About hopesquires

I've left behind the daily grind to write full time and to figure out what my own flourishing tree looks like. I'd love to help you flourish and grow along the way, so that you, too, can cultivate a life that pleases God.

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.

Runnersandvolunteers2014ft

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.

FloraWomensMiniMarathonParticipants2006ft

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.

Tutus, girls and the media
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:

Givemeapush_2014ft

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

Givemeapush2_2014ft

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

Givemeapush3_2014ft

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:

MarchMadness_2014_11ft

Witchhazel is already blooming.

MarchMadness_2014_7ft

Peach blossoms getting ready.

MarchMadness_2014_4ft

Another kind of peach tree, ready to welcome spring

MarchMadness_2014_3ft

Buds on a weeping smoothleaf elm

MarchMadness_2014_5ft

More peach blossoms — they were my favorites today.

MarchMadness_2014_1ft

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:

MarchMadness_2014_6ft

What?

MarchMadness_2014_8ft

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

MarchMadness_2014_10ft

Turned mad from a prolonged winter?

MarchMadness_2014_2ft

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.

MarchMadness_2014_9ft

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.

Late bloomers (flowers and people)

Right after Christmas, my camellia looked ready to bust out in gorgeous blooms too numerous to count. One perfect bloom had even opened up. But then came the coldest weather we’ve had in years. The buds stayed tightly shut and browned a little at the tips.

Camelliabud_2014ft

I thought the camellia buds would stay like this until I plucked them off.

Slight warming and then bitter cold repeated again and again until I had given up hope that any of the buds would open. But then, this past weekend, we had a glorious stretch of spring weather, and my camellia bush embraced the change:

Camelliabloom_2014ft

Just one of the open camellia flowers

The one above, tucked toward the house and away from the harshest of the winds, managed to avoid browning much at all. Even the ones with browner tips, though, make me happy as I see them open one after another. I think they’re all beautiful, brown bits and all.

Camelliabloom2_2014ft

A little brown around the edges, but beautiful nonetheless

I can relate well to these late bloomers in my garden. I’ve always thought of myself as a late bloomer. My teenage years felt like torture while I waited to catch up with my friends. I’ve had a few career starts and stops and redirections while trying to discover what path I was supposed to be on. My marriage came later than most of my friends, though not as late as some (I had a great aunt who married for the first time just before she turned 60!).

I was even a late bloomer when it came to running, an integral part of my life now that I hope to continue for the rest of my life.

I’ve been quiet on the running front on my blog lately, mostly because of a nagging injury which is healing after I finally admitted I needed to try something different. A great physical therapist, discipline when it comes to the stretches and exercise she gives me, and a new way of running seem to be the right recipe. I am improving, and I am getting faster in the process (bonus!).

I often wonder how my running life might have gone differently if I had started when I was younger and thinner and free of injury. By the time I started running in my early thirties, I had already sprained a toe (for which I blame Riverdance and my barefoot attempts to follow along in my carpeted living room), and I had struggled with weight gain.

But what if I had used the injury and extra weight to keep me from trying to run at all? What if I had let myself believe I was too old to pick up a new activity? I might never have started running, and then, I might never have discovered the beautiful things in me that running has helped me see. The discipline. The courage. The stubborn streak (oh, wait, I think I knew about that one before running.). The mental toughness. The physical strength.

I might never have understood the community – and the camaraderie – of runners. I might never have visited some of the beautiful places I’ve encountered on my runs. I might never have shared my love of running and the ways it has made my life immeasurably better with the girls I coach. I would not have been the me I am now.

So to those of you who feel like late bloomers, who feel like that tightly closed bud on the camellia bush that may or may not open, I say to you: Let yourself bloom. Don’t ever let anyone convince you it’s too late to bloom, or that you’re too damaged or imperfect. When you bloom, you’ll see: you will be beautiful.

As a little gift to you today, to encourage you to bloom, here’s a little something I made to share with you:

Camelliabloom_grungeeffect_22014ft

Are you a late bloomer in some area(s) of your life? Are you afraid of what might happen if you bloom imperfectly? Did this post inspire you to try something new? I’d love to hear from you in the space below.