Reflections

blowing dandelion

Learning to Breathe

They say midlife crisis begins at a certain age. Kids have left the home. A job is lost.

Something triggers a psychological crisis of the soul that makes one say “I have to change.”

Well, I’m not in the middle of my life (I hope), but boy am I feeling the psychological pinch.

….

Back in college, I had a CD boombox perched on a kitten-covered trunk in the corner of my room. It was my very first CD player and it was given to me by my parents along with the ground-breaking album “Janet.” The fact that the CD player made it to college is somewhat a miracle as I played it to death. Nevertheless, the black box still picked up radio stations and spun my favorite CDs, bruised exterior and all.

I remember when I began investigating Christianity and my faith further as a freshman. I remember that moment that Jesus and this Christian walk became real to me…it wasn’t just the thing that kept me on the straight-and-narrow or helped me maintain good morals. No, this Jesus guy seriously saved me from living a really dark, meaningless life.

One day, before that life-changing revelation, I put on a CD featuring a band I’d listened to since junior high school, Switchfoot. My Christian friends Matt and Jon loved Switchfoot and I’d grown to really like them, too. One song in particular (called “Learning to Breathe” goes:

“I’m learning to breathe,

I’m learning to crawl,

I’m finding that you and you alone can break my fall,

I’m living again…awake and alive

I’m dying to breathe in these abundant skies…”

{Listen to the entire thing here.}

I don’t remember what my day was like that day, but I do remember that in that moment, my world seemed to dramatically shift into focus.

This is the beginning.

“Beginning” of what? I had thought I had already begun the adventure into adulthood.

I knew who I was.

I knew where I wanted to go.

I knew what I wanted out of life.

….Or so I thought.

…..

Life, as I’m beginning to understand it, isn’t just about small progressions. It’s not just about getting married, having kids, maintaining a job, saving for retirement and then skipping away tra-la-lee.

Nope.

It’s full of huge roadblocks and speed bumps and crazy yetis coming from out of nowhere to pounce on you and freak you the heck out.

These are the moments when you’re supposed to lay down your burdens. You’re supposed to surrender. You’re supposed to somehow find an inner peace and tarry on.

I’ve chosen to grip the wheel tighter and grit my teeth through it.

Oh, I trust that my car isn’t going to down…or, if it does, I have a pretty stellar roadside assistant. That isn’t the problem. The problem is, when push comes to shove and I’m in turmoil, I choose to look at the crappy road and all of the obstacles and focus on all of that instead.

And I forget to breathe.

And then I’m back to crawling.

It doesn’t matter if my circumstances are life or death; scary just to me or scary to everyone. The point is, I have a choice.

I’ve let go of so much and chosen to get stuck in my obstacles.

I’m done.

It’s time to breathe again.

breathe

brewed-coffee-in-cup

Leaving Room For

Have you ever been in a Starbucks and overheard a person’s coffee order? Between the temperature (130 degrees, please!), “skinny,” “grande,” “extra” this, or “less” of that, you’ve probably made half of the day’s quota for decision making just in your 10 minute coffee stop.

The other day I overheard a person in front of me ask for a normal cup of coffee (how boring could you be?) with “some room.”

So, I presume Mr. Boring Coffee was going to liven it up with some cream and/or sugar, but his comment got me thinking.

“There’s room for…” what?

In my life, is there room? For events? For emergencies and illness and the unexpected. For moments when God wants to teach me things or connect with others?

Is there room for anything else?

Earlier this year, I would have told you “no.”

Starting a new job, training for the Boston Marathon, raising $12,000 for charity with my sister, keeping up with active kids, spending time with my husband, running a Pampered Chef business on the side and doing normal chores literally left me running on fumes at the end of the day.

The kids were in bed; I was on the computer.

The family was going to a birthday party or another event on Saturday; I was teaching people how to cook a fabulous meal in a special pot in their microwave in just 15 minutes. (Really.)

Sure, everything I had committed to was “good,” hardly anyone would disagree with that. What I was missing was room, however.

Leaving room for…

In March, just a month before the Boston Marathon, a month before my new company’s huge annual event and a month before we needed to hit our goal of $12,000 raised for charity, I was done. And I knew God was telling me to close a few chapters.

The 80’s song “Burning Down the House” echoed through my head. I just knew I needed room.

I quickly shuttered my Pampered Chef business with little explanation to anyone. I stepped back from volunteering as much at church. I scrutinized my schedule, and reconsidered who and what I needed to spend my time on.

At the end of the day, I hadn’t been leaving room for. I was filling space and time, doing good things and not necessarily asking God if I should do them. I mean, they were all good, so I should just do it, right?

He definitely had some advice for me.

Many opportunities will come our way and unfortunately, if we’re not careful, they’ll crowd out the extra space we have in our lives for restoration or for being available to others and, ultimately, to God.

It took me not leaving room for almost anything but my crazy schedule to realize it.

Now, I’m grateful to be a recovering Schedule Addict and while my tendency is still to fill up my plate, the freedom I’m experiencing on the weekends to invite others into our home or grab dinner during the week is making an immense impact on my life…and on others too, I think.

We all have just 24 hours in a day and we choose how to use it…are our choices in line with our treasures? What’s truly important to us?

It’s been a valuable lesson I wouldn’t trade for all the Grande Extra Hot Skinny Mochas in the world.

Let’s Keep It Real

mirror

There I was, standing at the mirror applying my makeup in the gym locker room when the pair walked in.

You know the type.

One had chiseled abs and a completely lean body that carried nothing but confidence. (Oh, and did I mention that teeny gym towel was wrapped completely effortlessly around her flawless waist? I mean, there were INCHES left over, people!)

Her friend, a beautiful blonde with curves in all the right places, stood next to her at a mirror behind me wearing a fancy (and flattering) bra with an equally small towel around her waist.

As my mascara wand moved the black inky stuff onto my lashes, I began innocently eavesdropping in on their conversation (What? There’s really nothing else to listen to in a gym locker room anyway!).

Chiseled Chick: I finally have my Botox appointment this afternoon.

(Me inside: GASP! People really DO that!)

Blonde Bombshell: Oh, you ought to get your spray tan going at the same time.

Chiseled Chick: Ya, (laugh) it’s one more thing that’s ‘fake’ about me. Fake hair color, fake tan…

Blonde Bombshell: Well, at least it makes us feel good about ourselves, right?

Chiseled Chick: (Audible snicker) Uh ya, sure.

The two proceeded to trade stories about their recent, “wild weekend” at a local night club, a place that didn’t have “fake girls with their butts hanging out of their shorts.”

Blonde Bombshell: The women that go there are more real…like us.

giphy (4)

Look, I don’t care if you get your boobs done. I don’t even care if you decide to tattoo a picture of Justin Timberlake on your freakin’ forehead (I’d actually probably look at your face more than my phone if you did quite honestly), but if you’re going to make choices, don’t put other women down for theirs.

It’s like that super popular Megan Trainor song “All About That Bass.” At first, I was like “cool, they’re embracing a ‘real woman’s’ physique,” but then I also realized the lyrics put down women who were thin (“no treble”). Even Trainor recognizes the song is perceived as controversial, admitting she knew she’d receive flak on it for a long time.

That’s a problem.

In fact, I’m pretty sure we just ruined that whole “empowerment” point, ladies.

giphy (3)

How can we believe that we are ever improving stigmas, the perceptions of women, or impacting how women are treated if we put each other down? (Throw the flag on the field; I realize I’ve edged into the cliché end zone here, but stay with me.)

There are some good things going on in cyberspace on this topic, however.

I loved reading an article a few months back by Celebrity TV Transformation Specialist Heidi Powell who let the curtain fall away when she revealed her insecurities, imperfections and even her (ahem) enhancements in a post entitled “I am perfect.” And, apparently, her words struck a chord with a whole lot of women across the country, drawing hundreds of thousands of hits on her website and getting picked up by the Huffington Post.

So why is it so surprising when we hear another woman honestly share the extremes she goes to in order to achieve “perfection?”

I don’t have all the answers, but I know based on my own life experiences that the following are true:

1. We are trying to find acceptance when it begins and ends only with ourselves. It’s like running out of your house thinking you’ll find the keys to your house outside somewhere. It’s your house. You live there. Your habits are throughout that house. Why are you relying on your environment outside of your home to try to find keys that are likely hanging out inside?

2. We believe in “IF” more than ourselves. We believe that IF we hit that certain size, that number on the scale, buy that car, that outfit or that whatever, we’ll “arrive.” There will always be dissatisfaction and “not enough” as long as we rely on superficial circumstances and objects for our contentment. That’s just not where ultimate contentment comes from.

3. We’re desperately focusing our attention on something that seems easier to control than our lives. Look, life happens. Stupid, unpredictable, hard stuff happens. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s down right defeating much of the time. And, yes, just in the same way we can decide to destroy our health by indulging in foods that make us “feel good,” we can do the same by whittling ourselves down to that up-on-a-pedestal size. But what’s left at the end of the day? Our problems. They don’t go away.

I’m not going to blame TV or models or marketing or anything else out there. Agree or disagree with me on this point, but do we not have control over what we allow to cross our path and influence us? You can turn the channel. You can stop reading the fashion magazines. You can boycott stores. Sure, it’s more passive and perhaps if you really feel passionately about the subject, you’ll go after Victoria’s Secret when they post a huge centerfold on the pillar of your neighborhood outdoor mall.

But the point is, wherever you land on this subject, it all comes back to this:

Let’s be real, ladies.

Let’s be honest with each other. Tell a friend when you’re struggling with your job, your relationship or your health. Talk to a trusted counselor when you feel like your sanity is hanging by a thread.

At the end of the day, you can choose to make your body as “fake” as you want, but do it for YOU and not to mask your feelings or achieve an end goal that really isn’t going to result in true, lasting satisfaction.

Just keep it real.

giphy (1)

Fresh New Look for MarathonForGood.com

new1When Jen gets a break, MarathonForGood.com gets a pretty little makeover.

What do you think?

After more than three years of the same theme, I decided to finally stop being lazy and pay a little more attention to the look and feel of my website, MarathonForGood.com.

(And yes, I mean WEBSITE, not “blog” because I’ve officially finally put my shiny domain use to*good* use (pun intended) so I am officially now MarathonForGood.com).

Only took three years.

I’m not a designer and I know MarathonForGood.com has quite a journey ahead of itself, but at least I’ve put one foot in front of the other today by linking my site and now freshening it.

Next up: New pages and a re-envisioning of content.

‘Cuz, you know, I don’t have enough going on in my life already. ;)

My Heartbreak Hills

ImageI cried. I took a deep breath. I nearly panicked.

Miles before Heartbreak Hill, less than halfway through the biggest marathon of my life, I wasn’t sure if I could make it.

There was nothing physically wrong with me. I had trained for the race and achieved my 20-mile long run in perfect timing and hit my fundraising goal in spite of finding out I was going to run the 115th Boston Marathon AND raise $5,000 for charity in less than three months.

There I was, winding my way from legendary Hopkinton and bonking before the “real” race had even begun (that’s usually around mile 20, Heartbreak Hill, the mile point that’s a struggle in every marathon; it’s made worse by an increase in elevation in Boston. I was only at mile 10.)

boston-marathon-map

I’m now 19 days away from going back to Boston and I feel as though I’ve already conquered so many “Heartbreak Hills” on this journey.

Injury.

Life changes.

Distractions.

Juggling being a mom of two children (it was only one before).

Illness.

Because of my past experience in Boston (which you can read here), I know the pitfalls and challenges that come with the territory, and I’m determined to overcome them. Now I just have to figure out how to slow life down and more more of these hills out of my way.

Boston, I’m coming for you!

 

What Was I Thinking When I Got Married?

I dusted off the nearly 9-year-old wedding photo surrounded by silver hearts, the frame my grandparents gave me as a gift that fateful day.

“What was I thinking when I got married,” the thought crossed my mind as I studied the photo.

I remember the shot. We had just finished walking down the aisle after being pronounced husband and wife. My smile was the biggest I’ve ever experienced (even, dare I say, bigger than following the birthes of our two children, but that came with a whole other level of exhaustion of course) and a tear slipped down my right eye as the photographer took our picture. We carefully shoved my full wedding dress into the waiting limo for the 10-minute ride to the reception and our photog snapped this photo.

Image

We had waited three full years for that moment. We hadn’t lived together, but were practically inseparable. He and I were adventurers, frequently hiking and rollerblading, braving frosty ice and even (gasp) a Ferris Wheel (long story). Now, after the bridesmaids’ dresses were chosen and altered; after the tuxes were rented and the church was booked; after taste-testing and choosing a caterer and picking out wedding colors; after two rounds of invitations (that was a doozy) and cutting corners to hit our budget, here we were.

I thought I knew what I was in for. I thought he knew what he was in for.

I was wrong.

I thought I was a good person who was kind and considerate of others.

I was wrong.

I thought I was confident and capable of facing and conquering all fears by myself.

I was wrong.

I thought I loved him so much that I could never intentionally hurt him.

I was wrong.

I thought marriage was a safety barrier, closing the door on challenges from the past.

I was wrong.

I thought I knew all of his idiosyncrasies and struggles.

I was wrong.

I thought he and I were the perfect communicators.

I was wrong.

I thought we would pull together and have a Christ-centered relationship with frequent Bible studies and prayer.

I was wrong.

I thought he would be the cook.

I was wrong.

I thought I would do most of the child rearing.

I was wrong.

I thought he would be the one to tell us to step out in faith when it was time to take a leap.

I was wrong.

I thought I would always be the soft spot in the family when anyone encountered challenges.

I was wrong.

I thought I had it all together and the perfect plan set for our lives.

I was wrong.

What was I thinking when I got married? Oh, lots of things (clearly). Between life, unmet (and unspoken) expectations, failures and faults, exhaustion and shock, we’ve weathered many storms and I’ve learned a few things.

1. It never feels good to intentionally wound someone. Self-control is sometimes the greatest act of love you can demonstrate in the heat of the moment.

2. Compromise binds; selfish decisions divide. Making decisions together, be they small or large, pulls you together as a team and keeps out insecurities and offenses.

3. No, you can’t say something too many times. Although my husband may disagree with me on this one, I’m a firm believer that clearing the air, especially if something is weighing on you, is the best medicine for you, the other person and the relationship.

4. Forgiveness is freeing. Boy, am I imperfect. And, so is he (thank goodness!). Forgiving mistakes and wounds and letting them go is critical to moving on and moving TOGETHER. I repeat: it’s important to move on together.

5. Leave room in your schedule for the other person. Life has so much to offer, but it’s no fun without your best friend. Carve out spaces of time for fun, laughter and reconnecting. Once kids come, this grows more and more difficult. I feel like I’m learning to do this more every single day.

6. Pray for your significant other. Prayer softens the heart and makes you consider the other person’s needs. Maybe it even calls out a few things you need to change in order to support them. Taking time to pause, reflect and consistently offer up your significant other’s needs and desires stirs something in your own heart.

Bottom line…I’ve realized that love is a choice. Love really is a verb. It’s an action. Every step we take. Every word we speak. Every choice we make…we’re either showing love or we’re harming it.

Stay united and always remember what you were thinking when you got married. It could change your perspective on where you currently are in your marriage.

What do you think? Anything to add? Share your comment below.

Turning Guilt to Gratitude in Action

gratitude71Today, I threw away a dozen bread rolls because there were specks of mold growing on them.

And, to be honest, it hurt my heart.

I could’ve torn the pieces off and still salvaged them in some way. I could’ve reused the “good” bread creatively.

My big take-away though? My family has so much that we can’t even consume the abundance we have.

Now, think of the rest of the world.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to travel to Mexico and give back and I miss it. I miss the shantytowns (“colonias”); I miss building homes; I miss connecting with those who are so happy with even so little. Something happens when you travel abroad and give back. It’s called perspective.

This revelation, for me, and the tugging on my heart is especially timely, given the organization I’m supporting as a charity runner for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

About buildOn
In the last twenty years, the non-profit group buildOn breaks the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through community service and improved education. In buildOn Afterschool Programs at high schools across the U.S., urban youth are contributing intensive service, helping seniors, young children, veterans, and the homeless in their communities.

At the same time, these students help build schools in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Here are a few more facts to consider:

• buildOn has supported international communities in Brazil, Haiti, Mali, Senegal, Nicaragua, and Nepal to build 587 schools, using over 1 million volunteer days by the community members, which are attended by over 85,000 children and adults.
• More than 11,000 adults have become literate because of educational opportunities provided by these schools, 70% of these adults are women.
• Improved education in African communities is directly linked with reduced birth rates, and delayed marriage and child bearing for many girls and women.

How to help
The buildOn Boston Chapter is fundraising to send 24 high school students from the Boston Public Schools to participate in a Trek for Knowledge to Malawi. These Treks are life-changing experiences for all who attend; we are planning to provide new schools for two Malawian communities. Each Trek begins with all volunteers and community members signing a covenant, however some adults cannot read or write and sign with a thumbprint.

I have volunteered to raise $6,500 in support of the buildOn Boston Chapter, as a member of the Boston Marathon team for April 2014. Your contribution will help me achieve this fundraising goal, will be applied 100% towards the cost for high school students to travel abroad and finance the school construction. buildOn is a 501(c)3 organization, their EIN is 22-3128638 if you are a business owner or you would like to support me and submit a tax-deductible donation.

The easiest way to join in is my Crowdrise fundraising webpage, the address is listed below, which you can also find under the “Support Me” tab on my website, MarathonForGood.WordPress.com.

Let’s all put the “guilt” away this holiday and embrace gratitude in action instead!

Thanks in advance!