Friday, June 24, 2011

A Rare Opportunity to Pay It Forward

As my daughter would say, I live pretty close to the bone. Oftentimes my existence depends on help from family and friends. A nearly unbelievable series of events, however, has given me a rare opportunity to pay it forward.
Last night I stayed at school until after 11 p.m. trying to tie up some loose ends. Usually I check my Droid just as I leave to be sure nothing is left undone, but given the lateness of the hour and my level of exhaustion, I just grabbed my bags and left.
Upon arriving at home, I went to pull my Droid from my purse for recharging. But it wasn't there. I had last used the Droid to call up case law for discussion in torts class. Positive it was still lying beneath the lectern, knowing the doors were now locked and I had no key, I went to bed and tried to sleep without worrying. Had I only followed my normal pattern of checking the phone, it wouldn't have been left behind.
This morning I planned to leave at 7:30 a.m. so as to arrive at school at 8 a.m. sharp, when I knew the doors would first open. But I finished breakfast at 7:15 and had 15 minutes to kill. I pulled out my AAA magazine, and decided not to worry about getting to school right at 8. Since this was a Friday, odds were high that the classroom would not be in use. It was, therefore, 8:15 a.m. when I left for Harrisonburg--15 minutes later than originally planned.
The Droid was right where I thought it would be, beneath the lectern propped on the table. I grabbed that lifeline (my computer connection, scheduler, note pad, etc.) and headed for the door, only to see a train blocking the tracks on the route I usually take. So I took a right and headed home on I-81--something else I never do.
My gas tank was low (normally I fill it at the halfway point, but last weekend the gas station I usually use was full and cars were waiting in line. I didn't have the patience to wait so I left without filling up). In Mauzy, I checked the gauge and decided to fill the tank there instead of in Broadway. Again I never buy gas at Mauzy because I prefer to support my home town business owners when I can. Buying gas in Broadway today, however, because of the route change, would necessitate left turns--something else I always try to avoid. So I pulled over at Mauzy and filled my tank.
Alas! the machine did not print a receipt. Normally I would just leave and not worry about it. But because this was an unfamiliar station, I opted to go inside and request a duplicate. I didn't want to risk being accused of not paying. Another delay of a few minutes.
As I left the station, a young man sitting in a car parked next to a pump called out from the driver's seat of a car.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Do you by any chance have $4, enough to buy a gallon of gas so that I can get home?"
A quick scan gathered no threatening movements or aggressiveness, only calm. There were piercings and long hair. Nothing though that sent out any warning bells.
Now I never travel with cash in my wallet. But earlier this week, I had been paid cash for several textbooks and hadn't had the opportunity to deposit the money. So again, because of an unusual circumstance, I happened to have $4 for a gallon of gas, exactly what he had requested (later I wished I'd been more generous!). I had no qualms about giving him the money; he was parked at a gas pump after all. So I handed over the cash and headed on my way as he went inside the station requiring cash or card payment before pumping gas.
Now I have never been one to believe too much in divine appointments. People are so fickle and prone to act on whim and impulse that I find it hard to imagine a God orchestrating a set chain of events. Nonetheless I had to admit that this series of events was way too coincidental for me felt very providential.
And so it was that I soon found myself headed down Route 259 with great joy in my heart. Just maybe divine appointments do occur after all.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


"Grow up and stop being so self-centered! The running world does not revolve around you," I wanted to shout at a monthly columnist who writes about his experiences as a new runner. It seems that every rambling column has the same underlying refrain: what is everyone thinking as I breathe hard, try a new gadget, attempt a new performance record? In this most recent article, the author detailed his struggle to strap a heart rate monitor to his chest, a device he'd never tried before. When his first attempt ended with the device girdled around his upper shoulders instead of his chest, his first thought was to look out the door and window to see if anyone could see his gaffe.

The columnist would have saved an immense amount of effort had he just swallowed some pride and called a running buddy to show him how to use the device. The columnist is not wrong to think that runners notice him. They probably do. But the runners I know aren't watching for the purpose of belittling, embarrassing, or shaming another. They look because they care and because they want to see an encouraging face.

Unlike the columnist, I have learned to risk. When registering for my first ten-mile race, I was handed a timing chip and told that if I lost the thing I'd have to pay a huge-to-me sum to replace it (about $100 as I recall). Given the worst case alternative of paying for a replacement, the next worst case of an incorrect attachment not accurately recording my running time, or experiencing a momentary bit of embarrassment by asking another runner to show the proper way to use the thing, I swallowed my pride, held out my foot and allowed a complete stranger to invade my personal space and attach the thing. Worry-free I ran that 10-miler according to plan, smiling and waving at other runners who always returned the greeting. I was so green I didn't even know enough to wait for the awards ceremony; instead I hurried home to fix lunch for friends. And a couple weeks later I learned by e-mail that I had taken second place in my age group. Swallowing my pride was worth the engraved duffle bag I won as a prize.

As an asthmatic, I have often noticed others watch me struggle to breathe and ask me if I am okay. Even if I can't speak, I still nod and eek out a smile, grateful that they care. Their compassion keeps me running, even when I don't feel like it. Other runners' praise and comaradarie provides the gumption to push harder and faster than I'd have dared. Though I have no intention of ruining their run by going out too hard and causing an asthmatic attack, it is nonetheless comforting to know that if I do inadvertently push too hard someone will care enough to help.

One runner I know often leads the pack. Otentimes he even wins. Almost always he turns around and runs the race in reverse until he sees the last straggler cross the finish line.

I have taken on the runners' attitude. When I see a struggler, I call out words of encouragement. If I see an awkward gait or stumble, I watch to see if help is needed. But, unlike the columnist, I choose gratitude for every runner who has ever noticed me for I know runners as a compassionate bunch.

And I fear the self-centered, lone-ranger columnist has unnecessarily deprived himself of the energy he could gain from the energy showered on by other runners.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Third Way Thinking Leads to Change in Routine

Possibly OCD, the doctor said. Obsessive thought patterns, and compulsive behaviors patched together in an effort to keep the obsessive thoughts at bay.

My symptoms? excessive list making and a need for routine. Ironically, my desire to control the obsessive, spaghettied thoughts in my head has created a rigid world that no longer works, and I wasn't even aware of it until repeated sightings of that Third Way Media sign embedded itself in my brain. As I wrote a few days ago, to run or not to run has become the wrong question. It's either-or thinking, a lack of creativity, a lack of digging down deep enough to discover the real issues warring within.

But learning a new lesson takes time and either-or thinking reigned its ugly head Sunday morning again. promised a scorcher of a day. My running buddy would want to run in the afternoon in the hot sun on the hot track. I just knew my poor lungs would never make it. And I wanted to run, not slog or walk in the heat. That same detrimental question was doing loops in my brain again. Ignoring the limiting question, I jumped out of bed, pulled on my socks, and ran in the cool shade of Broadway Community Park--at about 7 a.m. without any breakfast, and a bit fearful I would get too hungry and weak to finish. But what if I did? I would at least learn something in the attempt. I stuck my phone in a pocket in case of a problem; somebody would come get me if need be.

Later, with wiggles out and body relaxed, I arrived at church in a calm state, better able to focus on worship than I'd been in months.

I ran two hours earlier than normal on Tuesday morning, too, but found road traffic too busy with a mix of school buses, cars, SUVs and vans. But this time I asked the right question: where else might I run, not do I run at 7 or not. So this morning I did my 7 a.m. run in the cool shade on the gravel trail at the park. My podiatrist said trail runs are really better for my feet, so that's another gain from the change in routine. And with no need to be mindful of traffic, I found my thoughts able to flow completely uninterrupted.

Running and third way thinking. It works when I remember to try it. Now to apply this concept to my career, to class preparations, to helping students learn. I should have tried it yesterday--gone to the creek for a respite sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Respite predicted temperatures in the high-90s today. With the air conditioner running non-stop, I spent the majority of the day trying to reign in words so as to accurately depict the last couple months of Shenandoah Valley Track Club life. Amongst the text, I downloaded photos and tried to find engaging captions. As I copied, pasted and maneuvered boxes of content using PowerPoint, none of which wanted to evolve into anything resembling the newsletter I so envisioned in my head, I grew more and more frustrated.

"Once begun is half done," my gram used to say. And with this parable locked onto my brain, at 9 a.m. this a.m., I had willed myself to start. Past experience, I had thought, demonstrated that Gram was right. And though not in the mood to tackle the project, I figured I'd get into the thing once I got started. But after doggedly pursuing the project nonstop until 2:30 p.m., I decided Gram's parable was not going to work its magic today.

I tried a nap. Then, in response to a "help me" e-mail, a friend said she would take pics of Saturday's race, The Wounded 5K. Part of today's problem was a lack of material; earlier pleadings for news had netted little. I decided my friend's e-mail was my cue to give up on the project till next week, when another opportunity should present itself.

And so I took my frustrated, hot self on a respite I have promised myself often--but never fulfilled. I headed up the road to Heritage Park, hunter green folding canvas chair in a bag slung over my shoulder. Another small bag, slung over that same shoulder, held "If You Want to Walk on the Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat" by John Ortlund, my Camelbak water bottle, and cell phone.

There was very little foot traffic on the paved 1/4 mile path--a race walker and a runner. I hurried creek side, then slowed as I took up the pursuit for a quiet spot. Near the bridge, I spied a large tree on the creek's edge. There the bank drops a foot or two and then spreads another six feet to the water's edge. There, a slightly hollowed out sandy spot formed the perfect spot for my folding chair. As I sat, my feet rested on a nature-made footstool formed by the rim of the hollow.

The scent of fishy river air merged with the scent of freshly mowed grass every time the air stirred. Not enough breeze to rustle my arm hairs and chill me, just enough to caress, comfort and calm. Down toward my right, a shimmer formed where cool water evaporated into the day's heat. And across from me, a bank of trees reflected on the water. In the center of that mosaic of green swirls, a gnarled tree trunk snaked its way to the top of the canopy. On my left, high water, caused by the spring's over abundant rains, bubbled and gurgled as it raced across stones and boulders on the creek floor.

I read the last three chapters of Ortlund's book, rested my head on the back of my chair, soaked up the air, basked in the serenity--and wished I had brought another book.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Limited View of "Either-Or"

This morning's goal was a five mile run in preparation for a planned five miler in July. But my stomach was queasy and my body tired.

"Should I do five today or settle for my usual three?" I thought as I lumbered off.

A similar mindset of "either-or" thinking had nearly crippled Tuesday's thinking process. I had tied my running shoes, gulped some water, but then opened the front door to a thunder storm. I will run in rain or snow, but not a lightening storm. I sat down in my easy chair and tried to settle into a book on torts, preparing for next term's classes. But the previous day had not met my standards for success. Now frustrated energy blocked concentration. Spaghettied thoughts refused to untangle.

"How I needed today's run," I thought.

And then I remembered my jump rope. The decision to be made was not "to run or not to run". Instead the decision to be made was how to reign in wasted energy so effectiveness could return. So I jumped rope inside, curtailed the fidgets, then quietly sat down to concentrated study.

The lesson applied to this morning's run as well. The question needn't be limited to a choice between three miles and five. A better question was how to make today's run an effective means toward that upcoming five mile race goal--another way, a third choice.

The Third Way Cafe' in Harrisonburg is so named for three reasons:

  • We hope it sounds inviting to anyone exploring things that are different
  • Many times we think there are only two choices or options when actually there is a third or alternate way between two choices
  • It reflects the fact that Mennonites and Anabaptists are somewhere between Catholic and Protestant on many theology issues--a third way.

A third way. . .not either-or, but the courage to re-write the questions and issues in such a way as to invite, entertain, and explore other alternatives. Today that third way was a four-mile run.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sweet Victory

Last week as Magdalena and I snuggled up to tackle homework, she suddenly looked up at me.
"Grammie, I keep forgetting to tell you something. . .I made 100 miles."
So now both girls have reached their 100 mile by the end of the school year goals! And there's still another month left of school.
And now that they are wearing shorts, I can see that their beginning of the school year coltish legs have turned strong and muscular. Not wanting them to lose any of that development, I asked about their summer goals.
"I don't real like competing," Eliza said.
So races aren't on her to do list.
"What about running at all?" I asked. "Still want to do some of that?"
Yes, most definitely.
"I have an idea. What about running the trail at the campground when we camp?"
One vote in favor (Eliza); one vote against (Magdalena). For Eliza and me, running has been added to the list. For Magdalena, there's playground time. For all of us, there's swimming. Oh and to get it all in, camping trips are tentatively extended to two day events--pending approval from Momma and Daddy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Magdalena's First 5K

Today's race actually began yesterday afternoon when I picked up the girls and their bags at their house. After a supper of the traditional salmon fillet, the girls dumped out their bags: long sleeved and short sleeved tees, shorts, sweats, tights. About 8:15 p.m., Eliza (on the right in the photo) said, "Grammie, I think it's bedtime if we're going to get up at 6 tomorrow. Will you help me pick out my running clothes? What will the weather be?"
We went online to 38 degrees, possible rain. And then we went to the pile of gear on the floor. Short sleeves. No. Long sleeves, definitely. Shorts? No. Sweats. They'd get soggy, heavy, and very uncomfortable. I found Eliza's tights with "rhinestone" flowers at the hems.
"How about these?"
Eliza pulled them on with her tee. Magdalena was already dressed in long tights and a couple sweaters. We made a pallet on the living room floor and settled down for sleep. (I always wear my race day clothes to bed the night before; then I don't forget anything or have to hunt for clothes on race day).
9:30 came and the girls were still wiggling and restless on the floor.
"Grammie. I can't sleep. I'll be too tired to run tomorrow," Eliza said.
"Oh you'll see. The energy will come with the excitement of the race."
I warmed up some milk. Both drank. Soon after, it seemed, the phone was ringing--my 6 a.m. wake up call. Just a touch to the girls' foreheads awakened them both. Atypical for me, I fixed them a light breakfast.
"Just enough to get you through the run," I said. "Not enough that you'll puke or have digestive issues. We'll have second breakfast when we get back."
At 6:55 a.m. I saw my friend and neighbor get in his car.
"Your chariot is coming, girls," I said.
We gathered up our race day bags--filled with dry shirts and water bottles. Then we piled us and gear into the car. At Plains Elementary school, after registering, potty breaks, and a few stride-outs, it was time to find our place in the pile of 55 runners.
I saw a pile of cocky boys. I gathered the girls and whispered softly, "See those boys over there? I have run a lot of races. Cocky boys start at the front, surge a few feet, and then slam on their brakes. Ignore them. Run your own race. And watch out for them; if they slam on their brakes in front of you they might trip you."
Eliza went to the front. Having run a 5K last fall, she knew her place. Magdalena and I went to the rear; she hadn't run more than two miles so I estimated that we would be walking some. I can't remember how the race started: a gun? a whistle? a command? But soon we were off. I was pushing a bit to keep up with Magdalena who was, however, heeding my warning to "pace yourself and run slow. This is a three-mile run, not a track event."
A few yards up the road I saw her mama with a camera alongside the road.
"There's your mama, Magdalena. Pull next to the shoulder. She wants your picture."
We waved at her, though her face was hidden behind her husband's professional camera. We turned a corner and less than a mile later passed cocky boys who were already walking. A slight hill lay ahead.
"You've never run hills before, Magdalena. You might have to slow a bit. Watch your breathing. Keep it steady even if it means slowing a bit."
Up the first hill, around some turns, and then there was a long, gentle slope. Magdalena lagged, but kept up the running motion. I slowed so as to not get too far ahead. When she caught up with me at the crest, I said, "Whew! That was tough. But you did it."
Every time I saw a course marshal, I pointed to Magdalena and hollered, "First 5K here."
All shouted encouragement and praise at the little one on her first 5K. And every time they praised, Magdalena slogged a little bit faster. Three times during our run, her little hand reached up and grabbed mine. So we ran a few steps holding hands. The third time I said, "Holding hands actually slows you down because you can't pump your arms. It's okay if you want to do it though. Whatever works for you." That was the last time she reached for me.
At the end Maggie slowed, almost to a walk. Our chariot driver was running our way, having already finished the race.
"You're not going to let that boy behind you beat you, are you?" he hollered.
Sure enough a boy behind us was gaining on us. Magdalena surged with a reserve I never dreamed she had. But both made a wrong turn. Since Maggie was ahead then, the boy got ahead when they U-turned. Magdalena never quite caught up with him. They raced to the finish line--him just a few seconds ahead.
"Between the cones, Maggie," I hollered.
She raced through and collapsed on the curb nearby. Mama raised her to her feet.
"You have to walk a bit, Maggie."
Maggie did. Now cold we all went inside to wait for the awards ceremony.
Eliza was the second in the K-5 group, the first female in the same group. Her time was 25:36. Magdalena came in at 3:34; my time was 30:49. Our chariot driver ran in 26:57. A neighbor sharing my apartment building took second overall with a time somewhere around 20 minutes. And a track club buddy took first.
After the awards ceremony, we all headed to my place for second breakfast: scrambled eggs, sweet rolls, milk, and coffee. And I remembered when my youngest daughter was little. After a fall, I walked with a limp and never thought I'd run again. Then there was the repeated bouts of bronchitis and lung issues. In those hard days, I never dreamed I would one day run with grandchildren. I have indeed been given a precious gift. A day to treasure.