Starting with a Marathon 

young fitness woman runner  running at forest trail

In 2008 I ran the Orange County Marathon. I have never been much of a distance runner. I don’t have long legs, endurance, or the mental fortitude required to run, run and run. In High School I wanted so badly to be a part of a team. Any team. I first started with tennis and quickly discovered that I have little hand-eye coordination, so I moved on to track and field.

I had one of the best coaches out there, Mickey Hall, father of Olympian, Ryan Hall. Folks, I ran with a future Olympian…for about three seconds until I was eating his, and the whole teams dust. I lasted one season.

Then I took on cheerleading. Horrible, just horrible. I couldn’t remember the cheers and had to rely on my best friend to remember the moves. I loved the dance portion, and the cute uniforms, but frankly I was no good. Alas we came from a small school and I guess they would take anyone.

After high school my best friend started running. Like really running, she started doing 5k’s, 10k’s, marathons and ultimately an Ironman. This girl is badass, and every time I talk to her I find myself extermely inspired toward this level of athleticism.

In 2007 she told me about this amazing organization, Team In Training that helps raise funds and awareness through such athleticism. If you signed on you’d be raising money for leukemia and lymphoma research as well as sponsoring families that needed financial assistance. Though an unlikely marathoner I signed up. I trained with a team for months and then on a cool Orange County morning clocked my 26.2, the slowest in my age range, but a finisher nonetheless.

With the expection of chasing my kids I haven’t run since, nor do I plan to. Since that first marathon my ankles have cracked, my hips have hurt and I seem to have a never-ending case of shinsplints. That marathon broke me. 

A couple weeks ago I met with a publisher to pitch my first book. She was kind but told me that I freshman attempt would not be the right fit for her publishing house.

“What are your other ideas?” She asked.

I hesitated. I wanted to tell her about my BIG story. The one that’s been on my heart for over twenty years, the one about grief, loss, redemption, but I was scared. I am scared. Because this story is not mine alone to tell. Because I want to do the story true justice. Because I’m afraid that it will break me like the marathon, leaving me cracking and stiff.

I’ve been thinking a lot about it the past few weeks since that meeting and then realized something about the marathon. It didn’t matter if I was the slowest, it didn’t matter if my ankles now crack, if wouldn’t have even mattered if I came in dead-last, what mattered is that I finished. I finished. This concept of finishing has been impressed upon me from a young age. It started with my tee-ball days, then tennis, track and field, cheerleading, collage, so on and so forth. Mom always made me finish, and then when I became an adult, I always made me finish. So, why not the story too?

Even if I come in dead last, even if it takes me forever, even if it leaves me with cracking wrists and forces me to pour out my heart it beckons, “finish, finish, finish.”

Acknowledging Sad

Loneliness

A Letter to My Friends in the Thick of It,

The dish broke in my hand. It was one of my pretty ones. Blue with birds on it, a gift. I knew I had dropped it into the porcelain sink too hard, but the breaking felt good, freeing.

My little man started crying. The sound jarring him, he didn’t understand. “Why is mommy so sad?”

How could he understand?

I hope that he never really understands, because I know that if he does he too has experienced the weight of heavy loss. I don’t want that burden upon his shoulders. I like him the way he is now, unabashed, intrepid.

I looked at the dish. My hands shaking as they held the pieces. I looked at my son. As calmly as I could, looked at my husband and said “I need some time.” In my room I closed my eyes and let the tears flow. It was true. Mommy was sad. So terribly terribly sad. I cried that night, cried and cried, cried for all my losses, cried for the peopled I’d never see again this side of heaven, I cried for children whom I’d never met, I cried over injustices. Violently, I cried.

Later, he walked into the room, laid in the bed next to me, wrapped his whole body around mine and prayed the simplest prayer, “Jesus, protect my wife.”

That week I carried my shame of being “a sad mommy” with me to a therapist. I sat in her office with heavy heart and began unburdening myself. I continued circling back to my shame. I felt so very ashamed of my sadness. I felt guilty because I can so easily sit and count my blessings, it just felt wrong to be sad.

She stopped me there, and affirmed the beauty and blessing within my life, but then when I feared she’d give me a “now buck up” she also affirmed that my sadness wasn’t manufactured but legitimate. She explained that there is actually a difference between depression and sadness, and in this case I was sad, and it’s okay to be sad. Sad isn’t an emotion that should just be swept under the rug because it’s not pretty. Hiding sadness leads to depression.

My shame began to lift. As it did my therapist offered tools to help manage “sad” and acknowledge “sad” without letting “sad” become my new identity. I returned to journaling, quiet-times, guilt-free napping, my yoga practice, long evening walks, and the occasional full body dunk in the Pacific ocean. “Sad” began to lift.

Through this blog I’ve had friends and strangers alike reach out to me about the “sad” that is weighing them down, keeping them in bondage. The more we talk the more I’m realizing that before we can even begin touching “sad” we first need to address “guilt” and “shame”.

Why is it that we feel so ashamed of sadness? It’s hard enough just to feel sad, but then to slap some added guilt on top is a recipe for spiraling into a full-fledged depression. So my friend, you, who is feeling sad today, whatever the reason, can I tell you something? IT IS OKAY, IT IS GOING TO BE OKAY. Feel your sad. Acknowledge, unashamed, your sad. Release the guilt that is trying to ensnare you. And then, guilt-free call a friend or loved one. Talk about it. Do something nourishing for yourself today. Take a nap. Let the dishes sit in the sink. Go for a walk. Write in your journal. Exhale.

It is going to be okay.

 

The Space Between Us

Relationship difficulties

Yesterday we celebrated our 7th anniversary. It was a pretty normal day. Having just returned from a weekend away I spent the day reorganizing my life. Calendars, laundry, dishes and diapers. Regardless of the quiet of the day, I still felt celebratory, more of an internal celebration than external. Nonetheless, I, we, celebrated.

In these seven years I find so much to celebrate. First and foremost, the fact that we are still together, getting better, becoming better at loving each other. We can celebrate our children, our successes, our accomplishments. We really do have so much to celebrate.

But this post isn’t about those things. It’s about something a little more truthful, something a little more raw. It’s about our failures. It’s about the trajectory of life that attempted to rip us raw and bleeding from each other. It’s about the tears, the fights, the moments and seasons that we barely made it out of.

Seven years ago, shortly after we said our “I do’s” we caught a flight to Hawaii. All in all we had some really beautiful moments on the Big Island, but I’d be lying if I said it was totally wonderful. A few days in we were at each others throats. Me screaming. Him silent. Both of us thinking “did I make a mistake?”

To know me, truly know me, is to know that I come with a temper. I do my best to quell it, to breathe when I feel myself getting mad, to walk away, to take a moment. In those first days, weeks, months, and even years there was very little walking away. Actually there was much more head-butting, fit-throwing (on my part), divorce threatening and tears streaming than anything else.

For all the advice, the pre-marital counseling, the suggestions, prayers and encouragement we didn’t know how to be married. We didn’t know how to be one. We were so settled in our own personal identities that we couldn’t yield. In our first three years of marriage we went through marriage counselor after marriage counselor. We tried the books and the programs. We were only united in how much we hated the books, the programs, the counselors.

After three years of living in Colorado, a new baby, and a marriage on the brink of dissolution we returned to California to be close to family. Even with the family support the deep issues remained, the fighting continued though better concealed. We were just as broken, but maybe a little better at hiding it.

Then one night after a particularly ugly fight that had gone on too long we came to the end of ourselves. We couldn’t keep doing this. We came to a point that we realized we had two options, work on it, really really really work on it, or call it. I was ready to call it.

“I’m too young for this, I have my whole life ahead of me, and I don’t want to spend it in misery.”

I’m pretty sure those close to me knew where my head was, because within a day of getting to this point my Mom steered us in the direction of a couple at church that offered marriage mentorship. Although we had already failed with multiple counselors we have nothing left to lose and decided to try one more time.

We met them, they were young, cool, both divorced and both passionate about sparing young couples the pain and suffering they had experienced through their first relationships. We sat around their round table our first few meetings, my arms crossed around my body, I didn’t want to let go of the past three years of anger and resentment. I wanted to hold on to it for dear life. I wanted to run away. I wanted to start over. How could I ever love this man again? We were too far gone.

They let me sit there, meeting after meeting, angry spew after angry spew. They let me talk about it, let him talk about it, and then one night as I continued the fight they finally said this: “You guys need to put God first, or else nothing will work.”

I blew them off. I wanted to, because my anger had become my friend. But night after night those words began to press softly upon me and softly upon my husband. I wanted to fight them, resent them, I mean we were in ministry, my husband is a Pastor, of course we put God first.

The truth is, that when we were quiet with ourselves we started to see that all those hours spent in service to others wasn’t drawing us personally to God. They were just hours spent in service to others, they had become hallow, and in no means a replacement for the personal relationship Jesus wants to have with us. We had spent so much time “doing” and “performing” that we had lost track of the purpose behind it. This realization stung.

Slowly, we started transitioning. Slowly, we stopped holding on to all the hurt. Slowly, we realigned our lives with our faith. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly. That realignment has caused us pain, it hasn’t made life easy, it has cost us jobs and relationships. It has made some areas of our life more difficult. It has forced us to say “no” to things and people that we’d so desperately like to say “yes” to. Through this realignment we’re learning to say yes to our marriage first and foremost, and we’re seeing that as we do this everything else falls into a healthy place.

I would love to tell you that we’re perfect now. That marriage is easy, somedays it is, but the more truthful revelation is that life is hard, relationships are hard. We still get it wrong, a lot. When life threatens to pull us out of alignment we check in with our mentors, check in with ourselves, check in with each other. There is hope here now, where there was none before. There is love here now, where there was little. There is even laughter and silliness and snuggles and everything that was missing in those very broken days.

So, my dear friends, those of you with hearts hurting, those of you holding to resentment, those of you that are ready to leave, stop here, if you can, exhale, and please put God first. Start there my dears, and slowly, slowly, slowly watch for change.

Be well,

Rachel

Everything I never knew I always wanted

Blonde Girl Flying with Butterflies

Can I tell you a secret? I don’t normally do this, tell secrets, but sometimes, maybe, sharing something you’ve suppressed or held down can be life-giving, freeing. Not just for the secret holder, but for the ears that hear.

My little secret: It’s about my dreams, my intentions, what my plans were/are. Maybe I’ll be judged for these secrets, maybe I’m okay with that.

I’m a proud mother of two, a wife of a Pastor, a stay-at-home mom, living the most beautiful life.

A life that I never wanted, never dreamed of, never hoped for. 

Let me explain:

There’s this movie that I love, “Fools Rush In” with Selma Hayak and Matthew Perry, who plays Alex Whitman, at the end of the movie after these unlikely two fall in love and forge a path together he holds her, looks in her eyes and says these words: “You are everything I never knew I always wanted.”

I’m Alex Whitman…I am living a life I never knew I always wanted. I am a Pastor’s wife (yeah none of us saw that coming). I have two incredible children, even though I swore up and down I never would, my eldest is a perfect accident who has inducted me into mommy-hood with kisses and snuggles, I’m a stay-at-home mom a title that I times I feel  altogether unequipped for, but I love these snotty nose kisses, long games of hide and seek, and epic lego building afternoons.

Day by day I’m learning how to lead in these rolls. I’m learning that my little guy doesn’t respond to a raised voice but a soft one. I’m learning how to raise a redhead, which I swear is a full-time job on it’s own. I’m learning how to keep a home, not that I don’t know how to clean, I do, but I’m learning what needs to be kept up and what can be let go of. I’m learning to love my husband in the ways that he needs love. I’m learning to see him as a man and not the boy that I met almost a decade ago. I’m learning so many things about myself, about my heart, and about what is really important.

Along the way I’m also learning that my dreams, the secret ones, they are still there. And even though my time is essentially eaten up by all of life’s demands, I’m learning that if I don’t respond to them I feel just little bit less of myself.

And I’ve done it. I’ve spend days, weeks, months, and years putting my dreams on hold as we moved from state to state, as we’ve birthed children, bought houses, left jobs and took new ones. I’ve done plenty of awesome and fun things in that time. I’ve had so many beautiful moments, long walks with my husband, sandy beach days with my children, but through all of it, from the bottom of my heart comes this little voice. A small little “what about me?” my dreams whisper. “Will you ever make time for me?” I hadn’t been, because I believed I couldn’t. There weren’t enough hours in the day.

But I was wrong. There is room, there always had been. I just wasn’t seeing it.

So I stand in my kitchen, my hands at shaking and I feel like I might just throw up. Why? Because I have a meeting with a publisher coming up in 3 days.

In 3 days, I’m going to sit down, straight-faced with someone and tell them why I think they should publish the book that I haven’t even written yet. And why haven’t I written it? Because I’m so scared. I’m terrified that I’ll fail, flop, curl into a ball and die. Because maybe I’m not good enough, maybe my writing sucks, maybe I don’t have what it takes, or maybe I do.

I know one thing for sure. I can’t fail if I don’t try. And so I need to be open to failure. I need to chase these dreams down like a woman possessed, and if I don’t, they’ll keep chasing me.

Wish me luck!

My Computer Doesn’t Know

unclep

I sit down at my computer to begin writing and my notifications begin popping up. There it is, your birthday. It’s not that I would ever in my lifetime forget your birthday, not unless I also forgot mine. Because by some strange coincidence we were born on the same day, so many years apart. Today, my computer tells me, you will be 65.

But you won’t.

Because what my computer doesn’t know is that you’ve been gone now for two years. My computer doesn’t know how aggressive your skin cancer was. My computer doesn’t know that we stayed up late with you in your last days, that we stood over you hand in hand praying, that we whispered into your ear “it’s okay, now, let go.”

My computer doesn’t know the agony we felt those February days, nor the pain we processed through in the months to follow, nor the pain that we still process today, it strikes at the strangest moments, and I find myself missing you like crazy. It doesn’t know that I was pregnant with my daughter as we paddled out in Turtle Bay on our joint birthday. We released your ashes into the swell. We said one final good-bye. After I sat on the shower floor scrubbing sand off my feet and out of the coral induced wound on my heel weeping.

That day was my birthday, our birthday. And it was the first birthday that I couldn’t pick up the phone and dial you expecting the hear “Happy Birthday Rachie” on the line.

My computer doesn’t know that we spent our last birthday together. We had dinner in San Diego and you ominously said “well I made it another year.” I remember the face you made, the way you rolled your eyes. Something was off, and even though you hadn’t been diagnosised yet, I think you knew.

You knew. You knew we would never paddle out again, nor holler your joyous “yippy” as you snatched the wave I’d been waiting for. The grin on your face from ear to ear. I think you knew it would be quick, even through you didn’t want to admit it. I remember the day I came to visit you after you were diagnosed, you tried so hard to be you, shining blue eyes, but they filled with tears as you told me that if you died you had lived a good life, you had loved well, and been loved well.

Isn’t that what really matters? To love well, to be loved well?

My computer doesn’t know what love is. It doesn’t know how deep our bond was. It doesn’t know that I regret to this day not putting you into the car and driving you to the ocean, but you were so sick, in so much pain. We couldn’t move you. I know that you don’t want me to hold on to this. I know it. You know it. But my computer doesn’t.

My computer does know, however, to remind me to wish you a happy birthday, an alarm I’ll never remove as just seeing your name makes me feel good, sad, but good. So today, a happy day, a birth day, I receive phone calls and cards, well wishes and blessings and I think of the gift you gave me, the important one, the love. The love that you didn’t owe me, but you gave so freely. The friendship, the long conversations, the smoothie dates, and the chopstick lessons. You were one of my best friends, in my heart you’ll always be.

Happy Birthday. Until we meet again.