Nothing to Prove

Nothing to Prove

I used to run because I didn’t know I could.

This year I ran because I knew – I could.

When I was growing up in North Carolina and East Tennessee humidity, my doctors wrote notes to excuse me from running in PE classes. When I ran for any distance, I’d start to wheeze like I had asthma. I didn’t, but the combination of the exertion and the air I was breathing created an allergic reaction that made me miserable.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started to run at all. In the middle of a snowy Chicago winter, my seminary boyfriend (who had run the Chicago Marathon) took me to get fitted with running shoes and coaxed me into trying.

At first, I couldn’t make it more than a few blocks. We’d walk a couple of blocks and then he’d start me running again. In the biting, dry winter air, even when I started breathing hard from the exertion, I could always breathe freely. It wasn’t long before I had worked up to running a whole mile at a time, and then two.

The relationship didn’t last, but the running did (and I’ll always be grateful to him for introducing me to one of the healthiest habits of my life).

It wasn’t until more than five years later that I even thought about running more than the approximately three miles of a 5k.

An enthusiastic new friend talked me into signing up for a half marathon. That’s thirteen miles. The third weekend of July in downtown Chicago. The one time of the year the humidity approaches southern levels.

I knew it was impossible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. The idea was ridiculous. But trying the training at least would be good for me.

So I started in the spring. Every weekday morning I ran three miles, and then one weekend day I did my “long” run. The first week it was three miles, then four, adding one mile each weekend. Five miles, then six – those felt challenging but doable. But once I hit seven, it felt impossible.

And each week, as I finished another impossible distance, I was doing something I couldn’t believe I was doing. I started to wonder, what other impossible things might I be able to do? What inconceivable things could I venture to attempt?

I finished that first half-marathon – ran every bit of it. I’ve run three more since. And as I proved to myself that the first year of training was no fluke, I began to discover depths of determination in myself and a comfort in my own skin I’d never known.

I’m the energizer turtle – I’m slow, but I just keep going.

Every year, as winter ends and I hit the sidewalks each morning to see what the Lake looks like at dawn, I’ve wondered, Can I really do this? I’ve run to prove to myself that yes, I can.

But this year was different. As spring came to the city, and I started to run in March, I knew I could do it. I ran because I could. I could find my feet, my rhythm, my pace. I could stretch myself, and I could go farther.

It’s a difference that’s about more than running. It’s about living, unafraid to fall because I can get back up again and keep going.

As a teenager in the middle of chaotic circumstances, my mother found herself largely on her own. She never wanted me to feel that way, so she made sure I knew that as long as I was single, I had a place at home and I didn’t have to be on my own.

That gift unintentionally left me in a place of never really trusting my ability to take care of myself. It was only after years of paying my own way and taking care of my own bills and car repairs and obligations that it finally sank in that I really could do what I’d been doing all along. Somewhere inside I could finally stop trying to prove that I could take care of myself.

I could just do it and get on with living.

Every morning as I lace up my running shoes and head out to find a path to the Lake, I’m not doing it to prove to myself that I can any more. I’m doing it because I can and I know it.

And it’s time to just get on with the living.

Invitation and Calling

Invitation and Calling

A couple of months ago, at a friend’s ordination, the pastor giving the charge spoke of a “calling” as an invitation.

I’ve been mulling over that ever since.

It’s a very different view of calling than what I’ve had. As a kid growing up in the church, we were encouraged to “go forward” during the alter call if we felt “called” to be a preacher (boys only), Christian school teacher, missionary, or missionary teacher. Or we could just feel called to “ministry” more generally. I even knew a few girls who claimed a call to be a pastor’s wife (a second-degree “call” that never made a lot of sense to me).

Those calls were something meant to be obeyed. I remember stories about men called to preach when they were young who followed a different path in the business world, only to come to their latter years convinced they’d done the wrong thing and wasted their lives.

A call was a trump card – not to be argued with. The marching orders of the God who designed you for his purposes.

But what was that supposed to look like? Sound like? A voice calling in the night? A strong desire or interest? Some kind of inner sense or drawing?

I wasn’t sure. I knew my daddy had felt called to the mission field,  had surrendered himself to go anywhere, and when he found himself confined to the Lazyboy in our living room by ALS, Lou Gerhig’s Disease, he concluded that chair was his “anywhere” and shared Jesus with every person who came through the door until he died.

I knew there was a sign above the inside of our church door (and the same one hung over the inside of our front door at home): “You are now entering the mission field.”

I knew things didn’t always turn out the way you thought they would, and I didn’t know how a “call” fit into that.

I was probably 9 or 10 when I walked that aisle. I dedicated my life to be a missionary, or it may have been a missionary teacher. I didn’t hear a voice. Did I have a strong desire? I had been surrounded by missionaries my whole life. They were heroes. And I found other places and cultures fascinating.

And these were the options I knew.

I also loved Jesus and wanted others to know him. I still do. I don’t know if that constituted a call then or now, but I know it’s led me on a journey I never could have anticipated.

Loving Jesus led me to try to listen to and love others, and the world came to look like a very different place than it did when I was that girl walking that aisle.

I always thought a call was something so clear that any other choice could only be disobedience – rebellion. And I never felt that kind of call.

Instead, I had invitation after invitation. Invitations to explore the world, to study, to ask hard questions (of both God and myself), to love.

The invitations never felt like ultimatums. I had a choice, and God would be with me either way, would bless me and use me either way. But one of those options would be a path of lesser faith.

The safer path versus the scarier, riskier path – the one I didn’t know where might lead.

Slowly I learned to follow Jesus in those riskier paths. Have I gotten it wrong sometimes? I’m sure I have. I know I’ve failed the challenge at times. I’m still learning to trust.

Those invitations have led me to places I never thought I’d go, and brought me to choices so clear I’d nearly name them a “call.”

The old call was something to brace for more than to rejoice in.

The invitation of Jesus to step out in faith? Sometimes that means bracing, too – bracing for the disapproval of those who love me but don’t understand. The invitations I’ve heard have sounded a bit crazy at the time.

I’ve come to see them as the invitation of the one who said we’d be taught far more than he had time to teach us (or we were ready to hear). The invitation of the one who said we’d do far greater things than even he had done.

That’s a preposterous invitation. It calls out, promising far beyond what we can imagine. Like music barely heard, a beautiful song in harmonies strange to our ears, coaxing us further up and further in, where there’s always more.

It’s less an invitation down the aisle to the front than back out the door and into the world, where there are untold altars and opportunities to join in God’s joyful work in the world.

Inviting us to come dance with the one who is the endlessly knowable mystery of life and love.

Engaging Transition

Engaging Transition

I’ve been engaging major transitions for over three years now.

Just this calendar year, I got a new boss, said goodbye to roommates and moved into the city, adopted a cat, started blogging, and changed jobs. Before that there were huge transitions at work, and even more in my personal life as I wrestled with my faith, changed communities, started online dating, and dealt with the reactions of friends and family to all those decisions.

A lot of those changes I chose, but many of them were thrust upon me. With both combined, it’s been quite the season of transition.

I’m grateful for the support I found and that found me in the middle of it all. As hard as it’s been – and it’s been hard – it’s called things out of me I didn’t know I had.

It’s not that I’m that different. I recognize every part of me that’s been called upon.

But I’m different. I’m actually comfortable in my skin for maybe the first time. I know the boundaries of me – where empathy and differentiation meet, where my stuff ends and someone else’s stuff begins.

Not that I think I’ve got any of that nailed down. I’m still learning and growing, still surprising myself. But I’m the best me I’ve ever been, and I’m still learning and growing, still surprising myself!

I’ve just finished three months of a new job full of major events, and as I look ahead, with all I still have to learn at work, I realized this weekend there are no new transitions in view.

I’m not sure what life looks like if I’m not managing transitions.
(That in itself feels like a major transition.)

But not a bad one. I have a lot to learn yet about stillness, but this doesn’t feel like stuckness, and that’s good.

Turning forty triggered a lot for me. It got me moving in ways I didn’t even understand and had no idea where would take me. I don’t shrink from calling it a “mid-life crisis,” but I knew from the outset I wanted it to be productive and constructive. A positive mid-life crisis, if you will, even though I’ve done a whole lot of grieving along the way.

It has been positive, thanks mostly to two components: a good therapist and the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I expect it’s those same things that will help me continue to learn and grow in this new season of relative stillness. Seeking wise help, and discerning what I can do and what I can’t. What I can do, and what to let go of doing.

And preparing for the transitions that will come again, sooner or later.

There’s still plenty to do.

Love Listens

Love Listens

I’ve been listening to a new podcast, Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron’s “The Road Back to You: Looking at Life through the Lens of the Enneagram.” In one episode Suzanne talks about an observation her daughter made: the Golden Rule doesn’t seem to work for my number – I treat people exactly how I want to be treated and it doesn’t always go well.

I can really relate to that. We’re all different, and different things make us feel loved, respected, safe, threatened, and afraid. There are times when a friend’s reactions leave me baffled. There are times when I feel like I’ve utterly missed something.

Tools like the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs can be wrongly used to categorize and dismiss people, but I’ve found they can also help me have compassion for those whose experience of the world is very different from my own. It’s too easy to expect others to see what I see; to understand what I understand; to feel as I do.

Some of the hardest relational challenges of my life have come when a friend decided to tell me what was going on in my heart and was at least mostly, if not entirely, wrong. It’s impossible to argue with – anything I say is going to be heard in the paradigm they’ve decided applies.

We tell ourselves a story about what’s happening and why before we even realize it, and then we respond to that story rather than the real person. At our rarest best, we’re at least somewhat wrong. It’s hard to be on either side of that equation.

There have also been times that friends have spoken into my life with deep insight, helping me see something in myself I’d missed. And sometimes the misjudgment can come from the same person who another time spoke with great perception.

It’s hardest when it does. And I’ve come to see that it’s often the relationships in which we can have the clearest insight that most tempt us to presume upon that insight.

The best insights – the truest ones, in my experience – come more provisionally, ready to be corrected. Ready to hear. They are an invitation to engage.

Tools like The Enneagram are the same. Appropriately applied, they reveal more than define or even describe. They invite us to recognize ourselves, to know ourselves more deeply, and to grow in our awareness of the various dynamics that drive us.

They also invite us to delight in the variety of ways we live in the world. We see with different eyes, hear with different ears, feel with different hearts. It’s a diversity than can isolate us, making us feel alien to one another.

Or it can expand our hearts and lives, gifting us with communities of a vast potential for creating a more just and generous world.

A world that grows as we learn to listen better to each other. To reach out to each other in ways that connect. To love each other, not only as we love ourselves, but as the one who created each of us uniquely loves each.