A prayer for Boston

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the bombings during the Boston Marathon, and media coverage has taken over with stories positive, hard, sad, inspiring, uplifting. I’ve struggled to contain my emotions this week as story after story describe individuals’ lives a year after two terrorists decided not to wait any longer to launch an attack on the city and on my tribe, my family of runners.

On Monday, runners will line up again in Hopkinton, bibs pinned on, shoes laced up, ready to run toward the painted finish line on Boylston Street.

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The finish line last year. It got a new coat of paint for this year’s race.

I love that this year’s race is the day after Easter, when we celebrate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and victory over death through His resurrection. In many ways, regardless of faith, those who participate in the Boston Marathon on Monday are Easter people, too, celebrating resurrection: of a city’s pride, of a running community that would not let evil overcome it, of the human spirit that would not cave to fear and tragedy.

I’d like to offer up a prayer for all those running Boston and for all those lining the streets to cheer them on or keep them safe:

Almighty God,

Please be with the runners at Boston this year, both those I know and those I’ll never meet. Give them strength of body and mind as they take on this challenging course. Please also be with the police and medical crews who will protect the runners. Give them patience, wisdom and discernment as they do their work. Please also be with the race organizers and volunteers. Give them the ability to provide the runners with a wonderful, renewing experience. Please also be with the spectators who will cheer for the runners as they speed by. Replace any misgivings or anger or fear with joy and unity and a sense of jubilation. And, God, please be with those who cannot be at the race but long for the courage or the speed or the healing that would enable them to attend.

Please send comfort to those who mourn a loss of life or limb and with those who are trying to navigate a “new” normal. Please heal both the physical and emotional wounds of those traumatized by last year’s events.

Please cover the entire course with Your protection, and turn away all who are intent on causing terror or spreading evil and chaos.

I especially lift up the Hoyts to You, as they make their final Boston Marathon run together. May it be an occasion of joy and blessing for them after so many years of showing what a father’s love can mean in the life of a disabled son. I also lift up Scott Menzies and the other family and friends running in memory of Scott’s wife Meg. Please let them sense Your healing presence as they race where she had hoped to run. Please let the memorial for her near the 1-mile mark remind all who pass by to treasure their time here, to delight in life and to be kind to one another (and maybe also not to drive drunk or distracted).

Please send a gentle breeze – and if it’s in Your will, please let it be a tailwind, however rare for this marathon – and a perfect temperature for running. Please energize tired legs and mend broken hearts even as runners climb Heartbreak Hill.

Please, most of all, let good triumph on Monday. It is in Your son Jesus’ name that I make this prayer. Amen.

If you have family or friends (runners or spectators) heading to Boston and would like for me to pray for them by name on Monday during the race, it would be my privilege to do that for you. Please feel free to leave names and prayer requests in the comment section below.

For now, I’ll leave you with this Boston Marathon story featuring the Hoyts, an inspiring father-and-son duo who will run their final Boston Marathon together on Monday.

On running camaraderie (or feeling like a slacker)

This past weekend, my husband and I volunteered at a 100-mile endurance run. It’s the one my husband ran last year, and it always brings out amazing runners and volunteers alike.

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Runners heading down the hill toward one of the well-stocked aid stations. You can see volunteers waiting to fill up bottles and hand out food.

As a runner, I am always reminded during this race of some of what I love about running. Because I am not an ultra runner (someone who has run more than a marathon distance), I also have a chance to feel like a slacker when it comes to running. Humility is a good thing, right? (I ask rhetorically and with a smile.)

It happens every year: the volunteers make small talk with one another in between filling water bottles, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, doling out soup and even (shudder) popping blisters. Invariably, the question comes up: Do you run? Continue reading

Don’t let the tutus fool you

I’m a running purist. No color runs (runs where you get doused with bright colors of paint) or tough mudders (think of obstacle courses and mud with some running thrown in) for me. But if that’s your thing, hey, that’s cool with me.

I also don’t like to wear costumes when I run, if for no other reason than I like to run without distractions of extra-warm or too-itchy clothes. But I’ll admit that I enjoy seeing the fun ways other runners express themselves with what they wear.

Some runners wear shirts with inspiring messages. Some runners wear funny socks up to their knees. Some runners wear stuffed turkeys or reindeer antlers on their heads when a race celebrates a particular holiday. Some runners wear tutus.

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My husband took this picture at my first 10K several years ago, the Flora Women’s Mini Marathon in Dublin, Ireland. It was great fun, in part because of women in tutus and other fun costumes celebrating the day together.

Costumes can make running fun – a good kind of silly – and can distract other runners from the pain or negative thoughts that creep in during a race. As I think back over the races I’ve run, the toughest ones always had moments of awesomeness because of what another runner was wearing. Wearing something that makes other runners smile at a rough point in the course or encourages spectators to cheer louder? Well, that’s a gift.

So when the social media world exploded last week with news of Self magazine mocking two women wearing tutus during a race, I paid a lot of attention – even more when I learned that one of the runners in the photo was fighting cancer, that both women coach Girls on the Run (GOTR), and that they make and sell tutus to raise money for their local GOTR chapter. These are my people, and a national magazine mocked them?

Here’s a quick summary: Self magazine published a photo of two women wearing tutus and race bibs to accompany a short piece mocking runners who wear tutus, calling it “lame.” Social media lit up with fury. The magazine back-pedaled, apologized and has scrapped the snarky column moving forward. To see what else has come of this story, watch this great interview with Monika Allen (the runner fighting incurable cancer) with Katie Couric from yesterday’s show.

In the photo, Allen is dressed like Wonder Woman and her friend like Supergirl, and if you look closely, you can see that her friend’s race bibs says, “Die tumor die.” If the editors at Self had looked closely, they might have prevented the firestorm they brought on themselves. Allen was running the LA Marathon that day, her first marathon since a brain cancer diagnosis several months earlier, and she dressed like Wonder Woman in a tutu to lift her own spirits and to bring joy to others.

The marathon was Allen’s 19th and her slowest, but she ran it and triumphed in more ways than simply completing a marathon. She’s bringing national attention to the ways we tear each other down instead of building each other up. And she’s doing it with grace and kindness and energy while she faces a fight with cancer that she may never win.

Self wanted its readers to judge her for her tutu, to make themselves feel better because they would never wear tutus while running. The magazine apologized because Allen has cancer. But would they have apologized if she hadn’t been fighting a disease, if instead, she had simply been a healthy, beautiful woman who wanted to have fun during a hard race?

They misjudged her because she wore a tutu. They didn’t count on her also being strong and poised and intelligent and willing to speak out for what is right.

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Like Allen and her friend, I coach young girls who delight in wearing tutus and are just learning to associate running with joy and fun. They’re also learning to examine how media portrays women (and men, too) and how to stand up to bullies. The magazine has given GOTR chapters all over the country an easy way to discuss these topics. But what pains me is that there will continue to be plenty of other examples of the media making fun in poor taste, of tearing others down, of trying to stereotype based on appearance, of crushing self esteem to make a buck.

When do we say, “Enough”? The conversation will continue, and Monika Allen’s role in the conversation has, at least briefly, turned it in a positive direction. Maybe by the time the girls she and I coach reach adulthood, we’ll all be a lot farther down a better road. Be sure of this: If they’re wearing tutus on that road, it would be a mistake to judge them.

A big push

I participate in a women’s contemplative prayer group that begins with a time of silence during which we are supposed to listen for God, followed by a short teaching. This week’s teaching has left me sitting with a particularly challenging/unsettling/exciting quote:

The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push – usually a big one – or we will not go. (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward)

So I’ve been thinking about big pushes, trying to think of times we ask others to give us a push. Most of those times come in childhood:

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Swinging always seemed more fun when there was a friend or parent standing behind to push.

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Slides also presented good “give me a push” opportunities in childhood.

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I avoided slides like these when I was little. Too scary, too little control, too little known about what waited at the bottom.

These childhood pushes may seem scary (like asking for a push on a sled to fly faster down a steep, icy hill), but we also trust that the push will make whatever we’re doing way more fun.

As adults, we don’t ask others to give us a push as often as we do when we’re children at play. Perhaps that’s why “God, life, destiny, suffering” have to step in occasionally to do the pushing. To get us out of a hidey hole. To make us step out into something uncomfortable but right for us and others around us. To change us in ways we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.

For many of us adults, the push doesn’t seem like it will result in anything way more fun.

What has struck me over and over about the quote is the challenge to look at where I’m stuck in the familiar and the habitual and truly examine whether there is any false security. I’m also trying to acknowledge the ways God is pushing me to choose paths I wouldn’t if left to my own choice.

I remember my longtime church organist explaining his difficult decision to leave our church for another one close by. He had struggled with the decision for many months (years?) but finally submitted to God telling him to go. He didn’t like the push, especially at a time that our church was having a spectacular new organ built, but he got to the point where he knew that to stay would be willful disobedience to God. He finally accepted the big push out of what had been familiar and reassuring. We miss him, but I know he is a blessing to his current church, and I hope they are a blessing to him, as well.

Obedience is hard when there’s a big, uncomfortable push. Adam and Eve didn’t skip out of the Garden of Eden. Moses made God angry with his excuses at the burning bush about why he didn’t want to return to Egypt. While he was still the Saul who persecuted early Christians, the man who would become Paul didn’t want to believe in Jesus.

God has plans for us but has also given us free will. Because that free will comes wrapped up in stubborn hearts and minds in bodies, sometimes a big push has to happen to make us live into our best selves.

Looking back on your life, what big pushes do you recognize? How did they change you and bring you to the life you’re living today? How have the big pushes helped you live a better, more meaningful, flourishing life?

March madness

This tough winter just doesn’t seem to want to leave. Yesterday the trees and early flowers were coated in ice, and today a cold rain dampens the earth and my spirits in equal measure.

Even the usually cheerful UPS man was down when I saw him. When I called out to ask how he was, he said, “I’m ready for the sun to come out!” Me, too. How about you?

I know spring is coming, and it will defeat winter in the end, but the lingering bad weather brings with it its own kind of March madness as my friends and neighbors try to put on brave faces about the weather (“It could be worse!”) and more school closings (“Maybe we won’t lose another day of spring break.”). We’re trying to carry the bliss of beautiful hints and spring and warm, sunny days scattered in with slick roads and wintry mixes and general cold grayness.

At least there’s college basketball to distract us, right? I grew up in a place where this time of year is sacred – not only for Lent and Easter approaching – but also for conference basketball tournaments and then the NCAAs. It was perfectly normal from elementary school through high school to watch basketball at school, occasionally writing essays about the game in French to justify the TV on in the classroom.

There are many who believe tournament time is at the very least worthy of its own national holiday(s). That’s the place I come from, the place where March madness is a perfectly acceptable disease, and you’re the odd outlier if you don’t suffer from it.

There were games last night, and there will be more games to come, but today, to escape the other sort of March madness, I ventured out on this cold, rainy day, looking for signs of spring. Here are some of my favorites to share with you:

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Witchhazel is already blooming.

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Peach blossoms getting ready.

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Another kind of peach tree, ready to welcome spring

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Buds on a weeping smoothleaf elm

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More peach blossoms — they were my favorites today.

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An empty trellis waits for spring.

You may remember my post a few summers back about the passion flower. This trellis is where their vines will reappear when the weather is right. If you need a shot of summer right now, revisit the post.

I’m clearly not the only one suffering from March madness, given some of the art installations I discovered on my journey:

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What?

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A new monster has emerged from the soil over the winter.

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Turned mad from a prolonged winter?

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The tail end of the mad monster

I hope these photos bring you some smiles, along with the knowledge that nature knows it’s time for spring to arrive. In the meantime, scroll down for another way to beat the madness that March brings.

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Tread carefully around those whose eyes are filled with any variety of March madness.

It’s hard to turn anywhere without seeing a March madness bracket of some sort (favorite Southern city, favorite rock songs, favorite desserts). I’ve been thinking that if the four seasons were each brackets, how on earth would winter’s bracket have sixteen things? I mean, I could see the other seasons needing play-in games, but winter? I struggled, but here’s my list of winter’s 16 (I hope you’ll fill in the lines yourself):

(1) Christmas
(16) Snow days (The lowest seed this year for being the obnoxious Cinderella team that won’t quit)

(8) Sledding
(9) Fires in the fireplace

(5) Hibernating snakes
(12) Soup

(4) Camellias
(13) Fuzzy socks

(6) Less chafing while running (Non-runners have to trust me on this one.)
(11) Low humidity

(3) Hot chocolate
(14) Indoor track

(7) Down comforters
(10) No poison ivy

(2) No mosquitoes
(15) Fewer gardening chores

So who would win winter’s bracket? What did I leave out that you think should be in this bracket? Is there any winter team that could take on spring and therefore meet the autumn/summer winner in the final match-up? Which season would win it all and why? Jump in the game with your thoughts below.