerve
  • Mild left femoral shaft periostitis (This lovely medical mumbo jumbo can lead to a stress fracture if I’m not careful.)
  • Edema in the gluteus minimus bilaterally with possible partial tear of the tendon at the greater trochanter on the right (only partially imaged)
  • Small scattered areas of muscle edema bilaterally likely delayed onset muscle soreness secondary to the recent race

Translation: My body is breaking down, and I won’t be running or doing much of anything for several weeks. Total recovery time is nebulous. I was given the range of eight weeks to one year. That’s 365 days. Yes, I cried me a river.

Last week I was angry and frustrated, too, because the first injury, in particular, is rare and not easy to treat. I’ve played the it’s not fair game. Well, of course it’s not fair. But it’s not fair that children are involved in human trafficking, and that brides are still getting burned in Asia. Or that people get cancer. Kids get cancer. It’s not even fair that my parents’ sweet dog/pet therapy superstar, Ivy, died yesterday. Maybe “Why me?” should really be “Why not me?”

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to scream and pound my fists because I feel like I am capable of so much more than my body is allowing me to do, but I’ve got to make peace with this broken body of mine.

I’m supposed to rest from all aerobic exercise, not just running, for several weeks, so I am afraid that I am going to turn into to a useless, energy-sapped lump, and all my muscles will atrophy. Yoga and Pilates – or anything that stretches that hamstring of mine – is off limits for the short-term, too. So I guess I’ll be doing lots of push-ups. Those don’t hurt.

Funny aside: Apparently the proximal hamstring injury is more common in elite athletes and older athletes (older than my 34 years). I was bemoaning this aloud when Madeline, my “glass-is-half-full” 8-year-old said, “Well, Mommy, that means you’re an elite athlete.” I was very grateful she didn’t say something about me being old.

Ann Voskamp wrote, “Patience is a surrendering to suffering — a willingness to wait — a carrying of the Cross.”

I have to embrace a willingness to look beyond myself and my real or perceived flaws, and then to just wait it out.

I want to take action and make this better. Now. I don’t want to believe the naysayers I’ve found on the Internet who say they’ve never been able to overcome their proximal hamstring injury. (Here’s some advice for anyone dealing with a sports-related injury or even a sickness: Do not read discussion boards or forums because you get the miracle stories and the hopeless ones. There are plenty of “in-betweens” who don’t share their journeys online.) But I am rendered powerless. All I can do is ice, rest, and wait.

Pray that I will wait with grace.

No Kiawah Half in December. No fun girly runs for several weeks, probably months. But I’m determined to make a comeback and to beat my 1:44 half marathon PR that I ran with a jalopy of a body.

But you know what? I must be nearing the acceptance phase of all this because I’m okay with it if I come back as a turtle. Slow and steady and healthy. Or even not at all. I will be okay if I never run another day in my life. I don’t think that’s the case, but I will be okay.

It was a wake-up call when even the physical therapist who is known in town for getting runners back on the streets or treadmills looks you in the eyes and tells you that rest is the very best thing for you right now. He tells you that the way he saw you running on the treadmill made him believe you were feeling pretty great. Now he knows I just push too hard. He also reassures you that your biomechanics aren’t messed up and that you’re probably sitting there injured because of over-training and perhaps not being more mindful of sleeping enough and eating enough. He reminds you that perfectionism is not the bar to set for you. If you want to be the best runner, mother, spouse, whatever, then it’s your idol because it’s impossible. Perfection is impossible.

Is “PERFECTIONIST” stamped on my forehead? Because more than massage therapy or stretching at my PT session yesterday I received a much-needed “come to Jesus” talk.

In this hardship I’ve seen how blessed I am. Since I don’t see my running peeps for workouts anymore, we met to crochet and knit. We’re cool like that. Two other dear friends left cards and care packages at my doorstep. They get it. They get me.

A dear, lifelong friend of mine who knew me during my eating disorder days recently had dinner with me, and she gently reminded me that I don’t have to perform at running or anything else. I know this has been a persistent theme over on this blog and in my life lately. I’m not sure why I’m struggling again, but the first step to overcoming these chronic feelings of inadequacy is to recognize them and to counter them. This same friend also said that I have a history of running myself in to the ground and that maybe this injury is God’s way of urging me slow down a little and to just soak up life in all its beautiful simplicity.

And, my friends, all this angst and emotion is not just about the running or lack thereof. Something is unfurling with in me at a much deeper level. I write to heal, so I’m writing. That’s all.

Have a happy and safe Halloween and a lovely Feast of All Saints. I hope to post some photos of tonight’s motley crew and tomorrow’s saintly crew.



I get knocked down, but I get up again

I’ve written before about how seeing our bodies as instruments rather than objects goes a long way in boosting our body image. But what happens when despite our best efforts to take care of it, this instrument of ours doesn’t work properly? What then?

I was supposed to run a 15K today. In two weeks I am signed up to run a half. In 10 weeks I am signed up to run another half. This is my busy race season. I’d been feeling great during training. I’d suffered from an occasional twinge or pain here and there, but nothing I was worried about and nothing that kept me from lacing up my running shoes for more than a day or two. I had slacked off somewhat on my stretching and strength conditioning routine, but I’m a mother, not a professional athlete. There are only so many hours in the day.

Last Saturday I had an invigorating 11 mile run with my favorite running peeps. The air was brisk. I live in a college town, and it was the morning of a big game so even though it was early the campus we snaked our way through was a abuzz with energy. I felt great. Even close to the end when my legs were feeling a little heavy, I had enough left in me to sprint the final stretch. After the run, My family and I spent the day with good friends. I was active with the kids and didn’t feel a hint of soreness.

Sunday came, and it was a glorious fall day. I rounded up the entire family, dog included, for a family walk. The older girls and I sprinted up a few hills, and I remember thinking that my left bum felt a little sore. But, hey, I just did a long run yesterday. That’s all it is. My body’s a little tired.

That night I was sitting on the car on the way to the teen Mass when my left bum started aching. It hurt just to sit. I thought it was weird, but I figured it was a fluke. On Monday morning I woke up for a run with my pals, and it hurt to walk. I was foolish and decided to hit the pavement anyway. I figured I just needed to warm up even though I don’t usually feel stiff in the morning and am one of those obnoxiously spry people early in the morning who bounds out of bed. When I started running, I told my friend I’d have to go more slowly. I pushed through four miles while my bum screamed at me. One of my friends says that when her aches and pains talk to her, it’s okay to keep going but if they start screaming, it’s time to stop. I didn’t.

When I returned home, I started researching what could be causing the pain. At first, I thought I had piriformis syndrome, so I started using the pigeon stretch and massaging the area with a tennis ball. I decided to cross-train for the week until the race. I told myself I’d be fine. I tried to jog on a flat stretch of grass on Wednesday, which was another dumb move on my part. I’d said I wasn’t going to run, but it was so pretty out and I had a stretch of time while my oldest practiced soccer and my running shoes were on (I may have worn them on purpose as an excuse to run just a little). The run wasn’t terribly painful, but it wasn’t enjoyable either. Still, I was hopeful. I took a barre class on Thursday. I hit the Family Y for a Pilates class on Friday. I was determined to work my core, stretch, rehabilitate.

After the Pilates class, which has always made me feel better with any ache or injury I’ve endured, I came home and cried because I was feeling worse, not better at all. I’d tried to be careful and had been icing and stretching, but it was making no difference – or it was possibly making everything worse. I was suspicious that I wasn’t dealing with piriformis. My husband asked me what the differentials are for it. (I love it when he speaks doctor to me.) Upon further research, it seemed like my pain was more of the high hamstring tendinopathy variety. This made me cry more because this is not a common injury or an easy one to overcome, although my friend’s husband, who is an orthopedic surgeon, is far more optimistic than most of the literature I’ve read. There’s a little yay!

I’m stubborn, so I still picked up my race number. Then called my good friend and running partner and asked her for advice. She’s the one whose husband happens to be an orthopedic surgeon. I tried to get in to see one of his colleagues that Friday, but he wasn’t in clinic. So her kind husband came over, asked about my symptoms, did a brief examination and confirmed that I am likely suffering from high hamstring tendinopathy as well as hip bursitis.

I started to cry (again). I cried harder thinking how stupid I was being because it’s just running after all. I asked if I should run the race. “I know it’s important to you,” he said, “but I wouldn’t. It could pop.”

photo221 1024x1024 I get knocked down, but I get up again

My feet are suffering from serious separation anxiety not being able to slip into my running shoes.

I briefly envisioned myself running my best race and going out there for all the glory and crawling across the finish line with a popped hamstring, but then I remembered I have two half marathons coming up so maybe I should be kind to my body and skip this race.

I cheered my friend on this morning along with the two older girls, her husband, and her two children. I was so happy to see her running and high-fiving us.

Then I returned home and cried some more. I’ve cried a ridiculous amount today. To be fair, I had been in a slump before the injury came down and in fact, after my therapeutic run last Saturday, I told my husband at least I had running as my Prozac. (I know, maybe my faith should be more of my Prozac.)

All the non-runners out there might think I’m crazy, and I have admittedly grown to love and yes, need my weekly runs. (Runners do tend to get addicted to their runs.) They give me energy. Since I run with good friends, my longer runs double as therapy. I feel like I am a better mom since starting my running routine again. Running also gives me a sense of accomplishment, and it’s been a hobby that has been easy to squeeze in around family life since I get up early to run before anyone else is even awake. It’s Mom’s thing. The kids know I run in the morning. I’m going to miss all of this tremendously. I’m going to try to see a regular physical therapist this week but from what I can gather, this kind of injury is stubborn and persistent and not something you should just run through, thinking it will get better. I’ve seen the recovery time listed at 8 to 12 weeks (ARGHHHH!!!!) and what’s worse, is I’m supposed to avoid any activity that bothers it. Sitting hurts. Rowing hurts. Walking hurts. Even the elliptical trainer, my go-to cross-training exercise, didn’t feel great. So I am afraid I am going to be reduced to a motionless lump. That will drive me crazy.

But it’s more than all that. I am sad that I am so sad about something as trivial as a running injury. Get over yourself, Katie. But above all, I am angry with my body. If it’s this lovely instrument I’m supposed to take care of – which I’ve worked so hard to do in the past year by training prudently, fueling it with healthy food, and aiming to get more sleep – then why is it so screwed up? Why can’t it just not get hurt when mentally I am tough and ready and aerobically I feel like I could go on for miles and miles? Then the ultimate thief of joy sneaks in and I start to compare. Why can’t I handle as many miles as so-and-so? What is wrong with my body?

I remember feeling a very similar twinge of inferiority when I suffered from my first miscarriage (only I was, of course, far sadder). What went wrong? Why was my body not able to keep this baby?

I know of a friend who could not, despite trying to do everything “right” and consulting with multiple lactation consultants, nurse her first two babies. She said it was awful how the shame crept in and how she questioned her body, even her maternity. I know of another woman who longed for a natural childbirth but ended up having to have several medical interventions. Hers was a clear cut case of needing modern medicine to keep her and her baby healthy and safe; yet, she mourned her labor experience for months and wondered why her body had failed her.

My own mom gets frustrated because her chronic pain sometimes prevents her from living the full life she imagined. Mentally, she wants to do more. Physically, she just can’t.

Disease, aging, injuries, even our own natural design (high hamstring tendinopathy is far more common in female runners), and so many factors simply out of our control start to make us question ourselves and our bodies.

As I type all this, my bum aches, and I’m angry, but I also know that this instrument of mine isn’t designed just to run races. I have to accept my body and its innate strengths – and its limitations. This body of mine may never live up to what I want or think it should look like or perform like, but I can’t punish it or berate it. I can’t stay in bed all day crying either.

This instrument has many purposes. I’ve been blessed to give birth naturally four times and to nurse four babies. Somehow I forgot all that as I wallowed in my pity, sobbing because I may have to sit this race season out. I also forgot something else. My body is a vehicle to live out a life of purpose – a life God purposes for me. That might include running, but what it most definitely includes is taking care of this family of mine and loving others. And I can do that even with a pinching pain-in-the-bum.

Our weight and our ability to run, nurse, or get pregnant should never rule our life. God should. Love should. Our bodies aren’t instruments to do just what we want them to do; they are instruments to do God’s will and to minister to others.

I can’t run or even sit for too long right now, but I can write a “just because” note to a friend. I can hug my children and nurse them, too. I can make a delicious meal for my husband. I can pet my dog. I can smile at the grocery store clerk. I can read story books aloud to eager, little ears. There’s so much I can do.

It’s going to be very, very difficult for me to not run, to not be with my dear friends in the early morning, and to perhaps have to give up my racing aspirations for this season (and lose all that money spent on race registration fees. Sigh.), but it’s not the end of the world, as my 8-year-old reminded me when I was sniveling this morning. It’s not the end of me either and what I have to offer to my family and to others. I’ve been knocked down, but it’s time to get up again.

That running pal of mine who ran the race today and ran it very well sent me a link to a blog post earlier this week before she even knew how down I was or just how bad my bum felt. She wasn’t running when she clicked “send,” but she was most definitely an instrument in God’s hands because when I read the post, I cried (happy, grateful tears not pitiful ones this time) because it was just what I needed to read at that moment. Because I felt broken. Spent. Hopeless. Because I was trying to rely on my own strength and was angry that it had failed me. Because maybe like the author wrote, “God isn’t interested in my strength. He is interested in my obedience in weakness. Do you hear that? God said enough with my hobbies and my preferences. Let’s see about her obedience and her faith.”

I definitely recommend reading the post in its entirety, but I’ll conclude with this snippet:

This broken feeling is only broken if it stays there. If it stops in self-pity. If it wallows in grief about the lost emotions of our journaling days. But this is richer. When we seek His joy instead of our own, when we lay our best on His altar, and we have nothing left for ourselves, that is when we are truly accomplishing His purpose in our lives.

We are not broken. We are being healed. We are not alone. We are in His hands. We are not overwhelmed. We have a champion. We are not stupid. We are being made wise. We are not weak. For He is not weak. We are not hopeless. For we are His.

Now it’s time to get out of bed and jump – slowly and carefully so as to not injure this ridiculous body of mine – into life!

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