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 new year’s day wish

Happy new year, my friends.

I say that feeling a bit unsettled and regretful. You see, I’d like a do-over on the holidays. I have been sick since the Sunday before Christmas, and the last week and a half have been a fog. I am finally nearing the land of the living again, but … ah, what I’ve missed.

Family I don’t see often came to visit, and I loved having them in our home, and there are lots of good memories, but they’re all dulled by the haze of medicine and feeling miserable.

There’s vacation time that I should have been able to enjoy with my husband, but I didn’t feel like leaving the house for much of anything, and so he went on walks and hikes and runs while I recuperated and gathered strength.

There’s the knowledge that I had an okay (not great) running year but missed my unstated mileage goal by 12 miles, miles that I could have run in a single day had I been healthy. I haven’t run for a week and a half, though, and tomorrow may be my first very short attempt to get back to it. Too late for 2013, though.

There’s the looking back over a wonderful year in general but alighting on the less-than-perfect parts. The dreams deferred. The plans unfulfilled. The ways I let myself and others down.

Maybe that’s the beauty of January 1. We know that there are no do-overs. We are to stop looking back and step into a new year. We have this one day to plan and dream. Some of you make resolutions. Some of you may even follow through with your resolutions.

However you spend today, here’s my wish for you for the new year:

This year, may your life be a flourishing tree.
May you have more days of sun and gentle rain than storms and biting cold and searing heat.
May you be strong enough to weather the storms that come and flexible enough to bend when the winds blow fierce.
May you have moments of pure joy in the warmth of the sun.
May your roots be strong enough that you can support others around you and give without needing anything in return.
May you delight in those who shelter in your outstretched limbs.
May you greet each dawn standing tall and ready for what the day will bring.
May you experience moments of perfect calm and times of dancing.
May each season bring its best to you.
This year, may your life be a flourishing tree.

An island of flourishing trees

An island of flourishing trees

What are your hopes and dreams for the year ahead?

Simple lessons from the nativity scene

I shared with you last week that Thanksgiving was threatening to overwhelm me, but I was really in denial about what would come before the leftovers were even all gone. The “commercial” Christmas season has come roaring in, practically running down Thanksgiving in its wake. Not that it hasn’t been around since before Halloween, but this week has brought a new level of frantic Christmas messages.

Neighbors have lights and greenery and blow-up snowmen out on their lawns. I still have pumpkins on my front porch and feel a sense of camaraderie with others whose front porches are still decked out in Thanksgiving decor.

The catalogs are screaming with deadlines for shipping in time for Christmas. My inbox has became an unmanageable beast shouting about Cyber Monday deals and extended Cyber Week sales and last chances and one-day coupons and so much more that my head is spinning. Exactly when did Cyber Week become a thing anyway?

I got an email from a big crafts store yesterday with a list of one-day deals and a lead-in sentence that said: “This year, take the stress out of the holidays by simplifying your DIYs …” The sale was for ribbon and fake poinsettias that I could use to transform my normal (read: boring, blah, unacceptably plain) chairs into appropriately festive ones with perfect chair ties.

I thought to myself, “Hey – I know. I’ll make my holidays even less stressful by not going to the store and buying festive-chair-tie-making materials.” I also convinced myself I did not need “Celebrate It pre-lit entryway trees,” even if they, too, were marked down 60% for one day only.

By not jumping in the car yesterday, I saved a little piece of my sanity and 100% of the money I would have spent. I also solved the issue of my family exchanging glances behind my back, wondering when I started feeling the need to decorate perfectly good chairs when what I really need to do is just figure out how to bake a pie without filling the kitchen with smoke. (I admit that this is a recurring event in my kitchen.)

Whether I prepare and decorate and learn how to bake the perfect pie … or not, Christmas is coming. I want to get my heart right for it. I’m determined to find some quiet in this Advent season, to carve out some space for preparing for real Christmas. And I think the nativity scene is the perfect place to look.

Shepherds2013

These nativity shepherds look so calm and happy and relaxed. That’s how I’d like to be this Christmas.

I wrote a bit last Christmas about the nativity set my mother painted for me, and these are the shepherds from that set. Stop and look for a moment at their faces and what they have with them: a few of their animals, a water canteen, a musical instrument and some food. That’s all.

When they heard the angels singing of Christ’s birth, they didn’t rush around looking for ribbons and fake poinsettias to decorate their chairs. They rushed to the manger and brought only what they already had with them.

Friends, will you take a cue from the shepherds this week and drop what’s not important so you’ll have time and energy and joy for what is? Are you willing to set the Martha Stewart expectations aside and prepare your heart and home for the presence of Jesus?

Got a good tip for how to make the coming celebration a simpler one, less filled with stress? Please share it below!

A good aunt’s back-to-school advice

It’s back-to-school season, and I thought I’d put on my “good aunt” hat for a few moments and share some advice with you (most of it fitting whether you’re a child, a teenager, a young adult, a student, a parent, a teacher).

On starting college
Two summers ago, I wrote a blog post for two beloved young people in my life who were heading off to college. There’s a fresh batch of young people I know starting college this year. I know you’re busy finding where your classes are and trying to decide whether you like your roommate and figuring out how many times you can text your mom and still be cool. But I hope you’ll take time to read what I wrote. Everything in it is still true today.

On texting and driving
If you drive yourself or your children to school (or anywhere else), please take 35 minutes today to watch this film on texting and driving. Called From One Second to the Next, this film brings us the accounts of people whose lives were changed in a split second because of a driver’s decision to text while driving. For any of you with a driver’s license and a car, please watch this video. Commit to checking your text messages once you get to where you’re going. Commit to refusing to ride in a car with a driver who is texting. Commit to waiting to text a friend who is behind the wheel. No one should die because of an oh-so-important message: “LOL.” “Running late.” “Almost there.”

On appreciating your teachers and other school staff
Did you hear yesterday’s story of a school clerk who talked a gunman into putting down his weapons and letting police arrest him before he killed anyone? The photo at the top of the story shows a good aunt reaching out for the hand of her nephew, one of the precious children the school clerk helped save yesterday. The clerk, Antoinette Tuff, said, “I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”

I don’t agree with Tuff. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Tuff is a hero. She overcame her terror and put her own life on the line to save the others in her school and community.

Appreciate your teachers, even if you don’t enjoy their class or teaching style. They may be the single thread that protects your life in a moment of terror.

On working hard
“School is hard.” This profound bit of truth comes from an eighth grader I know.

For some of you – I’m thinking especially of the high school seniors and college freshmen among you – there may be a temptation to play a little too hard. Just remember why you’re in school. First and foremost, you’re there to learn and to work hard. Learning how to add in the rest (the fun parts) is the first step toward becoming a well-rounded adult while also discovering the parts of life that fuel your passions.

On finding joy
While some of you parents out there – and even some of you students, too – may be overjoyed at the prospect of a new school year, others of you will have to work a little harder to find joy in school. But it’s worth the effort to find something you love about school. Try a new activity or class, or try out for a team or the school play. These extras give you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and forge strong bonds with friends new and old. School may be hard (see previous category), but it doesn’t have to be miserable.

On keeping the faith
Whether it was Vacation Bible School, a youth mission trip or just fun, relaxed summertime visits at church, you may have experienced some great “mountaintop” moments in your faith while school was out. Look for ways to carry those moments with you into the school year, and if you’re a college student, I encourage you to get tapped into a faith community near your college – even if you really, really loved your home church youth group and think you’ll come home every weekend to see your familiar friends there.

When I was in college, my faith was sometimes the only thread that held me together while it seemed like everything else was falling apart around me. Give yourself a gift of a community of faith wherever you are. Keep looking if the first place you land doesn’t quite fit. Faith and a community of believers will strengthen you in ways nothing else can.

For those of you past your own school years, do you have any advice for these young ones going back to school?

For those of you going back to school, do you have any advice you’d like to get from my readers?

If so, I hope you’ll add it to the comments below.