Saturday, December 21, 2013

In print.

Season's greetings! I have so much to tell you and so little time to write. While I work on some long-overdue race reports, I will take a moment to brag about two exciting things that just came in the mail:

It's us!

First, the story of our marathon honeymoon published in the newsletter of our local running club, the Annapolis Striders.

This was supposed to be a Christmas present, but close enough.

Second, a photo book that I made Andrew as a Christmas present. It chronicles my first six years of running and his first two. This is the product of HOURS of combing through old race sites for photos and stats and I am thrilled with it. Feel free to steal this idea.

That's all for now. Happy holidays and I hope you'll hear some more from me soon!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not of the Dead: Luke 20:27-38

Based on this week's lectionary, Andrew and I are thinking of starting a Christian band
with 1 woman and 7 men called "The Levirate Marriage." See below.

Greetings from my current home, buried under a mountain of work. I have much to tell you- about my 3rd triathlon of the year, the Baltimore Half, and Marine Corps Marathon- but right now building up my caseload at my new office is taking nearly every waking moment.

While you wait, here's a sermon I preached this morning at my home church, St. Andrew's UMC in Edgewater. Enjoy!

Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” 

Not of the Dead:
Luke 20:27-38

Whenever I hear this text, I think about visiting my Grandma Cleo’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Grandma Cleo grew up in the remote mountains of southern Virginia. She and her family burned wood for heat, used wells for water, and hunted for food. As a young adult, Grandma Cleo met and fell in love with a local boy named Parley. They dated for a few years, and then got married. After Grandma Cleo died, we found poems and notes she had written about her courtship with my grandfather. Her writings make it clear that they loved each other dearly. They had two children together, my father and my uncle, but they also had a big problem. My grandfather suffered from severe mental illness. Eventually, it got so bad that my grandmother took her young children and moved all the way to Annapolis in order to seek help for my grandfather. Among my grandmother’s letters, we found correspondence between her and a doctor at Johns Hopkins, proposing treatments for my grandfather. Once the treatments were arranged, Grandma Cleo sent for my grandfather, but he wouldn’t come. They got divorced, and my grandmother wound up raising her children as a single, working mother back when such a thing was virtually unheard of.

Years later, when Grandma Cleo was in her mid-40’s and her kids were all grown up, she had a job at the local Safeway. A regular customer started to notice her. His name was John, and he became my grandmother’s second husband. John died before I was born, but my family tells me that he and Grandma Cleo had a fairy tale romance. John adored her and treated her like a queen. She was just as in love with him. Over 16 years of marriage, they never stopped acting like newlyweds. Even though I never met John, I knew how much my grandmother loved him because she always talked about him. I think she missed him every day for the rest of her life. When I got engaged, I asked Andrew not to buy me a new ring, but to ask my parents for a ring that belonged to Grandma Cleo. My mother had this ring specially made for Grandma Cleo, combining her engagement ring with stones from a necklace that John gave her. Using this ring for our engagement represented the hope that Andrew and I will share the same kind of love in our marriage that Grandma Cleo and John experienced in theirs.

Grandma Cleo's ring.

At the end Grandma Cleo’s life, she took comfort in the thought that she would be reunited with John. Even talking about her burial did not upset her. She knew she would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with John, and she cherished the idea of being close to him forever. But there was a complication: John had also been married before. He had a wife who died young, leaving him a widower. John’s first wife is also buried in Arlington. I don’t know anything about her, but I have no reason to believe that John didn’t love her too. 

When I visit Grandma Cleo’s grave, I can’t help but think of all of them. I wonder about John’s first wife, buried right alongside John and Grandma Cleo. I wonder about my grandfather Parley, who never remarried and is buried with his family in Virginia. Are John and Grandma Cleo reunited in heaven? What about my grandfather and John’s first wife? If they are all in heaven, how are they relating to each other? In the resurrection, who is married to who?

In this morning’s Gospel text, a group of religious leaders called Sadducees test Jesus by asking a similar question. In order to understand their question, we need to understand two pieces of Jewish history. First, we need to know that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. This was a major difference between the Sadducees and other Jewish groups like the Pharisees. Second, we need to understand something called Levirate marriage. Levirate marriage was a Jewish law designed to address situations like the one in this text- times when a woman was widowed before she could give birth to a son. Under the Levirate marriage law, if a married man died childless, his brother was required to marry his widow. Then, the first-born son of the widow and her brother-in-law would be considered the child of the man who had died. This custom probably sounds strange and a little unappealing to us. I love my two brothers-in-law, but I would not be very happy if Andrew died and I was forced to marry one of them.

To us modern Westerners, Levirate marriage might sound like just another example of women being treated as property in the ancient world. But there’s more to it than that. In the ancient Jewish community, Levirate marriage was actually a way of protecting women and children. In a society where women were forbidden to work or own property, a childless widow was in a terrible situation. With no husband or children to care for her, she could easily find herself in desperate poverty. The Levirate marriage law ensured that a woman would be cared for by her husband’s family, even if her husband died. It also solved problems of inheritance. If a man died with no heir, the Levirate marriage could provide an heir for him. Finally, the Levirate marriage was a way of protecting Jewish identity. It prevented widows from getting remarried and having children outside of their tribe or community. For these very reasons, Levirate marriage is still practiced in certain tribal cultures all over the world.

The situation that the Sadducees propose to Jesus is an especially tragic one. The woman in the story loses her husband before they have any children. According to the custom, she marries her brother-in-law, but he also dies before they have children. One by one, she marries all six of her brothers-in-law and all six die without producing a single child. Then, the woman herself dies too. The people in this story have followed the Jewish law perfectly. Still, in an era when the purpose of marriage was to produce children and continue the Jewish community, they have failed.

Now, the Sadducees ask Jesus what will happen to these people in the resurrection. They propose a scenario so ridiculous that it sounds like something from a comedy. All 8 of these unlucky people meet in the next life. The woman has been married to all 7 of the men. So, whose wife is she now? We can almost picture them all, standing at the pearly gates and saying “Well, this is awkward.” 

Presented with this bizarre situation, Jesus gives a startling answer: “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” On first reading, it sounds like Jesus is dismissing the very idea of marriage. Is Jesus telling us that marriage is somehow beneath the whole idea of resurrection? This statement from Jesus makes me think of Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul suggests that single people should stay single and wait for Jesus to return. Paul, who was unmarried himself, seems to think that being single is somehow holier than being married. Does Jesus agree? As a happily married newlywed, that idea makes me uncomfortable. I certainly believe that a person can live a happy, fulfilling, and holy life without getting married. But I also believe that being married can enhance a person’s happiness and even their holiness. Sharing my life with another Christian has certainly enriched my own faith. In fact, most of the better ideas in this sermon came straight from my husband! 

Just when I started to worry that Jesus doesn’t believe in marriage, I focused on the rest of the text. Later, Jesus tells the Sadducees “…the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all considered fathers of the Jewish faith, but they are also fathers of actual children. They were all married family men. In fact, their marriages are important parts of the Biblical story. We never talk about Abraham without also talking about his wife Sarah. The story of Abraham and Sarah leaving their home to journey to Canaan is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. The story of Isaac finding his wife Rebekah is also a beloved Biblical story. Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel. Between them, they gave birth to twelve sons who are the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Marriage and family are essential to the stories of the patriarchs. I don’t think Jesus would invoke the names of the patriarchs in order to dismiss marriage and family.

So, if Jesus isn’t condemning marriage and family in this text, what is he saying? I think the heart of Jesus’ argument is in the final part of the text, when he tells us that God is “God not of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus is telling us that, in the resurrection, there is only life. Death will be no more. Take a minute and really think about that. Our existence in this life is defined by all kinds of boundaries. We all have limits on our physical abilities, and we grow more and more limited as we age. We all have limits on our intelligence and our other abilities. We all experience limits of time and resources. Finally, we all experience the ultimate limit of death. Whatever we may accomplish in our lives, none of us will live forever. However close we are to our loved ones, we all know that they could be taken from us at any moment. Even when we’re not thinking about it, this boundary affects every aspect of our lives. 

In the resurrection, the ultimate boundary of death will be gone. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine what that will be like. I’m not sure what I would do if I had no limits on my time or my abilities. I don’t know how I would relate to other people if I knew we would never be separated. The truth is, I can’t know. I think that’s what Jesus is telling the Sadducees. The idea of a woman being reunited with her seven deceased husbands is strange and uncomfortable if we think about it happening in our world. But in heaven, things will be different in ways that we can’t even imagine. 

I’ll be the first to admit that this idea isn’t exactly comforting. We tend to think of heaven as a place like Earth, but without all of the problems. Many of our great hymns and works of art imagine heaven as a great family reunion in the sky- a place where we’ll see everyone we lost throughout our lives and get to be with them forever. I like that idea, and I don’t necessarily like Jesus saying that heaven might not be what I imagine.

But then I remember Grandma Cleo. If there’s one lesson I learned from Grandma Cleo’s life, it’s that happiness might not come in the way you expect it. Growing up, Grandma Cleo probably expected to spend her whole life in the mountains, close to her friends and family. She expected to marry someone from her community and raise a family with him. When she fell in love with my grandfather, she believed that she would be with him for the rest of her life. She never imagined that she would lose him to something as terrible and mysterious as mental illness. She never imagined that she would move hundreds of miles away, live in a city, and raise her two boys by herself. I never asked her much about that time in her life- something I regret now- but I can only imagine that she went through some lonely and difficult years. I’m sure she grieved for the loss of her marriage and the family life she had envisioned. But then, something unexpected happened. Later in life, after she raised her children, she had her fairy tale romance. Grandma Cleo’s life with John was not the happy ending she dreamed of as a child, but it was certainly a happy ending. In many ways, meeting John was like a resurrection for my grandmother, and I imagine that it felt that way to him too. And even though Grandma Cleo lost John, their relationship became an inspiration to her children and grandchildren. I hope that a part of them is alive in Andrew and I, and will be passed down to our children.

Jesus is talking about the resurrection this morning, but I think he’s also telling us something about this life. To those who are going through dark and difficult times, grieving the loss of a person or a dream, Jesus is saying “Hold on. Have faith. I have wonderful things in store for you, more wonderful than you can even imagine.” To those of us who are happy, who feel like we are living our dreams, Jesus is saying “Don’t get too comfortable. Dream even bigger. Find ways to live as if there are no boundaries.” Jesus is reminding all of us to keep our minds and hearts open and to allow the possibility that happiness might come to us when we least expect it, in ways we never imagined. It’s not be the good news we are used to hearing, but it certainly is good news.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Month of mayhem, part 2: the Kauai marathon.

This is what running in Hawaii looks like. Sigh. 
I have been back on the mainland for a little over three weeks now, and I am finally adjusting to not being in Hawaii. Now that the longing has receded (a bit), I can tell you about one of the highlights of our trip: the Kauai marathon.

Andrew and I actually planned our honeymoon around this race. We decided early in our wedding planning not to go on a honeymoon right after the wedding, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that we both prefer adventurous vacations, and we knew we would be too tired after the wedding to go on a trip like that. Of course, the problem with postponing a honeymoon is that you can keep postponing it. A few months after the wedding, we still had no honeymoon plans. We both knew we wanted to go to Hawaii, but we didn't know when, which islands, or what to do there. Finally, I started looking for Hawaii marathons, and struck gold. The Kauai marathon was far enough away for planning, training, and saving money. Kauai- known for beautiful scenery and outdoor activities- looked like a perfect fit for us. Best of all, I found it less than a week before a price increase, which forced us to make a decision. After a couple days discussion, Andrew signed up for the half-marathon, I signed up for the full marathon, and we started planning.

Given the 6-hour time change and (slightly) different climate, I knew that I wanted a few days to settle in before the marathon. So, we decided to start our vacation by visiting my friend Katie on Oahu, and then head over to Kauai the day before the race. So, on a lovely Tuesday morning, we set out for Oahu. Trying to save money, we booked a flight with two long layovers in the middle.

Toasting to our honeymoon in the Minneapolis/St.Paul airport.
By the time you factor in the time difference, we wound up travelling for about 23 hours on the trip out. I have a terrible time sleeping on planes, so I stayed up pretty much the whole time. By the time we landed in Honolulu, I couldn't care less that we were in paradise. I just wanted to sleep. We got our rental car, drove to our 1-night hotel in Waikiki, and crashed.

The good part about staying up through a marathon of travel? Minimal jet lag. At a totally reasonable time the next morning, we woke up and took a walk around our hotel.

Not bad.
Now, it could sink in: we were in paradise. After hitting the hotel gym (go us), we spent the morning checking out Waikiki beach, and then drove about 30 minutes to Kailua to check into a micro-house we rented for out Oahu stay.

Welcome to our tiny home.
We found this place on AirBnB (you can see the listing here.) Its an 8x10ft. mini-house which our hosts built in their backyard. It was truly tiny, but had everything we needed and was in a great neighborhood right near the beach. As an added bonus, our hosts Denise and Henrik were super-nice and turned out to be runners and triathletes themselves. We spent a great happy hour with them swapping race stories and they helped us find a perfect local running route (see photo above).

Not counting the night we arrived, we were on Oahu from Wednesday-Saturday. During that time, we ran on the beach, ate at a famous restaurant for our (dating) anniversary, visited Pearl Harbor and a really cool museum, and checked out some of downtown Honolulu. Most importantly, we got to spend a day with Katie, my former roommate/running buddy (often featured in this blog) who moved to Hawaii 3 years ago. Knowing that I had a marathon coming up, Katie took us on an "easy" hike to see a waterfall:

Climbing. There was a lot of that.

Andrew and Katie at the waterfall.
Our "easy" hike was certainly scenic, but it involved a LOT of climbing. Knowing that I had a hilly marathon less than 2 days later, I freaked out a little. As we climbed, I mentally reviewed everything we had done so far and did not find much resting. We probably walked 5 miles in the course of our sightseeing, plus our run in Kailua, plus the hike. I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy the visit with Katie, but I was worried.

On Saturday, we said goodbye to Oahu and got on a plane to Kauai. En route to the airport, Andrew and I kept exclaiming over the beautiful mountain scenery and lamenting our short time on the island. It was truly beautiful and Kailua had a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe that we both enjoyed... But then we saw Kauai.

After we landed at the tiny Kauai airport, we picked up a shuttle for the 30-minute drive to our hotel. We told our driver we were running the race, and she pointed out parts of the race route for us. It was spectacular. Here is just one tiny example, taken from the marathon's Facebook page:

This is called the "tunnel of trees."
We got more and more excited as we drove along... and then we got to the hotel. The host hotel for the marathon was the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. Andrew and I consider ourselves more "micro-house" people than "grand resort and spa" people, but we got a discount for doing the race, and we saved a ton of money by doing AirBnB on Oahu, so we decided to splurge.  GOOD DECISION. This hotel was literally breathtaking. Our first view when we walked in was a cavernous lobby, open on one end with a perfect view of the ocean:

"We get to stay here???"
We also got the full "lei treatment" for the first time, which left us both fairly giddy:

There was a slight problem getting our room ready, so we went straight to the race expo. It was small, but very nice and friendly.

Very happy to be doing the half.


I don't usually buy things at race expos, but when were we going to get back to this one? We both picked up some t-shirts and a few things we forgot to pack (electrolyte tablets, earbuds, etc.). After the expo, we checked into our amazing room and took it easy for the rest of the night.

This is where we had dinner our first night in the resort. Amazing!

The next morning, we got up very early to catch a 4:45am shuttle to the 6am start. We took a short ride to a well-organized and friendly start area. The announcer told us that 1700 people were running that day, but only a little over 300 of us were doing the full marathon. At that point, I got VERY nervous. I was already intimidated by the course, which features 2,205 feet of climbing, much of it in the later miles. Now, I realized that I would probably be running those later miles with no company. Gulp.

At 6am, the gun went off and Andrew and I headed out together. While he and I usually run at our own paces, we had decided to run together for the first 11 miles, where the half and full marathons run the same course. For Andrew, this meant slowing down. He could have handled a faster pace for a half, but I did not want to risk going out too fast. We decided to do 10 minute/2 minute run/walk intervals and enjoy the scenery as much as possible.

It was beautiful. Andrew tells me that the first 11 miles were hilly. Looking at my GPS, I see that he's right- we gained over 600 ft. of elevation in the first 7 miles in a long, slow climb. Somehow, though, I don't remember any of that. I think the remaining 15 erased all of those memories. I do remember how beautiful it was. Andrew and I didn't stop to take pictures because we didn't want to load and unload our phones, but we did slow down to take it all in more than once. The early miles were all about beautiful trees with mountains in the background (see above). We also had one brief downpour, which helped with the 80+ degree temperatures.

Back when we were training, I asked Andrew to do me one big favor during the half: not to countdown the miles. I knew it would not be good for my mental state to hear him say "only 5 more miles!" when I still had 18. He did exactly as I asked. Later, he told me that he was really tired toward the end of the half and ready to be done, but I had no idea. The only time I got reminded of how far I had to go was when we ran through a neighborhood at mile 9. Some very nice people who had set up a full cheering section on their lawn yelled "Only 4 miles to go!" I yelled back "I have 17!," and they groaned sympathetically.

All too soon, we reached the spilt at mile 11. Andrew gave me a kiss and headed downhill toward the finish. I turned and headed... uphill... alone. Of the 50 or so people who hit the mile 11 mark with us, only myself and 2 others headed for the marathon course. To add insult to injury, another downpour started just as I headed up the first big hill. I think I actually said "Really?" out loud.

At that point, I did something I pretty much never do in races: I put on headphones. I generally consider it rude (not to mention unsafe) to wear headphones in big races, but I always carry them along with an IPod containing an "In Case of Emergency" marathon playlist. In three previous marathons, I never needed it. This time, though, I was headed uphill by myself, missing Andrew and the crowds. To make things worse, I was heading into a long out-and-back loop, which meant I faced a steady stream of runners headed back. They were approaching mile 23 and I was only at 12. I needed a little boost to keep me from turning around and heading to the finish with them. The music definitely helped me re-energize and forge ahead. I do have one regret, though: a few minutes after I put on the headphones, Dean Karnazes (otherwise known as "Ultramarathon Man") ran right by me. He is known for being really nice and encouraging and he looked me right in the eye and said something... which I couldn't hear. I appreciated it anyway.

Off to tackle the big hills.

Shortly after Andrew and I separated, I started losing track of the 10/2 intervals. I think the music gave me some steam because I actually ran straight through a couple of walk breaks. This turned out to be no problem, because my planned intervals became irrelevant somewhere in mile 12. Mile 12 was totally uphill, with an elevation gain of a little over 200 ft. Mile 13 was a little downhill break, and then the real fun started. Miles 14-16 were literally straight up hill. We gained over 400 ft. of elevation in those two miles, with 300 ft. of that happening in mile 15. Picture one long hill, getting steeper and steeper for 2 solid miles. Every time we turned a corner, I thought I might get a break, but instead it just kept going up. Even better, I spent the whole climb watching most of my fellow runners coming down. For this whole stretch, I ran when I could and walked when I had to. There was a lot of walking.

(This would be a good time to note the awesome crowd support in this race, which was one of only things making the hills bearable. Because of the heat, the race directors put a water stop nearly every mile in the marathon loop, and almost every stop had musicians or dancers. In addition, it seemed like everyone who lived along the marathon route came out to cheer and stayed out to the last runner. I was on the course for over 6 hours, with only 20 people behind me, and I had people cheering me the entire way. That says a lot about the people of Kauai!)

Finally, at the 16 mile mark, I reached the top of the climb. The course leveled out on top of a ridge. I ran by a clearing in the trees and was greeted with a breathtaking view:

The picture doesn't do it justice. I could see all the way down a beautiful valley, with mountains at the top and the Pacific in the distance. It was awe-inspiring. I might even say it was worth the climb! We were treated to this view, and some steady downhill, for the next 2 miles. I started skipping my walk breaks again and just running through. I also started passing people, which felt awesome. By mile 18, when we hit some more hills, I had joined a small group of fellow runners who were walking the uphills and running everything else. I resumed my 10/2 intervals until I got through those hills, which (thank God) were the last big ones.

By mile 20, I was feeling fairly good. Going into this race, I was really worried about a total breakdown like the one I experienced in the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon. Once I hit 20, I knew that danger had passed. I felt really proud of myself for toughing it our through the long, slow climb of the first 7 miles and the shorter, brutal climb of miles 12-16. I also felt ready to be done. As my coach Susan always says, the last 6.2 miles of a marathon are finished on mental strength alone. That was never more true for me than in this race. My body was pretty much done and it was only the thought of crossing the finish line that kept me going.

Waving was a major effort at this point.

At mile 24, I passed the place where Andrew and I had separated and started a 2-mile downhill "sprint" to the finish. At that point, "sprinting" translated to "not walking." Once I made the final turn, I started running toward the resorts of the southern beaches and saw the spectacular ocean in the distance. It was so hot that I wanted to run right into it!

I always get a little teary when I see the mile 26 sign in a marathon. As an added bonus for this race, that's where Andrew chose to wait for me. As soon as he saw me, he started running next to me and tried to get me to do a sprint, but I explained that a fast jog was the best I could do. FINALLY, 6 hours and 15 minutes after I started, I crossed the finish line!

Into the chute!


Andrew and I got our finish photo taken, and I started telling my war story.

Craziest honeymoon ever!
Almost immediately, a fellow marathoner overheard me and said "Please don't talk about mile 16- I'm still traumatized." We had a little chat, which was my introduction into the "Kauai marathon survivors" club. Over the next few days, I had several chats with fellow marathoners of varying ability levels. Some had finished in under 3 hours, others (like me) took over 6, but everyone agreed that it was the toughest marathon we had ever run. I also had a lot of conversations with half-marathoners, which all seemed to include the phrase "You ran the whole thing?" One of them even high-fived me. So, even though this was my slowest marathon by a decent margin, I wound up feeling really proud about it.

The best part of running a super-hard marathon in paradise was that, once it was over, I was still in paradise. Andrew and I spent the next two days relaxing and enjoying the resort and the rest of the island. When it came time to leave, we were talking about our favorite parts of our vacation and I said "As sick as this sounds, I really loved running that marathon." Andrew just rolled his eyes. I'm hopeless.

Toasting my finish at a post-race luau.

Done and done!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Changing for Good.

That's me!

Greetings, readers! I am still working on my Hawaii post. In the meantime, though, here's something completely different. Yesterday, I had the lovely experience of being a guest preacher at Pasadena United Methodist Church. My sermon is below. Two notes:

-The book I reference in this sermon is Changing for Good by Drs. James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente. There's more about the book in the sermon. For now, I'll just say that I highly recommend it to both clinicians and laypeople and you can buy it here.

-In this sermon, I talk about how to help a loved one who is having a problem and/or engaging in destructive behaviors. I advocate being patient with them, but I want to make very clear that "being patient" does not mean tolerating any kind of abuse. Take care of yourself first! 

Luke 16:19-31
19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Changing for Good

I was thrilled when Pastor Marshall asked me to preach here and I’m very happy to be with you today. But I’ll be honest: I wish I had been here two weeks ago. If I had been here two weeks ago, I could have preached on the parable of the good shepherd. I would have loved to preach about the good shepherd. Who doesn’t love the good shepherd? Instead, I’m preaching on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man- a story that makes me miss the good shepherd! The good shepherd is a story I can get behind. This story leaves me scratching my head. It’s obvious what we’re supposed to think. We’re supposed to know that Lazarus and Abraham are the good guys here, and the rich man is the bad guy. But by the end of the story, I feel a little confused. 

Yes, the rich man does a terrible thing. He witnesses the poverty and suffering of Lazarus day after day, right at his own gate, and he does nothing. The rich man has more than enough resources to care for himself. He wears fancy clothes and feasts every day. Surely, he could spare something to help his poor neighbor. Even worse, he knows that God wants him to help Lazarus! He knows the stories of Moses and the prophets, which are very clear about our responsibility to people in need. 

Every time that the rich man sees Lazarus and doesn’t help him, he commits a serious sin. So, we can’t be surprised at what happens after he and Lazarus die. Lazarus goes to be with Abraham, and the rich man is punished. What surprises me is what happens next, when the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his 5 brothers and convince them to change their ways. To me, this sounds like a reasonable request. When he asks about his brothers, the rich man isn’t trying to escape punishment. He realizes he made a terrible mistake in his life and he doesn’t want his brothers to go down the same path. I would think Abraham and Lazarus would want that too. If the brothers change, they will be saved from damnation after death. But even better, they could help countless needy people like Lazarus while they are still alive. Wouldn’t that be good for everyone? When I first read this story, I felt bad for the rich man and frustrated with Abraham. Why can’t Abraham send someone to talk to the rich man’s brothers? 

Then, I thought about something that happens to me at work all the time. I have training in pastoral counseling and I work as a therapist. People come to me every day to talk about their own personal problems, but they also tell me a lot about other people’s problems. My clients tell me about their mothers’ money problems, their fathers’ alcoholism, their siblings’ stubbornness and their childrens’ bad relationships. My clients care about their families and friends and they suffer when they see their loved ones suffering. Many of them want to help, but they don’t know how. Sometimes, a client will ask me if I can talk to their loved one for them. They say things like “You’ve helped me so much and you’re a professional. They won’t listen to me, but I’m sure they’ll listen to you!” Sometimes, my clients take out their phones in the office so they can make a call, right there and then.

I want to help my clients as much as I can, but in those moments I have to be a little like Abraham. My experience and my training have taught me that most people don’t welcome an unsolicited call from someone else’s therapist. Therapy can be helpful, but it works best when people choose it for themselves. My clients find me helpful because they chose to work with me and we have a relationship. To their family and friends, I’m just a stranger. It’s unlikely to help if I call them, and it might make things worse. 

When my clients ask me to talk to their loved ones, I have to say no. I tell them it wouldn’t be appropriate. People are often frustrated with this answer, and I don’t blame them. I have my own family and friends, and I can relate to wanting someone else to make a change. When we care about someone, its hard to watch that person struggle or make a mistake. Its natural to want to do anything and everything that might help. Have you ever watched a friend or family member struggle with an addiction, or a bad habit, or an unhealthy relationship? Situations like these test our relationships like nothing else. We wonder whether or not we should say something to the other person. We struggle to find the right words to express our concerns. We don’t know if our loved one will listen or get angry with us for meddling. Even if the conversation goes well, we don’t know if it will make any difference. All too often, when we take the risk of confronting a loved one about a problem, it doesn’t seem to help. Our loved one doesn’t make the change we want, and we wind up feeling hurt and frustrated.

Abraham voices a difficult truth in this parable, which is that change is hard. We can’t force the people we love to change, even when we have their best interests at heart. We can’t even force ourselves to change. How many of us know we need to exercise more, eat healthier, or budget our money better? Sometimes, we have all the reasons in the world to make a change and still find it difficult. 

Therapists like myself have known for a long time that change is hard, but we haven’t always been very understanding about it. We see clients every day who say they want to change, but struggle to make it happen. Not long ago, we were taught that clients who don’t cooperate with therapy are being “resistant” or “avoidant.” The conventional wisdom was that those clients just weren’t ready to change, and that we couldn’t do much for them until they got ready. Many of us believed that a person had to hit “rock bottom” before they would be ready to change. We were a lot like the rich man in the parable: we thought that something big and dramatic would have to happen to convince a person to change their ways for good.  

Of course, there’s a big problem what this attitude: it doesn’t help people. If I tell my clients that I can’t help them until they are ready to change, what are they supposed to do? How can they get ready? Fortunately, some very smart doctors and therapists have been working on this very question. I took my sermon title today from this book, Changing for Good. Changing for Good is a book by three psychologists who did a study of 1,000 people who made big life changes on their own. Some of them quit smoking or drinking, some of them lost weight and kept it off, some of them overcame problems with spending or gambling. The authors of Changing for Good studied how they did it, looking for lessons about how to help people change. This book and a few others like it have led to big changes in how therapists and other helpers treat people with problems.

The biggest idea to come out of Changing for Good is the idea that change happens in stages. Most of the time, big changes don’t happen the way that the rich man in this story wants them to. Most people don’t have big, life-altering experiences, see the error of their ways, and change right away. Instead, most people who change go through a long, slow process. It starts when a person has a problem, but doesn’t realize it. It continues as that person becomes aware of their problem, decides they want to do something about it, and figures out what to do. If the person succeeds in changing, they might spend the rest of their life working to maintain that change. Throughout the process, it’s normal for a person to make mistakes, fall back into old patterns, and have to work to get back on track. 

Once we understand that change happens in stages, we have a better idea of how to help someone change. When clients come to me with problems, my job is to figure out where they are in the change process and how I can help them get to the next stage. If a client comes to me and says she wants to quit smoking, but doesn’t know how, then I can help her research ways of quitting and coach her as she tries them. I have a very different job if she tells me that her kids and her doctor want her to quit smoking, but she wishes they would leave her alone. In that case, I need to help her think about what her doctor and her kids are telling her and consider that they might have her best interests in mind.

So how does this affect the rich man and his brothers? What can we do when we see someone in our lives headed down the wrong path? How can we help our brothers, sisters, parents, friends, or children change? 

First and most importantly, we can talk to them. In our parable, Abraham doesn’t believe that the rich man’s brothers would change, even if Lazarus rose from the dead to confront them. I think he’s probably right. As dramatic as it would be to get a message from a spirit, the rich man’s brothers don’t really know Lazarus. I think it would be much more meaningful if the rich man could talk to his brothers himself. Many people who successfully change say that concern from their loved ones helped them realize they had a problem. If we are concerned about someone we love, we should go to them and tell them what we notice about their behavior and why we want them to change. We should offer to help in any way that we can, whenever they are ready to accept help. 

Then, we need to be patient. Sometimes it takes a long time for the words of concerned family and friends to make a difference. In Changing for Good, one of the authors shares the story of a man named George, who came to him for therapy. George had many problems in his work and his relationships. George was also an alcoholic, who was in deep denial about his drinking. The therapist listened to George tell his story for a few weeks, and then gave his honest opinion. He told George that he was never going to solve his problems if he continued to drink. George didn’t like that. Instead of quitting drinking, he quit therapy. Four years passed. Then, to the therapist’s surprise, George came back. He said that he had been really angry when the therapist told him to quit drinking. But it had made him think. Then, over the next four years, other people in George’s life confronted him about his drinking too. Over time, he started to realize that the drinking was hurting him. When he decided that he needed make a change, he went back to the very therapist who first confronted him about the problem. They started working together and- slowly but surely- George turned his life around.

Just as we have to be patient while we wait for our loved ones to recognize their problems, we also have to be patient as they try to change. We have to understand that change is hard, and our loved ones might try and fail many times before they get it right. In church, we have special words for this: forgiveness and grace. 

I experienced a little of this just the other day. My husband and I are both people who used to be sedentary. We always knew we needed to exercise in order to stay healthy, but we had a hard time doing it. Then, we each went through a process of changing our behavior. Now, we both go to the gym on a regular schedule. We have classes that we like to take every week, and friends and trainers who expect to see us. But, like many other people who have changed, sometimes we fall back a little. Recently, we took a 2-week vacation. When we came back home, it was hard to get back into our early morning gym habit. For 2 weeks, we planned to go every day, but didn’t make it. This past Thursday, we missed one of our favorite morning classes, and I felt really guilty. So guilty that I resolved to go to the gym that afternoon after work- no excuses. So, I went, and guess who I ran into at the front desk? Our trainer from the morning class. Our trainer who hadn’t seen me for a month. I didn’t even let her say hello before I started apologizing and making excuses. But after a minute, she cut me off and said “I’m just happy to see you here now.” I remembered that comment the next day, when I didn’t feel like dragging myself out of bed again. If she had acted angry or chastised me, it would have been easy to get defensive. Instead, she welcomed be back with patience and understanding, and that made me want to get back on track.

Being brave enough to confront our loved ones about their problems can make a huge difference. So can offering help and being patient as they go through the change process. These are all things that any good therapist or doctor would do. But as Christians, we can do something else: we can pray. We can pray for our loved ones as they deal with their problems, and we can pray for ourselves as we try to help them. We can ask God for strength, courage, patience, and grace- all of the things that it takes to make a big change. We can seek counsel from a pastor or pastoral counselor. And we can trust in the good news we heard two weeks ago: that God will search for those who are lost until they are found. Yes, it is hard to change and just as hard to help someone else change. But we never have to do it alone. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

While you wait.

I've been back from Hawaii for about 3 weeks now, which is almost exactly how long I've been working on a blog post about the Kauai marathon. There's a lot to tell. I'll finish it soon, I swear, but while you wait, please enjoy this video. Its a promo for the 2014 Kauai marathon, but the footage is of the 2013 race. It captures the race really well. If you listen closely, you can hear me snickering when Dean Karnazes talks about how marathons take "a long time- 3 or 4 hours." I wish, Dean!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Month of Mayhem, part 1: IronGirl Columbia and the A10.

Aloha! I'm writing this from the saddest place on Earth- the airport, leaving Hawaii. Over the past week, Andrew and I celebrated our (belated) honeymoon ran a big race! On Sunday, I ran the (brutal) Kauai marathon and he did the (also challenging) half-marathon.
The view from one of our morning runs.
I'll write more about Hawaii and the marathon later, but first I should explain that Kauai was leg 3 of what I have dubbed by “month of mayhem.”

What is a month of mayhem? That's what happens when a normally organized person like myself signs up for a bunch of late summer events independently without plotting it all out on a calendar. Then, when she does look at a calendar, she sees this:

Sunday, August 17th: Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon

Sunday, August 24th: Annapolis 10-mile run

Sunday, September 1st: Kauai marathon

Sunday, September 8th: Iron Girl Rocky Gap Triathlon

Oops. Just in case that wasn't enough fun, I had my little wisdom teeth debacle (see previous post) which nixed a few key training weeks. So, I headed into this month poorly prepared and fairly scared. Fortunately, with three events down, I can say- so far, so good. Here's the report on legs 1 and 2:

IronGirl Columbia

When IG was my first tri in 2011, I was terrified and prepared really well. Two years and four additional tris later, the fear is gone. While its nice to line up at the start without my heart pounding, I could use a little of that fear back as a training motivator! I went into this year's event fairly well prepared for the run, moderately prepared for the swim, and poorly prepared for the bike. Not surprisingly, my race performance corresponded with my preparation (or lack thereof) in each area.
No fear here!
I posted a better swim time this year compared to last year, but felt like I struggled more. I just couldn't hold the proper form, which meant I had to work way harder than I should have. The good news, though, was that I never had a moment of feeling afraid or like I might not be able to finish. Having experienced that feeling in pretty much every other tri I've ever done, it was a relief to have some confidence!
Forcing a smile for the camera.
On to the bike! This year's bike course was pretty different from previous years. Going in, I had some vague hope that “different” might mean “easier.” That hope was promptly dashed. The new course was every bit as challenging as the previous course. On one particularly difficult hill, a very kind biker on a road bike passed me on my hybrid-with-a-broken-lowest-chain-rig and said “I honestly don't know how you are doing this on that bike.” It was a nice boost and made me feel good about all the time I spend lifting weights! Still, this may prove to be the ride that pushes me to finally buy a better bike.

SO HAPPY to be near the finish!

I went into this year's run resolved to take it easy. Knowing I had three more events to go this month, I didn't want to push it and wind up super-fatigued for days. I ran when I could and walked when I had to. It was my weakest run performance in this event, but I still pulled out a sprint at the end and felt fairly good overall.

As usual, the best part of IronGirl was seeing lots of my local athlete friends. I started the morning with my friend Christin from the Wonder Women group:
Making our coaches proud.
I also saw several other Wonder Women and a few friends from the Striders. This year, I was most excited for my grad school buddy, Jaquisha. Jaquisha is an accomplished runner and all-around great athlete. I always knew she was capable of doing tris and encouraged her to give it a shot. What I didn't know, though, is that she's deathly afraid of water and swimming. This year, she decided to try IronGirl anyway. She spent months with a coach learning how to swim and bike. She told me she cried at nearly every swim practice. Nevertheless, she pushed on and made it to the start line of IG.

As soon as I finished my race, I was dying to know how Jaquisha had done. I thought there was an 85% chance that she blew through everything like a champ and finished an hour before me, a 10% chance that she struggled in the water but made it and kicked butt at everything else, and maybe a 5% chance that she had major trouble on the swim. I found some ladies from her charity team and asked about her. They told me that she finished the swim, but spent over 2 hours in the water and was at risk of not finishing the bike course within the time limit. I was simultaneously terrified for her and deeply impressed. I was so worried that she might not finish in time, but so amazed with her for pushing through on the swim! I am not a quitter, but I think I may have given up on the swim after an hour. Pushing through for over 2 hours is simply remarkable.

Andrew and I weren't able to wait for Jaquisha because we had to get home for a friend's party. So, as he drove us home, I frantically hit “refresh” on the IG results being posted. Finally, I saw Jaquisha's name- whew! I was thrilled for her and she was thriled for herself. Way to go, friend!

The A-10

Regular readers of this blog will know that I was the victim of an apparent A-10 curse in 2010 and 2011. My luck started to turn in 2011, when the race was cancelled, but I met my future husband on what would have been race day. Then, in 2012, the curse was broken when my then-fiancee ran the race with me. I am happy to report no curse activity in 2013! In fact, this race was fairly uneventful.

Given all of my training hiccups in recent weeks, I've been doing my long runs in run/walk intervals. (I'll write more about that soon.) This isn't my usual way of doing things, but its been working for me. For this race, though, I really wanted to run the whole thing. Even though I planned to run Kauai with intervals, I had some psychological need to prove to myself that I can still run 10 miles with no breaks before marathon day. Andrew took a saner approach and worked in some intervals. Judging by our finish times, intervals were the right choice!

I wasn't trying to PR in this race. I knew I had no chance of approaching the 10-mile PR of 1:41 that I set last year. All I cared about this year was coming in under 2 hours. I pulled that off (just barely) with a time of 1:57. Andrew was a different story. He knocked 14 minutes off his time from last year to finish in 1:56. Even more amazing, he went from finishing 19 minutes after me in 2012 to finishing 1 minute ahead of me in 2013. I'm a competitive person by nature, but I can't help being thrilled for him. Way to go, husband!

So, that's the report on legs 1 and 2. Stay tuned for race reports on Kauai and IronGirl Rocky Gap!

Monday, August 5, 2013

From Down and Dirty to Dog Days.

Since I last wrote, Andrew and I have done three races and I hit one major training snag. Here are the updates!

The John Wall 1-mile race

On Saturday, 7/20, Andrew and I completed the Striders' annual 1-mile race, which is the 4th leg of the Champ Series. This race is always challenging because it comes right in the middle of marathon training season, ie: the part of the year where I focus on running long and slow. Being asked to go fast all of a sudden is tricky. I have to try, though. I know some marathon training friends who simply run this race at their training pace in order to get credit for the series, but I always try to push a little harder.

This year, Andrew and I were joined by his younger brother Marquis, who was dealing with the opposite problem. Marquis is a recently-graduated high school track star, but he's used to running races measured in meters. A mile is a long distance for him.

This race is run in heats by expected finish time (over 12 minutes, 10-11 minutes, 9-10 minutes, etc.). Runners select their own heats. I always try to pick one where I expect to be challenged but able to finish within the allotted time. Two years ago, that was 7-8 minutes. This year, it was 9-10- a couple steps down. Andrew, on the other hand, moved up. Last year, he ran 10:33, but this year he knew he could do better and also chose the 9-10 minute wave.

Our heat started and Andrew and I ran neck-and-neck for the first two (of four) laps. Somewhere around #3 though, he pulled a little ahead. I tried to maintain my pace for lap #3 and speed up to catch him in lap #4, but it didn't work. He finished in 8:50 and I came in at 8:57. Considering that I ran 8:11 in this race two years ago, I was a little bummed about my time. Still, I was relieved that I managed to stay under 9 minutes and thrilled for Andrew! He had no idea he could run a mile in under 9 minutes and was really excited about it.

Two waves later, it was time for Marquis to run. It was pretty exciting to track him through his four laps and cheer as he went by. He finished in 7:30, which I think is a slow day for him. Andrew and I were still impressed!

Down and Dirty

The very next day, Andrew and I did another race: the inaugural Merrell Down and Dirty obstacle course 5K. I have wanted to do an obstacle course race for awhile now, but I was still very nervous going into this event. Having scrupulously studied the course details online, I was pretty sure I knew where my strengths and weaknesses would be. 5K trail run? No problem! Crawling through tunnels and other low obstacles? Easy. Push-ups? I love them! Wall and cargo net climbs? Uh-oh. Despite all of my weight lifting, I still find climbing challenging. I also seem to have a slight fear of heights that only comes out in activities like climbing. I have no problem standing on a 30th-floor balcony, but climbing a 10-ft. tire tower scares me half to death.

Going into this race, Andrew and I decided to forego our usual pattern of running our own races and stick together for the whole thing. Several friends who had run obstacle course races told us that sticking with friends is the way to go. We also learned from them that you need a good "before" photo, so we took this one:

The race went off in waves to try to minimize congestion around the obstacles. We chose a later wave and wound up in a pretty small group. The first few obstacles were no big deal for me: a low-crawl, a short water crossing, and a climb over some inflatable logs. The first climb was pretty easy too: it was basically fence with plenty of places to grab on. Still, I was impressed with how fast Andrew got up and over!

Then came the real climbs. First, there was a 20ft. cargo net over the top of an inflatable slide. This was pretty easy, but it was the first place that the fear of heights kicked in. When I got over it, my heart was beating so fast that I had to take a walk break to slow it down. After that, we reached the obstacle I had worried about the most: a climbing wall. Mercifully, they had lower options for those of us who were climbing-impaired. Andrew scrambled over one of the taller walls in a second and then helped talk me through the lower one. It took several failed attempts to even get up on the hand and foot holds, and I briefly considered giving up, but finally I made it!

Once we finished the climbing wall, I had conquered my biggest fear and thought it would be smooth sailing. I wasn't counting on the "Monster Climb." I had seen this photo on the race website, but didn't think it looked very scary:

Scarier in real life.
When we go to this, though, I realized I had underestimated it. It involved climbing up about 10ft, then across some netting, then up a few more feet, across again, and then back down the other side. Once again, Andrew scrambled over it like a monkey. I, on the other hand, took it one step at a time with my heart pounding, thinking about how badly I might hurt myself if I fell. Eventually, though, I made it!

We completed our final obstacles in view of Andrew's family, who took some pictures. First, we climbed the "slippery mountain":

I'm all the way in the right-hand corner.
This was a little greased platform that you ascended by pulling yourself up a rope. I impressed myself by zipping right up, but then got a little stuck at the top. Thankfully, Andrew was there to help me get up and over. Then, we headed for the mud pit:

As gross as it looks.

As far as obstacles go, this was an easy one. The real challenge was getting over the grossness of having mud everywhere, including in my mouth and my eyes. After that, we crossed the finish line and got our "after" pictures:

Dirty enough?
My dog-tag medal.
All in all, this was a very fun event and I'm glad I did it, especially because it pushed me out of my comfort zone several times. I am also very glad that I had Andrew with me for support and cheerleading!

Tooth Hiatus

The week after the Down and Dirty race, I had all four of my impacted wisdom teeth removed. When I scheduled this procedure, my surgeon assured me it would be no big deal and I would probably only need a couple days off work. I took four just to be safe (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). The surgery went smoothly, as did the first few days of recovery. By Sunday, though, things started to go downhill. By Monday, I was in awful pain, which continued for several more days. I wound up being out of work for that Thursday and Friday, plus the entire week afterward.

All of last week, I was in a great deal of pain and semi-sick from the combo of pain pills and barely being able to eat. The most difficult part of the whole thing, though, was frustration. First, I was frustrated at my surgeon. When I called for help with the unexpected lingering pain, he just said "Well, back teeth are difficult. This isn't unexpected." (Why didn't you tell me that in the first place???) I was also frustrated to be sitting around my house for days on end, staring down many long-standing to-do list tasks and feeling too sick to do them. Finally, I was frustrated and worried as I watched the days until my next marathon (9/1) tick away, with me too sick to work out. Which brings us to...

The Dog Days 8K

My original plan for this past Saturday was to run 18 miles. By the middle of last week, I was questioning whether I would be able to run at all. This was worrisome for two reasons. First, I need to get long runs in to be prepared for my marathon. Second, I was scheduled to run the Dog Days 8K on Sunday, which is the 5th leg of the Champ Series. Being halfway through my fourth year of running the whole Champ Series, I did not want to lose my IronMan award over some teeth!

On Saturday morning, Andrew headed out with the Striders for his own 14-mile run. I gave myself a couple additional hours to sleep off the pain meds (which are still imperative at night) and then joined him toward the end of his run. My goal was just to see what distance I could handle. It was rough, but I wound up covering 5 miles, which was enough to reassure me that I could do the Dog Days (which is just under 5 miles). Andrew and I both spent the rest of the day recovering.

Sunday morning, we set out for the race and I felt lousy. Once we got going, though, it wasn't so bad. I passed Andrew in the first 2 miles, but he caught me in the 3rd and held onto that lead through to the end. He finished a little over a minute ahead of me and 8 minutes ahead of his time from last year! I posted my worst time in this race so far, but it barely registered. I was just relieved to have finished in under an hour and to know that my IronMan award remains secure.

So, now I am continuing my recovery and trying to get in whatever training I can manage for my upcoming tris and marathon!