#quiet · #ShelterunderHiswing · Running · solitude · Spirituality

Finding Quiet

I stood by my open kitchen window Thursday evening relishing the quiet. No NPR played on the radio; no sounds of television came from the den. The refrigerator didn’t hum, and the air conditioner didn’t click on.  Hurricane Zeta had come through the night before, pulling down trees and causing us to be without electricity all day. Despite the inconvenience, I found the stillness relaxing. (Thank you to NGEMC for getting us back on by 8 pm!)

My evening with no power got me to thinking about how much I fill my time with some sort of chatter — I’m usually listening to the radio, a podcast or an audiobook when I’m around my house or in the car. Some programs are spiritually oriented, some are educational, and some are for fun. There’s nothing wrong with keeping my mind active and informed, but am I spending too much time not listening to the quiet?

The last few years I’ve been working on learning to be quiet with God. It is not easy when my phone is there offering chatter 24/7.

I used to always run with music playing in my earbuds until one spring evening when I went for a run near my house after work. A little Jack Russell terrier charged out at me and a teenage girl driving to church hit and killed him. He ran right under her wheel and she never saw him. Of course she was devastated. I was too. I kept thinking that if I had not had the earbuds in I would have been more aware of the dog and kept him out of the road. What if it had been a child?

Now if I’m running by myself, I almost always leave my earbuds at home. God and I converse, and I try not to do all the talking. The same is true when I’m in my garden. I have declared it a ‘no electronics zone’ and I spend that time praying for people who come to mind and bringing up problems to God. I find that my ADD brain functions better when I am not distracted by multi-tasking.

Keith and I live in a house built in 1859, and I love to imagine what life was like for my predecessors, with no I-phone, radio, television or gramophone. As I stood in the kitchen Thursday evening, I thought about how they would have heard these sounds in the days before electricity —the hush of an autumn day coming to an end with the music of the birds and other animals settling in for the night.

I wonder if they ever got bored with the quiet. Or did their time without constant entertainment bring them closer to God?

In I Kings 19, we are told that as Elijah was fleeing from Jezebel, God told him to go up to the mountain. While he was there, a hurricane wind “ripped the mountains and shattered the rocks” but God wasn’t in the wind. God also wasn’t in the earthquake that shook the ground, or the fire that swept through. But after the fire, God was found in the “gentle and quiet whisper,” and Elijah was able to hear his voice.

What if Elijah had not heard that whisper from God because he had filled his ears with other noises?  I need the quiet to be able to hear the breathing of the Holy Spirit.

Where do you find your time to be quiet with God?

Running · Spirituality · Writing

NaNoWriMo, or How Writing a Book is like Running a Marathon

Running and writing do not always go together, although they should. I have been running for the last sixteen years and I’ve learned many life lessons that have helped me become a better writer. Since NaNoWriMo — National November Writing Month— is an endurance event for writers, I found many similarities between writing 50,000 words in a month and running a marathon, 26.2 miles.

Running, like writing, is something I’ve always liked but never thought I could actually do. I was never an athlete as a child. In fact, I was on the chubby side and always had a pretty low self-image. But I loved being outside and was always riding my bike, playing in the woods or shooting basketball in our driveway. I played tennis and loved to walk, but run? It never crossed my mind that I could do that.

So, when I got to college and found out that I had to pass a physical education requirement of running a mile in order to graduate, I thought it was an impossible assignment. But one afternoon my roommate and I laced up our tennis shoes and went to the track. I still remember the woman coach who told me I had a ‘good stride’. I had never been complimented on any athletic ability and that little encouragement gave me the confidence I needed.

I passed the one-mile requirement and kept going. A beautiful running trail was adjacent to the campus and I found that after a long day of sitting in class, running three miles was relaxing and helped burn calories. (I was fighting the freshman twenty pounds that had found me.)

Throughout my twenties I ran three miles most days or jumped around in a leotard at aerobics class (it was the eighties, after all.) I always ran by myself and never more than three miles. But after having a baby at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, I felt my running days were behind me.

Fifteen years later I was at a low time in my life after the deaths of both my father and mother-in-law. I heard about a 5K race in Calhoun and decided I would try it. One Saturday morning I stepped out the door wearing a pair of blue sweatpants and some old New Balance shoes. I only made it part of the way down my road, but I kept going, a little further each day until I was close to three miles. My son and I both ran the small race that year. Imagine my shock when I got second in my age group! I was hooked.

Soon I was running with a friend while our children were at swim practice. I met some other women and we began to get together three mornings a week before work to run. We began running in local 5K’s and then taking week-end trips to go to races. I ran a 10K (6 miles) then a 10 miler, then a half marathon (13.1 miles) and finally a full marathon. Over the years I completed 5 marathons. These women became my closest friends and we have shared life’s ups and downs ever since. At sixty, I’m still running (although not marathons!) and feel great.

After running the Amelia Island Half Marathon

So how does this story of my running experience relate to NaNoWriMo?

First, NaNoWriMo is about getting a first draft done, no matter how terrible it may be. Just as training for a marathon is about logging miles, we must log our time in front of the computer or yellow legal pad, putting down words that eventually add up to a book. Author Shannon Hale said, I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” We can always edit later, but we have to have something to work with.

NaNoWriMo gives us a plan for getting that first draft written. When preparing for a marathon, my friends and I always had a plan for how many miles we were going to run each week. By promising ourselves to write every day, whether it is 500 words or 1,667 (the amount needed to finish 50,000 words in thirty days), we have a schedule to go by.

Secondly, NaNoWriMo gets us in the habit of writing every day. After years of running three to four days a week, I start feeling very out of sorts if I miss two days in a row. If you commit to four weeks of regular writing, you will find that it feels strange not to sit down and crank something out.

Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors out there, said, “Habit is the bed of creativity, so tuck yourself in.” Writing something at the same time and in the same spot everyday requires discipline and dedication, but habit makes it easier.

Finally, NaNoWriMo gives us friends to help. Running with friends was a game changer for me, in the same way that the support I’ve received from Calhoun Area Writers has made a huge difference in my writing life. The NaNoWriMo webpage is full of information, forums, word counters, and more to keep you going. Join our CAW NaNoWriMo Facebook page to keep up with how our members are doing.  You don’t have to do it alone!

My writing buds!
Running · Spirituality

Living in the Moment

Two weeks ago, I ran the Army Ten Miler in Washington, DC with my cousin Scott and his son Daniel. It was a great experience to be in our nation’s capitol with all the military folks, including ROTC units from colleges all over the country, tough looking sergeant types and some very in shape young men and women. Then there were the rest of us in the field of 35,000, just doing our best to finish.

I felt a sense of comradery as I started out running that morning that I don’t always feel at big races. Groups ran together and I could imagine them pushing each other in early morning runs in basic training.

A middle-aged man with very muscular legs ran most of the way near me and he was shouting encouragements all the way. I don’t know if he had a group with him or if that is just who he is, but I told him near the end that he had gotten me through the race.  

Running toward the Washington Monument

Being around the army people also brought home the realities of combat.  One group wearing blue shirts was running for fallen heroes. Several wheelchair racers were scattered throughout the race, pushing themselves forward with their arms instead of their legs, and received claps and congratulations as we passed them. I saw more than one person running with a “blade”, the prosthetic used by those who have lost a leg. One man had blades on both legs.

I haven’t run many long races in the past two years. My group of running friends has had various injuries and issues, so the Peachtree 10K has been our biggest race. Doing long runs of 9 – 10 miles by myself is not fun, so I’ve gotten out of the habit. Even without the best training, I felt great for most of the run as we passed the sites of Washington. A big crowd at the turn around the old Smithsonian Castle also gave me a boost.

But by the time we were at mile 8, had passed back over the Potomac and were heading to the finish at the Pentagon, I was feeling it. This was grit time, and I focused on keeping my arms moving (a running trick) and my legs pushing forward. A race photo, which I will not share, shows my face scrunched up in determination!

Running in races, especially longer ones, is the closest I’ve gotten to “living in the moment.” When I’m in a race, I’m not worried about what is behind me and I’m trying not to think too much about how far I still have to go. I’m enjoying the scenery, the crowds, the music on my earbuds and doing my best to convince my body that it can keep running. I can feel myself going to another dimension spiritually during some races, close to an “out of body experience.”

I wish I could transfer those feelings to my everyday life. Today I was reading in Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and she said most of us have a hard time cultivating the habit of being. Instead we find ourselves in the habit of doing, rushing around to get to work and accomplishing all the other parts of our day, or we are in the habit of brooding, thinking about past mistakes or worrying about what is to come. I find myself in this latter one too often.

Even if I’m not running 10 miles, I want to be present for today, to appreciate the little things that make life special that I often overlook. I’ve found that being thankful throughout the day helps. On my run this morning I thanked God for the beautiful fall day, for the clear sky after the night’s storm, and for my healthy body. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, I can block out the other habits and focus on being.

And I’m thankful for the brave men and women in our military, giving up years of their lives so that we can go about our daily lives in peace.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” – Colossians 3:15 (NIV)

After the race!

Running · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Finding the Balance

Sometimes my pride gets ahead of my common sense and I have to pay for it. This happened a few weeks ago when I committed one of the cardinal sins of being an older runner – I ran a 10K without being ready for it.

A group of staff and students from my school was participating and I’ll be honest to say I was showing off a little. Although I had been pretty regular with my weight lifting class and my legs felt strong, the route for the race was hilly and I was not in good shape. I pushed through, however, and actually shaved a few minutes off of my 10K time – but aggravated my IT band and now I’m in pain if I run.

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Our group at the Bill Gregory Race

Younger runners can “gut it out” at a race, but now that I’m closer to 60 than 50, I have to listen more closely to my body. In my mind I’m still in my 30’s, but my muscles and tendons remind me otherwise! As an older runner I have to remember to stop before I’m hurting and that I have to slowly build my mileage. If not, I end up sidelined, which is the opposite of what I want to be doing.

When I started training for a marathon many years ago, I had to learn to listen to what my body was telling me. My training partners and I followed a strict plan that slowly increased our mileage while adding in rest days. I found that the rest days were just as important as the hill repeats, speed sessions and long runs. Working out actually causes tears in our muscles and rest allows them to heal and become stronger. Finding the right balance between hard runs and recovery times is a challenge for athletes of any age, but especially us “master” and “grandmaster” runners. Of course I knew all of this before running the 10K, but my pride told me I could do it.

The same principles apply to my spiritual life. Pride comes along and tells me that I can get by on my own, that I don’t need time alone with God to build my “spiritual muscle.” And before long I do or say something stupid and set myself back. Just as I have to continually listen to what my body is saying, I have to work on hearing what my soul is telling me, and it is usually “Slow down and be still!” My spiritual muscle is built when I rest in God.

So it is a continual balancing act. The last few months have been busy with lots of good things, but my soul is telling me now that it needs some rest. Just as my body needs a break from pounding the pavement, my soul needs a break from people and deadlines and busyness. I’m blessed to work for the school system where I get extended time off and the opportunity to be quiet, spend time with God and listen for His voice. I had time at the beach last week with wonderful Christian friends and I was able to just bask in the beauty around me. My soul felt restored!

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Sunrise over the bay at Cape San Blas

I often think about how Jesus had to get away from the crowds to be quiet, even letting people down who wanted something from Him.  Even as the Son of God, He had to have time to hear what His Father was saying to Him.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”Mark 1:35-37

Can’t you feel Jesus’s exasperation trying to have a few private moments? Throughout the Gospels we see Him going off by Himself or with a few of the disciples to rest from the crowds pulling at Him. How much more do I need it!

For now I’m trying to recover from my injury by doing some exercises and walking and rolling away on my foam roller. The Peachtree Race is just a few weeks away and I need to be able to get up Cardiac Hill! But I’m working on my spiritual muscle also. Resting, sometimes translated waiting on the Lord, will be my strength.
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aging · Christianity · Health · Running · Uncategorized

How strong are you?

About a year ago I was diagnosed with the beginning of osteoporosis, which made me feel old and brittle and worried about getting a humpback. My mother fell and broke her hip while putting up Christmas decorations when she was younger than I am now and suffered from it for the rest of her life. I have a horror of something similar happening, so in addition to the over-the-counter calcium the doctor suggested, I started going to a class for weight training. Resistance training builds strong bones. 



Most Tuesday and Thursday mornings I crawl out of bed at 4:20, drink a cup of coffee, put on my clothes and meet some other brave souls to lift weights for an hour to loud music. Our leader, Jan, is a high school math teacher who actually makes getting up that early fun. Our class is not one of those where you kill yourself by pushing over tractor tires, but it’s not easy either. We put weights on a bar and place it on our shoulders and do lots of squats and lunges. We then work on our biceps and triceps and shoulders and lie down on our mats and do planks and crunches. Afterwards we have a relaxing cool down stretch. 



I love how the weight lifting makes me feel and I hope my bones are getting better. One of the unexpected results of the cross training has been how much my running has improved since my legs and core have gotten stronger. I am running less miles but feel great during my runs and I’m even a little faster. Also, I have less jiggly stuff under my arms. 



But I  know my limitations when it comes to weights.  My legs are fairly strong, but like most women, I don’t have much upper body strength. I still cheat and get on my knees instead of my toes for push-ups. I’m sure I would improve with more work, but I am never going to be able to bench press like the body builders at my gym. My ’50 something’ body can only do so much.



I’m realizing, however, that when it comes to getting stronger spiritually, I’m barely tapping into my resources. Some friends and I are doing a “virtual prayer group” and praying through the month of January with 31 Days of Prayer for the New Year. One day last week the prayer was: 

 

”Pray that you will lean on God for strength, in the good times and in the bad.  May He become your backbone and source of your strength.”

People in Bible times needed to be physically strong. I wonder if because our day to day lives are so much easier that we can’t appreciate how Jesus’s words sounded to them. Take for example the woman at the well in John 4. When Jesus tells her that He has water that will keep her from being thirsty again, her first thought is how wonderful it would be to not have the daily chore of lugging water back to her home. Think about how much water we use in a day, taking showers, washing our clothes, doing the dishes. I can’t imagine having to carry that into my house every day. So of course that is what she thinks about. But Jesus is not talking about her physical needs, but her spiritual ones. As she struggles to pull the heavy bucket up from the well, he tells her: 

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:13-14)

This is the source we have to draw from, but I feel I often ignore it.

 Sometimes when I am going through a hard time and ask God for strength, I treat Him like a trainer at the gym. “Just show me what to do to get results” is the unspoken request. But instead, He has this infinite supply of power that is there for me to draw from. I don’t have to be strong within myself, I just need to keep the channels open between Him and me so that I can pull from that source when I need it. It’s kind of like having one of those body builders around all the time to pick up anything heavy that I need. 



What a relief to know that I don’t have to work on building my spiritual muscle, that God has already done it for me!