Broken and Blessed


new day dawningI asked God for a miracle, and he broke me down. I asked God for guidance and he brought me obstacles. I asked God to protect me, and He brought me to the storm. I asked God to bless me, and He said “I am”. But how? How can God be blessing me when my world seems to be caving in under me? We don’t always realize what we need until we lose all that we once held on so tightly to. All that we once believed was so important. We often don’t see that our foundation is shaky until it starts to crumble. And even when it starts to crumble we can easily ignore it, too busy with our own goals, wants, desires and beliefs on how our life ‘should’ be. We might be able to stop the cracks from crumbling for a while, but eventually, if we don’t do something, the cracks will become bigger until the foundation crumbles and takes you down with it. Yet, once you are in that place of brokenness, lying in the rubble of your once seemingly firm foundation, you can no longer deny the signs that God had been sending you all along.
Sometimes, our greatest blessings come from our brokenness. Yet, only if we find hope and have faith that what is broken can be made new again. Patching up cracks that have grown deeper and wider over the years can only hold for so long. Eventually, in order to make something stronger and better, the old needs to be destroyed and replaced – made new. The foundation has to be broken to be built back up – with more support,  more strength and with more wisdom. But in order to stand on firm foundation, you must first embrace your brokenness and do so with faith and hope and wisdom. For standing in the rubble can be painful. And the longer we stand there helpless and hopeless, only seeing the brokenness, the longer it will take for our bodies and our spirit to gather the strength to turn it all around; to make it new and beautiful. Sometimes, the first step is believing what you cannot see or feel. It is holding onto hope when there seems to be none. It is trusting in God’s promise to be faithful and in the wisdom He has given us. It is taking a leap of faith and starting to rebuild, slowly but steadily, guided by God’s gentle whispers.
As we rebuild a strong foundation we will begin to see His blessings in all things. If we trust in His goodness, we will find ourselves standing anew on solid ground, assured of our support and thus able to receive, with outstretched arms and hearts, the glory that God has planned for us. He wants to grant our dreams, but sometimes, in order to do so, He has to allow us to fall and become broken, stripped of our false beliefs and negative habits, so that He can build us up to be who He wants us to be. So that He can bless us beyond what we can imagine when we are too busy trying to hold on and avoid crumbling under our faulty foundations.
Moving forward sometimes means letting go of the past. And letting go of the past sometimes can only come by destroying what was in order to start building what will be. If we truly trust that God wants the best for us, we will be able to move forward in faith, releasing us from fear or worry amidst our present circumstances. Someone once told me “Worrying does nothing to make the future better, but it does make the present harder”. We too often settle for second best, and opt to stay on unstable foundations for fear of giving up what we have come so familiar with. When we refuse to give up what is no longer serving us, but yet, sincerely keep crying out to God to show us the way, He often must shake our lives so that the things we cannot give up on our own, crumble under His love, leaving us broken and void of our familiar, yet harmful past. It is in these moments that God is able to work His miracles in our lives. When we surrender long enough to accept them, we too will find beauty in the rubble and see our dreams being formed through our brokenness.

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A Perfect Plan

God's path

A perfect plan

2-3-14: As I sit here thinking of what to write I feel a wave of anxiety come over me. My perfectionistic tendencies scream at me to walk away. That whatever I have to say is of no importance, and that whatever I write will be a lame attempt at what someone else has already done better. And why even write? Will anyone even read what I write…or care? And what if what I write is crap? So, why should I even start. It’s better to do nothing than to risk producing something that is crap, right? But yet my heart is leading me to write. But why? Why do I want to write when it causes so much anxiety? “It”… I realize is not the ‘writing’ (or any other creative or physical endeavor that I embark on). Rather, “It” is the fear that has kept me from finding joy in the journey. “It” is the human mind that thinks before it feels…and sees the future as reality, completely ignoring the only moment that we have right in front of us. “It” has kept me prisoner, yet “It” does not hold the key.
In order to solve a problem, you must first recognize it. Sure, you can get lucky and solve some problems without really understanding where they come from, but if you truly want to solve a problem and replace it with a new peace-giving habit, you first must recognize it! But recognizing it isn’t good enough either. Recognizing a problem and not doing anything about it doesn’t make it magically go away. It only causes it to lie dormant, ready to pounce when the next trial arises. As I sit here ‘thinking about’ what to write, I realize that I am really not thinking at all. I am just writing. My thoughts pouring out on the screen without much thought behind them. My spirit filling with an odd sense of fulfillment as my truth is put into words. And yet…still…anxiety. What if I don’t say the right thing? What if I miss something important? What if I write something that is stupid? What if…? Yet, what I refuse to take into account when I let my mind chatter away and cloud my head with self-defeating questions, is the reality of the moment. There is no ‘right’ thing to write. There is no stupid thing if it is your truth. And nothing can be missing, because as it stands now, there is nothing there to begin with. So anything I say is just an addition to life. A blessing on paper. A truth without fault.
“Yes, Shannon. But what if no one ‘gets’ it? What if your long-winded nonsense causes others to fall asleep with boredom?” To that I say “I don’t write for ‘them’. I write for me.” If I write for ‘them’, I will always be disappointed. I can never please them all. But if I write for me, I can only find blessing. Blessing in the outcome, but moreso, blessing in the process. And as I write, the connections are made clear. As I write, the world around me falls silent and I become ONE with it. No longer fighting it, but embracing it. As I write I do not always understand what comes out from beneath my fingers, but, just as in life, the truth and the connections, once clear, always hold the beauty of uncertainty, revealing the joy of blind faith and in walking confidently guided by your heart.
I find it odd that I am most apt to write when I am pressed on all sides. When my world seems to be closing in on me and my life seems to be filled with  more questions than answers. These times of uncertainty can be both crippling and inspiring. I admit that in the past they were more crippling than inspiring. I viewed them as God’s punishment for some ‘bad’ thing I must have done. Or worse, I ‘jinxed’ myself by getting excited about a dream…by saying I was in a good place. I felt as if God was standing over me thinking “Yeah, I’ll show you…”. I said my prayers and tried to stay hopeful in my faith, but my mind and my humanness got the best of me. Life is supposed to be fair, right? And when it is not, I became the martyr and could not see any goodness in my present pain. I eventually came around and when I let my faith lead me I also allowed myself to see the blessings in the trials. But that was usually after I fell apart. When I looked back with 20/20 hindsight. I want this time to be different. I don’t want the peace to come after the trial has subsided, but rather I want it to come in the midst of the trial. Once again, my trials come in the form of obstacles standing in the way of this dream I’ve had for 4 years now: to complete my first 100 mile run. A silly dream? Maybe to some. But not to me. It is my dream. It is my passion. And it is part of my unique journey.
This dream has morphed into more than just a one day event. At first I wanted to do it because I thought it was impressive. I wanted to show others that I could do it and I wanted them to think I was important. Yet after two failed attempts, I have realized I need to adjust my reason for this goal. Why is it so important to me? What will it bring me once I achieve it? After each failed attempt I found my tear stained face and tired body pressed into the arms of my father. And for those few moments, amidst the pain of defeat, I felt in my heart a feeling that was better than any medal or accomplished goal. I felt loved and protected. And not BECAUSE I had done something great or crossed the finish line…but rather, because I was broken…defeated. In my defeat I learned that I do not need to DO anything to be loved or cared for or thought highly of. My spirit had fought and had done what it could, but my body just couldn’t keep up. My father didn’t love me more or less. Others didn’t love me more or less. The joy I would have felt from accomplishing my goal would have been great, but it also would have hidden the truth that I only found in defeat. And for that, I am grateful.
This journey of 4 years, that started out as a simple goal to finish a race, has taken on a life of its own. It has become a journey of self-discovery and truth. A journey of pain and blessing. A journey that has asked me many times to face my fears and has given me the trails I needed to overcome them (and when I didn’t, the trials would remain until the lesson was learned). This dream of mine has refined me. It has refined my thoughts. It has refined my actions. It has refined my heart. And like anything that is put through fire in order to be refined, it has often hurt. It DOES hurt. Right now I am once again being put through the fire. But this time, I can SEE that it is because I need to be refined. I believe with all of my heart that there is a purpose for this pain. If I pray for healing and I don’t get it, than I trust that God has something else to teach me. Another path to lead me down before I can truly appreciate the victory that He will lead me to. I have had to look to the past not to fuel my fear, but to strengthen my trust. God has ALWAYS provided. Not always as I would have liked, or as quickly as I would have liked, but He has always watched over me blessed me according to His will.
Last summer I took a trip out West (a spur of the moment trip that came about due to a few disappointments – which I turned into blessings). When others asked me about the trip the one word that came to mind was “TRUST”. The trip showed me, time and time again, the power of trusting. To be alone with no one except God to guide you, you learn the freedom that comes from surrendering. I know not everyone will agree with me on this, but I guess I have realized in my life that I can either choose to believe with blind faith and experience the freedom and peace that comes from it, or I can choose to doubt and rely on my own human mind and fears and deny any sense of spiritual hope. Neither will change the truth of whether there is a God or not, but what it will change is MY Truth…and in doing so it will change my heart and the peace that invades my life. So I choose to believe. Right now, as I see my dream slipping through my fingers yet again due to one injury after another, I stop and bring my mind back to the present moment. Back to truth. There is always hope…until there is none…and none is only something that you yourself decide on. I am choosing to live in hope this time. Right now I am walking through the storm, but I have placed my fears and my hopes in God’s arms and I have complete faith that He has a perfect plan. I believe that He can work miracles and that He will use me to help Him accomplish them in my life. This journey has not been easy, but it has taught me lessons I could never have learned otherwise. The way I am dealing with this current trial has shown me that I am finally stepping out and embracing the lessons of the past. That I am using them to restore me and bring joy to  my life DESPITE the disappointment. I am seeing myself not as the product of this one solitary dream, but rather, I am seeing the dream as the catalyst to finding my truth and my joy…not upon completion of my dream, but on the journey to it. For the joy we receive along our journey is in the process, not the outcome.
As I end this entry I ask myself a different question than the ones I wrote when I began. I ask myself did I enjoy the process of writing this. Yes, I did. I could have branched off on many different tangents, but I believe that my heart helped me weave together a story of my life that was revealing to me a truth that I needed to hear and discover through my own words at this moment. And in the truth, there is nothing missing, nothing wrong, nor is there anything stupid. For in truth lies freedom. And in freedom, we find peace.

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A journey within

IMG_0181My dad always says that “happiness is something you remember, not always something you experience”. While this may be true at times, during these past few weeks I EXPERIENCED complete happiness in the moment, which has also left me with wonderful memories which I will carry into the future. I am hesitant to sit down and write about my journey for fear of scaling the experience down to words and pictures. For what I experienced over these past few weeks cannot really be expressed in words or photos. The emotions, feelings, and lessons reside deep inside of my heart and soul and cannot be whittled down to words or images. This trip was a journey on many levels. This trip was a journey of spirit. A journey of self. And through the moments of pure solitude I discovered that I am never really alone. I rediscovered my connection with nature and the many ways that it speaks to us. I rediscovered my own heart and my own mind. In escaping from the trappings of this world I was able to listen to my own soul and my own body. In doing so all judgments were stripped from my ego and I began to experience a feeling of acceptance and belonging – not to anything or anyone, but rather it was as if I became one with my surroundings and saw myself not as a separate entity, but rather as a united element working in tune and with the beauty of creation. Most importantly though, this trip allowed me to experience God’s grace, love and faithfulness. I learned the true meaning of trust and surrender and experienced the peace that it brings. The question is whether I will be able to hold onto these concrete truths as the world slowly (or quickly) begins to encroach upon my peace. It is my choice however in how much space I let the world have in my life. It will take practice to incorporate the lifestyle I experienced so richly over these past few weeks into my routine. It will take time, and I need to be patient with myself. But I know that it is worth the effort. Part of me would love to head out ‘into the wild’ and live off the land, but in all honesty, I don’t think I could do that forever. I need to live in this world, but I don’t have to be controlled by it – that is my choice and that is where I need to exert my control. I think too many of us give in too easily to the idea that we don’t have control over what we let into our lives. We have somehow come to believe that stress is normal and should be accepted as such. I found it interesting that as I would recount to others the peace and joy I found being alone in nature for almost three weeks, most of them would respond with “That’s great…but that’s not reality.” Or they would say “Of course you found peace, you didn’t have any responsibility and you didn’t have to deal with people or any real stress”. They have a right to their opinions, but I believe that the REALITY is what I experienced these past three weeks. Life is simple. We have complicated it. My decision to go out in nature and just “be” and live a simple life is an example of me taking control, of me not giving in to the ‘rules’ the world has tried to force upon us. I will not apologize for ‘getting away’ and being happy. I wish that more people would realize that it isn’t about money, or time, or responsibilities. You CHOOSE what you make most important in your life. I have chosen to seek peace. That is more important to me than anything. Life, and its trials, will always be here, but sometimes we need to get away in order to gain new perspective on them. Life truly is beautiful…nature has a way of reminding us of this truth when we allow ourselves to become a part of it and simply admire its glory, its richness, its tranquility and its pure, unique beauty.

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Addicted to joy?

blogsymposiumbutton recently posed the following question: Can Trail Running Develop into an Unhealthy Addiction? In order to accurately answer this question, we first must define “addiction”. Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “the compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal”. Reading this definition may stir up different emotions in different people. Some devoted trail and ultra runners may deny that they are ‘addicted’ to running, describing their devotion to the sport as a healthy obsession that enhances and adds joy to their life. While this may be true, I know from experience, that this ‘healthy obsession’ can be the flipside of an unhealthy addiction. When things are going well, and we are able to log in the miles, experience the natural high and feel our feet lead us to peace as we journey down the trail, then we reap the joy of trail running in its purest form. This is what we live for. This is what makes this sport so ‘addicting’. For once you experience the joy it brings, you crave more. And if joy is what it gives you, then doing more of it must bring more joy and thus it must be a healthy obsession, right? Well, not quite. There is a fine line when it comes to balancing the gains and pitfalls of this natural drug.
Running to increase the joy and peace you experience in life is a positive thing. These by-products of running are amazing and have the power to enhance our lives in many ways. Yet, in order to really benefit from their rewards, I believe you must first have peace and joy without running. If you do, than I believe that your running ‘obsession’ can be a healthy facet to a balanced life. When you run to escape pain or to find peace or joy due to the absence of it in your own life, you may very well find it…but you also plant the seeds of addiction. For me, I found that when everything was going well and I was running strong, long and often, the addictive aspect of trail/ultra running was not noticeable. It wasn’t until I couldn’t run that I realized I had become addicted. For, addiction cannot always be seen until the thing you are addicted to is taken away…and you cannot cope without it. This is what happened to me. I became injured and I couldn’t run. I had placed everything I loved in running. I WAS my running. In my mind, I was “Shannon the Ultrarunner”. The two were inseparable. And so, without running, I lost the identity I had created for myself. I lost my joy. I lost my peace. Because I loved running so much I did not find it necessary to seek these things elsewhere. I did not learn to race the journey within, relying rather on the soiled trails to fill my heart with joy. But, without these trails I crumbled. I could not cope. It was at this point that I found out that trail/ultra running had become my addiction.
This realization forced me to re-evaluate my running. I had to learn to view it as just one facet of who I am and ask myself what it really was about trail/ultra running that I could not live without. At the core, I realized what made it so amazing was that it took me back to nature. It taught me truths that came in unspoken lessons and through painful, yet invaluable trials. But, the demands of this sport on your body and time are great. And the risk of injury or other obligation is always there. I knew that if I were to really find true joy in this sport, I had to make sure that I first had true joy without it. Running will always add to my joy, but I now know that I can’t let the absence of it, for whatever reason, lead to the loss of joy in my life. I see my inner joy as a baseline now. When I can run I experience more peace and more of this inner joy. But when I can’t run, it doesn’t take away from the joy and peace I have stored up inside of me. This is when you know that your running has a healthy place in your life. It is not a weight loss tool or an attention-seeking statement. It is not your identity nor is it a band-aid for some deeper pain. The purity of trail running is what makes it so healing. When you use it for no other purpose than to feed your soul you will find joy both on and off the trail.

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Grace under pressure

As I am beginning to get back to training and putting in more miles, I am trying to heed my grandfather’s wise words: “Rest before you get tired”. So despite the gorgeous spring breeze and mild temperature I opted to take a rest day and let my body recharge. I am realizing however that what I love about running is the fact of being outside and just feeling the sun on my face or hearing the silence, punctuated only by the sounds of crackling leaves or the pitter patter of woodland creatures. I used to think that I could only experience this joy fully if I was running, but I now realize that sometimes I can experience it even more, or rather, on a different level, when I allow myself to just ‘be’ in nature. I couldn’t pass up a beautiful day like this. I had to discover its riches and just soak in its perfection. So I went up to Watchung Reservation and walked to a little bridge that spanned a tiny creek. I sat down and just listened to the water gurgling over and through the rocks and was struck by how gracefully it glided over even the largest obstacles. As I sat there just staring at the water, a moving meditation, I began to feel my thoughts moving freely, as if the water had entered my own body. It struck me that if only we could allow ourselves to take on the qualities that the water beneath my feet perfectly exemplified, life would be truly a thing of wonder. Whoever coined the expression ‘grace under pressure’ must have been watching water navigate its way down a rocky stream. There is nothing more graceful! If you take the time to watch its course, you will notice that it glides forward so effortlessly and is not deterred by anything that blocks its path. When it faces an obstacle it gracefully molds itself to whatever is in its way and continues on its journey undeterred. It accepts what is in front of it without question. It’s almost as if it welcomes the obstacles that break up the journey, as if they were just a chance to explore and test its agility before moving on to the next adventure. As I thought about this metaphor of water and life, I began to think about how often we fail to personify these qualities of grace and acceptance. As I was thinking I threw a little twig into the water and watched the water carry it away. It hadn’t gone even three feet before it came upon a mossy rock. The water hit the rock and gently glided past it, but the twig stayed stuck behind the rock, shaking with every wave of water, but never moving from behind this roadblock.
And then it hit me…too often we personify the stick. We let the obstacles in our path stop us from moving forward. We do not show grace under pressure and we choose false ‘security’ and ‘safety’ instead of letting our trials mold us into something better and push us forward.
The day was so beautiful that I came back a few hours later to sit on this very same bridge with a good book in hand. I began reading and then my eyes were drawn to the water below me….or rather, to the little twig that was still stuck there behind that same rock. How many times in life do we let ourselves stay stuck behind the same rock? How much life do we let ourselves miss out on because we have chosen to let our obstacles become roadblocks. Sometimes we even become so familiar with the same obstacles that we now see them as ‘comfort’ and choose to stay stuck for fear of letting ourselves explore the unknown.
The water that I had viewed just hours ago was now exploring some new adventure far away. It was finding and overcoming new obstacles and seeing parts of this beautiful earth that one can only see by moving forward. I am not a scientist, but as far as I know, you never see water in a stream moving backwards, at least not in the long term. It always seems to course forward so beautifully. Yet this tiny twig had not moved. It stayed stuck in the confines of its environment, powerless to the elements and unable to be set free. How many times do we CHOOSE to be the twig? We DO have the power to set ourselves free but we choose not to. Whether it be out of fear, security, or lack of effort, we choose to stay stuck. I have been guilty of this. Today I realized that I don’t want to be a twig. Life will always have roadblocks and obstacles, but life will always have wonder and beauty as well. I want to explore it all, and I can’t do that from behind a wall of fear, security or complacency. I want to be as agile as water when I come upon an obstacle, as graceful when things don’t go as I had hoped, and as adventurous as I follow my journey downstream, letting go of the past and heading fearlessly into the great unknown that is full of beauty, wonder and freedom.

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Easter joy!

HAPPY EASTER! A day of rest.  Of hope. Of peace.

I decided to give my body a rest today. I was blessed with gorgeous weather this week and 6 straight days of injury free running. I am trying to heed the lessons that God has taught me in the past, and the advice that my grandfather told me years ago, “Rest BEFORE you get tired”. So on this Easter morning I let my body restore itself before heading off to spend the day with family. The day started with a church service with my sister. I still struggle with being in church at times. I don’t find God within the walls of a concrete building, and often I find that my views differ from those that are being preached. My church has become the trails I run on. God’s message is delivered to me in every confident tree rising up from the rich soil and in every bird soaring freely through the sky.  I know that God is in all things and on Easter I think it is important to reflect on the blessings and the HOPE that He has given to us. I think as adults we, at times, complicate life. We try to make sense of everything. We let our minds and our guilt interfere with love and truth. We let our narrow understanding of life and ourselves cause us to enter into a continuous cycle of questions, which only lead to more questions. Questions that can result in an overwhelming sense of confusion as we try to untangle the many strings of thought running through our human minds. Why can’t we be ok with not knowing and rather just TRUSTING in the unknown? To have faith in what we cannot see or ever truly know goes against what this world has tried to instill in us. We have been taught to find out the answers. We have been told that ‘seeing is believing’. But sometimes, there are no answers that will appease our human minds, and some things can’t be seen with our human eyes. This is where FAITH comes in. Faith frees us from our fear of the unknown. For faith and fear are really the same thing. Different sides of the same coin. As I once heard in church, faith and fear can BOTH be defined as follows: “Believing that the things you think will happen will come true”.  You can choose to believe in faith or in fear. Neither will necessarily change the outcome, but it will change the peace you feel in the present. God’s gift of Jesus Christ has given us this freedom to choose between faith or fear. Why do we so often choose fear? Or, why do we NOT choose faith? Why are we so scared to believe? I have seen the blessings that come when we surrender ourselves to faith. It is a gift that we all have in front of us, but often choose to leave unopened.

Today was filled with many simple blessings. I was reminded of God’s humor in the innocence of my nephews. I wish that we could all simplify life and its lessons just as children do. To take things as they are and not try to make sense of them. Sometimes what we find in the simple story is all we really need. When we went to pick my nephews up from Sunday school they began telling us what they learned about Easter Sunday. They told us that there were bad guys that wanted to hurt Jesus. They told us that they were chasing Jesus. Then I asked them, “And what did the bad guys do to Jesus?” And they responded with the most innocent look on their face and pure conviction in their voice, “They cut off His butt!” Well, funny, I had never read THAT version of the story in my Bible, but I think that is the best interpretation of it that I’ve ever heard. It made me laugh and smile and reminded me that God does have a sense of humor. Is that not what life is about? Laughing and smiling and feeling joy? Too many people try to make Christianity to be about heaven and hell and guilt. That, in my mind, is the farthest thing from pure Christianity. Easter reminds us of God’s hope FOR us and IN us. It reminds us of His LOVE and His goodness. He can make ALL things work for good. Bad things WILL happen in this world. But just because bad things happen doesn’t mean God doesn’t care. He showed us He cared in giving us His Son. And whether you believe or not is not the question. God knows our doubts and our questions. But He wants us to come to Him despite them. I live my faith amidst the questions. I trust God through my doubts. He has walked with me through my pain and I praise Him for all of my blessings.

What has God blessed YOU with today?

Blessings I experienced today:
1. Time spent with my nephews. Hearing their laughter and seeing their smiles brought joy to my heart. Watching them stuff jelly beans into their mouths reminded me of all of the wonderful Easter memories me and my sister shared as kids.

2. Having a wonderful, fun, exciting Easter egg hunt. Watching my nephews dart from egg to egg with such excitement was enough to make my face hurt from smiling so much!

3. Having a wondering talk with my dad. As I grow older I find that the conversations we have move me towards a deeper knowledge and acceptance of myself. With him I feel no judgment and find comfort in his words as we grow together in our understanding of the world and our place in it.

4. Realizing that I already had most of my lesson plans done for school tomorrow! J

5. Feeling a sense of peace at where I am in my life and in my understanding of myself.

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Finding blessings


Today I headed back up to Six-Mile Run Park. I hadn’t planned on going back there so soon, but before going to bed two nights ago I realized that I had lost a very special necklace that I never took off. It was a cross given to me as a gift by the little girl I used to babysit for, and so it was very important to me. I know I had it on the morning I left for my run, but that night, it was no longer around my neck. I thought that maybe I had lost it on the trail and so I headed back up there hoping that luck would be on my side. I retraced my steps and kept my eyes on the trail. And while I didn’t find my necklace, I did enjoy the search.
I am learning that often my sadness in life comes from the importance I place on ‘things’. Our attachments are what cause us pain. Or rather the fear of losing them does. So while I was upset that I had lost that necklace, it was only a material possession and any meaning that I garnered from it was not lost just because I no longer had it. If it is on the trails I hope that someone else finds it and values it as much as I did. I can’t let what I don’t have affect what I do have, and that is the ability to be happy and embrace life. Sometimes when we lose something it opens us up to other possibilities that we wouldn’t have had access to before. Losing something can be a blessing, if we stop focusing on what we have lost and focus instead on what we have, or rather, what blessings we can now let into our life. Of course I am using this necklace as a metaphor, but losing this necklace did bring some new blessings into my life. It was the only necklace I ever wore. Now that I no longer have it, I was able to hang another special necklace around my neck, one given to me by my father, and one I had forgotten about (along with the rest of them) due to my attachment with the single necklace. Wearing my dad’s gift around my neck allows me to feel his loving presence even more so throughout the day.
Losing the necklace also allowed me to smile and realize the unimportance of ‘things’. It also allowed me another peaceful morning on the trails, which found me becoming an ‘expert’ to two newbie bikers. I was coming out of the forest when a biker sped past me and then stopped and yelled “Miss!”. I honestly thought that he was going to say “Is this your necklace?”, but instead he said, “This is my first time here. Which trail is better in your opinion: the orange or the red?” I was about to tell him that I was no expert either, this being only my second time here, but I figured that he didn’t need to know that. So instead I pretended like this was my regular stomping ground and said, “Well, the orange trail is better, in my opinion, for mountain bikers. It is more lush and has less mud.” I went on to tell him about the other trail and he thanked me for my ‘expertise’. As I continued on my run I couldn’t help but laugh thinking just how like my father I was. It was as if wearing this necklace around my neck breathed his spirit and his mannerisms into me. For, a few years back I remember asking him “Dad, how do you know so much?” I was in awe that anytime someone asked him a question he seemed to know the answer. I began to feel like I knew nothing. But he said to me, “Shan, I don’t always know all the answers….I sometimes make them up.” Now of course, my dad DOES know a lot, but sometimes, when he doesn’t he will just use what he does know to make up a logical, clever sounding guess that will satisfy the curious questioner. And sometimes, that is just as good as any true answer. Of course, you would not pretend to know something when someone’s life depends on it, but in certain circumstances, your not knowing doesn’t have to hinder the curious from finding what they are looking for. Today, while I wasn’t an expert on the trails at this park, I did know that the bikers would not decide to take the orange trail and ride off a cliff. Sometimes all someone needs is some reassurance that they are on the right path….but after that it is up to them to find their own way down it. So, my reassuring the bikers that there were indeed two trails, and telling them my opinion was just as good as being an ‘expert’ of the trails. For it allowed them to proceed with confidence instead of doubting if they were going the right way.
In the end, it is always up to us to find our own answers however. That is the only way that any experience can be truly personal and of value. Sometimes getting lost or losing something special is really just an answer to a question that you may or may not have posed. Sometimes we find the answers before we think of the questions. The key is to be OPEN to both the questions and the answers. Go searching for them, but don’t look so hard for a specific answer that you miss out on others that can be of even more value than the one you were searching for. I may not have found my necklace, but in the search for it I found many other blessings that made losing it a valuable lesson in the freedom of letting go.

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Reevaluating my passion


Today’s run: 4 miles, easy, contemplative, wonderful, peaceful. I was hoping to beat the rain and snow and got in some early miles on the trail. Today I allowed myself to take side paths I had always ignored, or rather, refused to explore due to a rigid schedule of miles and times that I had pre-routed in my head. But today, I was on no such schedule. I was there to explore, not only the trails, but also what they could teach me about myself.
Coming back to running after an injury is always both amazing and scary. To feel, once again, the joy coursing through your body as your feet hit the earth and your arms swing back and forth as the rhythm of your breath propels you forward is both magical and humbling. But this joy brings with it the all too familiar and real possibility that it can all be taken away tomorrow by another injury. So, I realized that I have to find a new way to look at my running and really stop and think about what I use it for and what it is about it that brings me so much joy. As I sort through these questions (no doubt, leading to more questions and answers that may be revealed over the course of a lifetime) I realize that I need to find a way to embrace running in its most simplest form. I need to let go of the times, the miles, the races, the health benefits, and I need to rediscover the mind-body-spirit connection that it has the potential to reveal to me. I used to really enjoy coming home and plotting out my runs, inputting the miles and times and watching the numbers increase or decline, depending on what I was aiming for. Rarely did I come home and ask myself, “What did I LEARN on this run? How has it brought me one step closer to my goal of finding peace?” Today I realized that I need to, first and foremost, treat each run as a prayer. Not a prayer where I ask or speak my desires through audible words, but rather, a prayer where I let my feet and body speak in silent strides and let my breath be the whisper of my innermost questions. As I silently run, the only sounds being my breath and my feet hitting the earth, I must listen to what God/nature is trying to reveal to me in its perfect way. I must FEEL the answers with my heart and SEE them with my mind. I find them in the trickle of a stream caressing moss-covered rocks. I hear them in the wind rattling the barren branches. I see them in the ripples floating across a sun-pierced pond.
My runs have always been spiritual, but too often I let the lessons go too soon, replacing them with data and stats of miles, time and performance. Today I realized if I am ever going to find the peace I am searching for, I need to first revise how I view and treat my passion (running). For, even the best athletes will grow old. Records will be broken. Bodies will slow down. But as long as my feet can still hold me up and I can place one foot in front of the other, I can experience in a few small steps all the glory that even the longest run can fill me with. But I first must be willing to receive the answers according to my present circumstances, not ‘only’ when I feel my running merits revealing them to me. Every run is a chance to learn. Every run reveals truth. Today I begin to see my passion first and foremost as a constant prayer, a vessel through which truth, life, and peace will be revealed to me one single step at a time.

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The long and short of it


Run: 3.1 miles. A far cry from the 100 I had planned on running. Yet, those 3.1 miles were wonderful nonetheless. In coming back from injury I have been trying to live fully in the moment and embrace what is. I used to feel that a run could not be worthy of being ‘peaceful’ and ‘wonderful’ unless it stretched my limits and lasted a few hours. The longer, the better. It is true that those long runs bring me to a place of peace and reflection that shorter runs have not been able to, at least not in the past. But as I am seeing, God at times has plans that differ from our own and we need to be willing to adapt. That includes changing our mindset and looking at the things that bring us joy and finding pleasure in every moment. My impatience has always been my downfall, especially when coming back from an injury. My inability to ease back into running, believing that I can’t enjoy a run unless I go LONG, has often caused me to succumb to a string of injuries that have prolonged my return to the sport I love. I must learn from these mistakes and not be so eager to follow my ‘old’ ideas, but rather, allow my mistakes and trials to reshape how I look at things and how I live my life.
As I stepped out on the trail today I felt the presence of spring. This was nature’s gentle reminder that everything in life is cyclical, yet we must wait for the right season. We cannot rush nature, and we, our bodies, are part of nature. We must not rush our healing or our desires. We must learn first to find joy in the present, which will only heighten any joy we WILL receive in the near future, if we just learn to trust and be patient. I may have only run 3.1 miles today, but I carry the peace that I felt on that run with me still. Isn’t that what running is about? It isn’t really the distance or time that make a run ‘life-changing’, but rather the feelings that it evokes and the peace that it brings.

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What is.

CIMG8474March 23rd, 2013. I thought this day would be the day I finally achieved my goal of completing the 100-miler at the NJ Ultra Fest. But after suffering a sacral stress fracture in January, I realized that it was too risky to try to attempt this goal at this point in my recovery. As I awoke to a crisp morning, the sun shining and the blue sky full of beauty, I felt a twinge of sadness. I had to keep myself from moving into the ‘should have’ territory that I knew would only cause more stress and unhappiness. This injury has forced me to see the uselessness of ‘should have’ and as a result has caused me to embrace ‘what is’. Because all we have is ‘what is’. “Should have” does not exist. If you ‘should have’ been doing something, you would be doing it now. Living in the ‘should’ is what creates much of our (my) stress and unhappiness. For in doing so we miss out on what is, or, at least we miss out on the valuable lessons that the ‘what is’ can teach us.
As I ran through the woods this morning at a pace that more so resembled walking, I embraced where I was and felt grateful for the ability to be out surrounded by nature and to be enjoying what I could. I did not think about the race I ‘should have’ been doing, for that was not a part of ‘what is’. I have learned some hard, but invaluable lessons through this latest injury. I am learning the value of trust, in myself, in God, and in doing what I believe to be right. I find that often my well-intentioned actions to keep myself healthy can backfire and cause more injury. Yet, this too, maybe, is just part of the learning process. It is what is called LIFE and it is what is. You can choose to accept it, or you can continually question ‘why’, never being satisfied with the intangible answers that cannot quiet your doubts or fear. Asking ‘why’ can be useful, if you are doing so willing to accept the hard answers that may arise. But if you are asking ‘why me?’, then you are only fueling your fear and your discouragement by living in the ‘should’ intead of the ‘what is’.  Accepting our circumstances doesn’t mean that we have to ‘like’ them, but it means that we trust that there is value in whatever we are faced with and we choose to embrace the lessons instead of falling victim to what ‘should have been’ or the unanswerable questions that will destroy our will and our strength.
I am not perfect and I admit that sometimes I find myself saying, “This is not fair!” I find myself getting angry with God and feeling as if He is punishing me for some reason. This sheds light onto my humanity, the idea that i feel i am ‘entitled’ to exactly what i want when i want it. But i have seen time and time again that this attitude of anger and entitlement breaks me in more ways than one. It breaks me both physically and spiritually. Only when i begin to embrace the truth that i will not always get my way, and turn my trust over to God (or whatever your higher power is), do i experience peace.  And in most cases, not getting my way, in the long run, leads to more blessings than if i had received what i wanted at the moment i wanted it.
I think it is important to admit your feelings and not deny what you are feeling. However, you must admit them and then move on. Learn the lessons and do your best to heed them. Trust that God can use your circumstances for good if you take some time to step out of the ‘should’ and embrace the ‘what is’. It isn’t always easy, I know, but you must never stop trusting that good things are in store and that this current trial you are going through will one day be just a memory. As my mom always said, “This too shall pass.” And as my dad tells me, “experience” must remind us that everything will be OK (that doesn’t mean it turns out as we hope, but it means that we get through it and we survive).
So, as I sit here right now, I embrace where I am, knowing that there will be many more races to run and many more sunny days to enjoy. And they will be that much richer because of the lessons I am learning right now through ‘what is’.

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