Friendship: What I Learned by Racing Side by Side

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My husband wrangled me, our teenage daughter, and our three best friends to participate in some sort of mud-filled obstacle course this upcoming weekend. You know how I love to spend the Saturday after the first full week of summer? Running a 5K through barbed wire and fire pits. Only not. It’s a bit redundant, n’est ce pas?

It just so happens that one of our running buddies this weekend, also ran alongside me for my first marathon. I’ve thought a lot about my marathon experience over the years. The pain and triumph of that day wrote its way permanently into my muscle memory, but the memory of my friend pounding the pavement next to me, refusing to let me quit, burns like a lamp–illuminating every step from start to finish.

When I rewind the tape, I don’t see the mile markers as they pass, I see the glow of my friend running beside me. He taught me what it means to support and lift up a friend when that friend feels like the road ahead is too hard to travel, when the end disappears from sight, and the obstacles to reach it feel so overwhelming, it just might kill body or spirit.

We all have a race to run, whether it be in our marriage, parenting, career, or our own spiritual development. I feel so blessed to have friends who train hard and keep their promises and offer me all the support I need to run my own race well. I want to emulate the kind of friendship that loves others well, that sets them up to run their race with confidence. Here’s what I learned along the way:

Run in front, alongside, and behind

My friend promised not to leave me. He stayed within sight for every high point and the inevitable lows when I felt certain I couldn’t go on. I still see the flash of white from his race shirt out of the corner of my eye when he edged forward to make way for us through a sea of runners, or dropped behind to fill our cups with water. I knew when we crested the toughest hill, he would be running right alongside of me, pushing hard, working through the pain.

I want to be the kind of friend who will run alongside you even when it’s painful, even when it costs me something, even when the experience hurts.

Offer practical help

Before we started, he double checked my gear and talked through what to expect on the course ahead. He stopped at every water break and made sure I had a cup of water for hydration. He made sure I saw the spectators handing out the free oranges and bananas. I returned the favor by hoarding my fuel gels, while my friend nearly passed out from a lack of food. Those bananas were a lifesaver. Literally.

Sometimes being a good friend, actually means offering one another a cup of cold water or a helping hand. I learned my lesson when I realized I might find myself having to explain to my friend’s wife why he never made it to the finish line. Food, water, expectations–let’s recognize where our people need help and offer it, even when we have needs too.

Tell them what they need and provide it

My friend told me when we should stop to use the port-o-potties. He made us take a break to stretch. He forced water on me even when I didn’t want it. He gave me advice for running the steepest hill, and he ran beside me the entire way, until we stood looking down from its great height.

We don’t always know what we need when facing a new or challenging situation. Sometimes, we’re just trying to survive, and a friend can see past our discomfort, helping us shift from a position of surviving to thriving. If you find yourself supporting a friend in their own life race, don’t simply tell them what they need, open up your hands and offer it.

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Do you have a friend running the race of life with you? How can you be that friend to someone else?

Stay tuned for photos from the race this weekend on instagram.

More Than One Place

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I ran long before church yesterday. I needed a little time in my own sanctuary, the one of leaf and bark and sweat before the one of big screens and loud music. I miss Switzerland the most during the spring and fall, when the natural world became a cathedral all its own.

On my last run in the forests of Horgenberg, I built a small altar, a little pile of smooth stones–a place of remembrance for all God did for me there. Often, I wonder how long it sat under the boughs of the great fir tree before an animal stumbled over it, knocking it over. I imagine it’s gone by now, although in my mind’s eye, I can still see my memories wrapped tight around the exposed roots. They’re bound to the place, and I hope they’ll always linger.

It takes me by surprise, how your heart can belong to more than one place. I’m trying hard to put down roots here in New Jersey, to continue saying yes when I’d rather cut and run. I have days where I think we’ll never burrow our way into this community, and then a distant memory will surface from our time here years ago, and I feel that familiar catch in my throat, a rising lump that hums “You’re home, you’re home.”

Listening to my daughter giggle uncontrollably with her best friend from elementary school, running my old marathon training route, revisiting all of the places where memories of my kids as little ones resurface–these reminders wrap themselves strong around the root.

We belong here, just as we belong in London and Zurich and Pennsylvania too.

Last week, our town celebrated Charter Day, and as my husband and I wandered through the street fair and pressing crowds, I recognized familiar faces here and there. The boys lounging on the fence, the girls eating ice cream, even my own kid walked past me deep in conversation with her girlfriends. Today, the faces are familiar. Someday, I hope we’ll call them friends.

I don’t know when I will build a place of remembrance here. There are memories to make, there is much to learn, there is work to do. But I believe it will become a sanctuary in its own way, a place to retreat and remember–a reminder of all that God has done.

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Where are you putting down roots? What memories linger there? Where is your altar in the world?

Looking for balance

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Ages ago, probably on a day I had a good night’s sleep and a glass of wine in my hand, I agreed to participate in another Ragnar relay race. This time, we’ll run in autumn in the Adirondacks. Really, it doesn’t get much better, except for the insanity that is twelve people running 200+ miles together in a 24 hour period. Once again, I question why I do this, and once again I’m reminded that not all of life takes place between my ears.

I leave Friday for the race, and while dreading the physicality of it, I look forward to giving my brain a rest. Mulling–I’m doing too much of it these days. The same old questions and conundrums feel like they’re on repeat. I need to give the old head and heart a break.  I need time to enjoy witty banter in a van full of people, eat a few too many candy bars, and remember what amazing things our bodies can do.

Yesterday, I sat in the pediatrician’s office and listened to a little boy tell everyone in the waiting room “Today’s my birf-day. My birf-day is today!!!” His mom gently corrected him with the reminder he celebrated his birf-day last week. This didn’t deter him, and he continued to say it, so proud. I loved his innocence and his insistence that today, this very day is all about celebrating him.

A few minutes later, a woman walked up to the counter and in an insurance dispute with the office manager finally declared, “My husband died in May, we had to switch insurances.” I flinched. The mama with the birthday boy flinched. I darted a quick look at the widow’s teenage son, and his eyes remained locked on the ground.

Her statement sucked all the air out of the room, until not thirty seconds later, the little boy shouted, “Today’s my birf-day! My birf-day is today!” And he performed a little dance in the center of the room. Isn’t it just like life to bring grief and joy into one place together and let them rub shoulders? Without one, we wouldn’t understand the depth of the other.

I hope this weekend will bring a sense of lightness to balance out some of my mulling and head-scratching lately. I hope this first autumn weekend kisses you with its soft glow, bringing you the same.

On finishing the race

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I signed up for the race because I need the goal of a finish line for motivation to run. I need to pay some money, put my name on a list, and make a promise I plan to keep at 6:45 every weekday morning. It was my first relay race, the first race in which I promised someone other than myself that I would show up and do the hard work of running three legs in twenty-four sleepless hours.

Unlike most things in life, the beauty of finish lines is that they don’t sneak up on you…

To read the rest of the story, join me at Circles of Faith.

Surrender

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We sat in the waiting room surrounded by other kids and their parents, all wearing the same look of apprehension.  We waited for someone, anyone, to step out from behind the sealed door, call our kid’s name, and usher us back into the inner sanctum of the surgeon’s offices. From the waiting area, I counted four doors, each leading to a doctor of a different specialty. Kids and weary parents streamed through them at regular intervals. My son needs a minor surgical procedure, and while slightly apprehensive, I wasn’t worried. Not really. Not when I heard them call a Code Blue over the intercom from the Outpatient Dialysis unit.

There is nothing like a visit to the Children’s Hospital to make you feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for your kid’s good health. It can be guilt-inducing too, if you let it. I felt guilty for having a healthy kid, and even more guilty for feeling a deep sense of relief because of it.

We saw the surgeon, who told us that my boy’s problem has an easy fix. It’s a common issue that is present but often undetected at birth, and eventually it begins to show itself over time with growth and increased activity. Are you yawning yet? I could go into boredom inducing details, but I’ll spare you. It involves boy parts. Enough said.

What struck me most was the surgeon’s explanation that the issue originated at birth, and how sometimes it’s evident right away and other times it takes years for the patient to notice something  is not as it should be. I thought about this all the way home, wondering what I carry over from birth and childhood. What inborn characteristics exert a silent presence on my life? What qualities make themselves known over time? What’s making an appearance in my life today?

I thought of my obvious disability when it comes to understanding directions, maps, or geographical conundrums of any sort. This is clearly in-born, although it conveniently waited to arrive once I got my driver’s license. My love for stories started from the get-go, but my ability to write them didn’t show up until much later. Introversion on an epic scale showed up early on too, although I always considered this a serious flaw until I realized it’s just another way of being human. A sinful nature, specific fears, physical characteristics–all present and accounted for, all knit into the fiber of my being from the secret places.

But what of today? What is unraveling in me right now? What’s unraveling in you? I tend to dwell on the negatives, but I want to see the good too. I’m thinking of the lovely things, the honest, the pure and true and holy desires, the qualities that have the appearance of a major flaw until we recognize them for what they are: diamonds in the rough. I’m thinking of my deep desire to be known, our need to belong, her longing for significance, or your unwavering ability to fight and fight and fight for what’s right. (And I don’t mean the right to party, although I think the Beastie Boys might be on to something.)

I want to understand more, to look down and say, “Hey, I don’t remember seeing you there before, but you’re a part of me. Should I learn how to live with you or do you need fixing?” So much of what I think needs fixing–the deepest longings and desires birthed in the very core of me– requires something more akin to acceptance. Something like surrender.

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What’s making its presence known in your life right now?