“I’m so thankful for my injury”

Yes, it is another ‘Running is a metaphor for life’ post. 🙂 

“I’m so  thankful for my injury.”

That’s not exactly something you hear everyday, but Running Buddy definitely said it around mile 22 of our marathon together. But I didn’t flinch, because I knew exactly what she meant.

She’s been battling some IT-band issues for a good chunk of training but after the 20-miler, it was so bad, she wasn’t sure she’d even be able to run the marathon. We were pretty worried. And I’d been there too. Two years ago, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to run our first marathon because of a dropped metatarsal. I actually have a draft saved on this blog of a post I wrote updating and processing the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to run the marathon. (I got the okay to run it but turns out I probably shouldn’t have—I was still injured and got more injured in the process). I was thankful to have finished that one, and after each setback since then, coming back to running is all that much sweeter.

In my 2.5 years of running so far, I was sidelined with that injury, then with undiagnosed anemia, and then with mono, in addition to some busy seasons of school when running got sidelined, each time, coming back to running felt more and more like a gift. So when Running Buddy said, “I’m so thankful for my injury” in the midst of the best run we’d ever had (I think collectively for us both and individually for sure for me), on the most beautiful Fall day, with our family and friends and one million other fans cheering us on, I knew exactly what she meant.

The setbacks make the successes all that much sweeter.

I may have wept tears of pain and frustration during my first marathon but I smiled for 26.2 miles in my second.

I may been diagnosed with mono the day after winning the lottery to sign up for the Chicago marathon, but I rocked training as soon as I was fully recovered six weeks later.

I may have been frustrated by being in shape yet out-of-breath, but with iron supplements in hand, I came back stronger than ever.

I may have had seasons where my 5 hours of sleep was more important than running, but guarding those 8 hours of nightly sleep this time around felt right.

I may have struggled in the 20-miler with cramps, dehydration and nausea, but 26.2 went uncharacteristically smooth.

I may have crossed the finish line alone two years ago, but I crossed it with Running Buddy this time around.

I may have not written my goal for this marathon too boldly because of fear of not succeeding—I wrote, “Finish strong, preferably under 5:00”—but I crushed my goal—finishing strong at 4:45.

I may have not felt like a strong, real runner for 2+ years because of all the various setbacks, and because my dear Running Buddy often was able to run with a tad more oomph than me, but on marathon day this year, I knew I was a real runner.

I may not have blogged about running after my first marathon because I had so many unresolved feelings I didn’t know how to express, but today, I can blog about the journey, the setbacks and the successes.

In running and in life, we of course learn the most from our setbacks and failures. But in running and in life, those fleeting moments of success are great motivation to keep going because the journey includes ups AND downs, not just downs. And they feel pretty damn great. (Or maybe those are some lingering endorphins). 😉

Peace,
Melissa

FF DID

And just to clarify, because sometimes I can’t resist qualifications, none of this is meant to toot my own horn. It’s all to say that basically I’m grateful for a good running day, made all that more poignant by Running Buddy’s sort-of injury. It could very easily have gone the other way, as it often has. A good or bad running day is rather arbitrary at times. I’m just saying “thank you” for the gift of a good race, just as I try to say thank you for the not-so-good runs that teach me a lot too. 

Transfiguration Moments

 
I was privileged to write a reflection for this Sunday’s readings for Charis ministries. I’m happy to share it here: 

This gospel passage about the Transfiguration has always seemed confusing to me, or maybe, just a bit out of place. It feels too removed from Jesus’ day-to-day life with his disciples. Right before this passage, we hear that Jesus will suffer greatly (Mt16:21) and that the conditions for discipleship are not easy. They require us to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses (Mt 16:24). Immediately after this passage, we hear of healings, more passion predictions, and questions about… taxes (Mt 17:14-27). These are all stories and challenges relating to the physical world. The Transfiguration, on the other hand, is a quintessential transcendent experience. Despite my initial feeling that this is otherworldly and thus unable to speak to our lives today, the Transfiguration nonetheless can be seen as a needed revealing of Jesus’ glorious nature, and a needed revealing of strength for our own lives.

Yes, our world is a mess and our lives are often burdensome. We may feel this especially in this Lenten season when we are trying to clean our own houses and become more free to love others. We feel burdened by recurring sin, chronic illness, or broken relationships. But the Transfiguration can show us the glory of God amidst the mess. The Transfiguration is a revealing of Jesus’ true nature, a sign that he came not only to be in the mess, but to redeem it. The significance of the moment is evident as the words of Jesus’ baptism are echoed: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 17:5b/Mt 3:17b).

If we pay attention, the glorious moments amidst the mess of our own lives can be a bit more evident. We might hear those same words echoed in our hearts and in the hearts of others. We are reminded in Whom we trust and of the beauty that is actually all around us. These are our Transfiguration moments.

When life seems too difficult, maybe our Transfiguration moments can be “the strength that comes from God” that we hear of in today’s 2nd reading (2Tim 1:8b). They are reminders to trust in God’s beloved Son and to remember how God is at work all around us, even when we cannot see it. These moments can be footholds to steady ourselves when it seems too hard to carry our crosses. They are the events, people, and ideas that let us choose hope one more time, that give us strength to see the this-worldly burdens and challenges through from the pain of Good Friday to the joy of Easter Sunday.

3rd Sunday of Lent

Before the third week of Lent is over, I wanted to share with you a  reflection I wrote for Charis Ministries on last Sunday’s gospel reading.  I got connected to Charis via Twitter and one of their partner program coordinators who lives in Georgia, (Hi Becky!!) even thought they’re based in Chicago, so I think that’s pretty random and cool! Anyway, happy reflecting!!

The words of John’s gospel today may be familiar ones to us. I’ve heard this passage countless times to show that “even Jesus got angry” and to (rightfully) justify outrage at injustice and disrespect of the Lord.  But sometimes I think we are kidding ourselves. We hide our self-righteous pride behind Jesus’ righteous anger. We stand in condemnation with Jesus, ready to point out the hypocrites in church, ready to point the finger at what everyone else is doing wrong. But maybe we should consider this story from another angle, the angle of the temple, because each of us is a temple of God.  
 
We don’t want to believe that we are overrun with the likes of oxen, sheep, doves, and money changers. How blasphemous! But what if we knew that the oxen, sheep, and doves in the passage were being sold for sacrifice in the temple, a common practice of the day? And what if we realized that the moneychangers were there so you could pay the temple tax, not something that would immediately be recognized as out of place?  Surprisingly for us, they might actually appear to belong.
 
And that is how it is with us… Click here to continue reading.

 

Choose Hope.

So, when I wrote my Advent reflection for Amate back in December, I had no idea how helpful and prophetic it would be for my own life. It has the Holy Spirit written all over it, because it’s been exactly what I needed during these last few months (in addition to the love and support of so many wonderful people of course). But I know the Holy Spirit was at work. In case you haven’t read the reflection (go here if you want to!), the main format was, “These things A,B, and C try to steal my hope” but “these things D, E, and F remind me to choose hope.” However, when I originally wrote the reflection, I wrote, “I have hope because of D, E, and F….” not “I choose hope because of D, E, and F.” But two days before the Advent reflection night, when we were practicing it as a house and right before my turn, I leaned over to one of my wonderful housemates and crossed out have  and wrote choose, and then wrote a big ????. She gave me an encouraging nod, YES.

Thank you, Holy Spirit.

And then, we started off our first community night of 2012 for Amate House with this reflection:

Hope opens doors where despair closes them.
Hope discovers what can be done instead of grumbling about what cannot.
Hope draws its power from a deep trust in God and the basic goodness of mankind.
Hope “lights a candle” instead of “cursing the darkness.”
Hope regards problems, small or large, as opportunities.
Hope cherishes no illusions, nor does it yield to cynicism.
Hope sets big goals and is not frustrated by repeated difficulties or setbacks.
Hope pushes ahead when it would be easy to quit.
Hope puts up with modest gains, realizing that “the longest journey starts with one step.”
Hope accepts misunderstandings as the price for serving the greater good of others.
Hope is a good loser because it has the divine assurance of final victory. (James Keller, M.M.)

Oh how much I love this!

It’s exactly what I would need to hear again and again in the weeks and months that would follow. The lies of cynicism and despair and distrust and giving up have been trying to take root. But to them I say, “No, you will not win. I choose hope.” 🙂

I made this at our winter retreat as a reminder to make the daily choice to "Choose Hope"

What do you choose?

Every year, the Little Village community of Amate House is in charge of hosting Advent reflections for all of the Amate community–current volunteers, alumni, staff, and any friends of Amate that want to come!

Last night, in the midst of settling into our new house, and battling the challenge of living with no gas and thus no heat, hot water, stove ,or oven, LV rose to the challenge and hosted our Advent Reflection night. We each shared a reflection on a particular Advent theme. My theme was “Waiting in Joyful Hope.” I’m share it below. I’ve tweaked it only a little bit because some stuff is just better shared in person instead of the internet but this is the most of it. I apologize for its length. I also think it comes off better in person 😉 Enjoy!

Advent Reflection: Waiting in Joyful Hope

Sometimes it makes no sense. Amidst the consumeristic busyness and stressful preparations of what most call the Christmas season, Advent beckons us to wait, and not only wait, but wait in joyful hope. Like most things Christian, this is countercultural.

Waiting? No thanks, there’s too much to be done.

Joy?! That’s not cool either; joy is naïveté, maybe for those who’ve been spared the pain of suffering til now.

Hope?! Heck no. Cynicism is the accepted, adult perspective. Quiet despair and snarky negativity are also standard methods of relating to the world. They’re reasonable. Based in reality right?!

Thank the Lord—literally—for Advent! Advent is my favorite season of the Liturgical year! It doesn’t let me remain in my mess. It calls me out of myself and into the life and hope of Jesus. Jesus, who like waiting in joyful hope, is the epitome of the unexpected, the countercultural and the radical. Who could fathom the Christmas story? We’re talking about the God of the Universe here. We don’t expect a God who is born in a stable in the backwaters of Galilee.  We don’t expect a God who takes on all humility and vulnerability as an infant, lying in a manger.

 This unexpectedness teaches me something about God and about hope. Maybe what I define as “reality,” the picture of life that would lend me to despair, is not the end of the story, and even moreso, it’s not the entirety of the present story. Sometimes we miss the “God’s with us in this moment side of the story. The hope that comes from knowing that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. God is the God of the unexpected.  And so, I dare to listen to the Advent call and wait in joyful hope.

And that dare is a choice, a fight, to wait in joyful hope. We all have the things in our lives that try to steal our hope. Despite my love for Amate and Chicago, these last few months are no exception for me.

My hope is on the line at work one day at the Archdiocese, I had a man walking past me turn and say, “sorry for my cynicism. We just paid $3.2 million for Fr. So-and-so,” referencing a priest sexual-abuse scandal. He used to work with this priest personally. The pain in his voice was tangible.

My hope is on the line when I’m in meetings where we’re talking about different Catholic schools and what’s limiting their potential right now. I’m constantly surprised at how often I hear, “the pastor and principal can’t work together.” I’ve even heard, “they only communicate through email.” Really?! Adult Christian leaders?! If they can’t communicate civilly and constructively, how can they teach the next generation to do so?! Those dear kids hearts are at stake And so is mine.

My hope is on the line when several days a week I see a homeless woman outside the archdiocese silently standing with her hand out, too afraid to tell me her name, while right across the street, cars are sold for $300,000. It makes me sick.

My hope is on the line in day to day community life, when I hear others assume ill-intention of others, speak harsh words with no search for understanding the other, when I myself don’t show the love and patience I desire others to show me. The seeming hopelessness of it all threatens to let me remain in my mess, instead of trusting in the hope of Jesus, God become man, who takes our brokenness and makes it beautiful.

But that’s part of our collective problem I think. We forget God’s goodness and prior faithfulness. We don’t notice the gifts God gives us in every moment. We don’t tell our stories, let alone our stories of hope, of God working in our mess. I could tell many more like the ones I just alluded too, as we all can, but I can also tell you infinite stories of hope.

If I only told you stories like the ones above,  or more importantly, told myself stories like those, joyful hope would not be possible.

I.choose.hope. because my boss sees her work as a consultant for the Archdiocese as a vocation not just a job and because she has the courage to serve the church as a business woman, butting heads with the male-only hierarchy (slight smile) when-needed  on occasion.

I.choose.hope. because of the lay people at the churches participating in the process of Parish Transformation, a renewal of mission, vision, and finances. They are so excited about strengthening the Body of Christ at their church community, not just filling the pews with people, but with the love of Christ.

I.choose.hope. because of my homeless friend Mike who passes on muffins and gift cards like he has an endless supply and asks me, “Why keep more than I can use?” to which I say, “Amen, brother. Amen.”

I.choose.hope. because of my Little Village community. Despite 9 very distinct perspectives and personalities, we’ve weathered months of the unknown about when we were moving to the new house, the actual move less than about week ago, and an accidental 5 days with no heat, hot water, or stove or oven. And no one has killed each other yet. Now that’s reason to hope, yeah? 🙂

And I.choose.hope. because of the little things in my everyday life. As we were reminded at one community night, “Behold, the color purple.” Everyday has thousands of mini miracles that beckon me to “be watchful and alert,” as Jesus said to his disciples. Keeping a journal of gratitude shows me how joy is a function of gratitude and that gratitude is about remembering and noticing the imminence of God’s love. My list has everything from the small things like the color purple and hot coffee and sunset views from the L, to the confusing things like, “I’m not yet able to thank you for this situation, but thank you for being with me in it.” It’s the antidote to my own forgetfulness and cynicism. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness.

It’s a paradigm shift that Advent calls me to. To a perspective that doesn’t ignore that life is unfair, unjust, painful, challenging and sometimes plain ugly. But to a perspective that says yes, life is a mess, but God’s in the middle of it. It’s okay to wait in the question. To live in the pain. But to not let it lead to despair and cynicism. Let’s take the time and be watchful and alert for God at work in our lives. To speak words of hope to one another.  To celebrate the crazy, unexpected, radical divine love of Emmanuel.

Will you dare to wait in joyful hope with me?

My commute

 A 10-minute walk. Or a quick bus ride on lazy days.

The elevated “L.” Our precious working-class Pink-line to the Loop. The Loop. Chicago’s downtown. Quintessential city-hurry with a midwestern flare.

To the Red Line. Underground. [Subverting the city until it’s far from the Loop again].

3 blocks to the Quigley Center, where I work.

Every day, I walk about 10 minutes, then take two different trains into the city to work. It takes about an hour on average. It may sound monotonous and boring at first, but I promise it is anything but that!

I LOVE my commute.

I know that part of my love for my commute is because I love the “L”– Chicago’s train system. The first time on it with my community I could hardly contain my excitement. See below for evidence:

First “L” Ride back during Orientation! I’m a seasoned pro now 😉

It’s a wonderful time to reflect, pray, read, and people- watch.   I’ve always loved airports and traveling for these reasons. And now it’s like a get to ride in an airplane everyday! Minus the unpleasant security experience.

And the “L” crowd is so diverse! When I get on the train, I’d say it’s majority working-class Latinos and African-Americans, and as we approach the Loop, we add some hipsters, some yuppies of all ethnicities, some gray-haired businessmen, and some probably homeless people. I love how equalizing it is.  We all need to get somewhere. And we’re all using the same method of transportation.  And as I look around, I’m reminded of how small I sometimes let our God be. I’m reminded to let God out of the box I try to contain “Him” in.

Each and every person on that train, each and every person I see on each and every commute, is made in God’s image and likeness. God created each of us. WOW! God loves each of us as his Beloved. The self-centered yuppie trying to make her way in the business world. The Latina mama suffering from domestic abuse who quietly takes her kids to school on the L. The homeless man drinking beer so early in the day. Me. Lowly me. Probably looking uppity in my business-ish clothes, awkwardly making my way from La Villita.  This implodes any close-minded view of God we sometimes hang on to when we don’t let our eyes truly see the people we pass everyday. When we close our hearts and make God in our own image instead of the other way around.

 Today, and everday, I pray on my commute: Lord, Give me your eyes, that I may learn to love like You. Will you join me?

 

 

Reflection

 

I was thinking about the concept of reflection a lot especially at the beginning of the summer. Kind of odd, huh? Reflecting about reflecting?! But it’s true. I was. I was thinking about where an un-reflected life leads.  And how important reflecting is to becoming who we are. Who we should be. A better version of ourselves. Who God made us to be.

Last semester I didn’t have much time for reflection. Or better yet, I didn’t make time. But so much happened-as always! I was very thankful to have a summer, especially a May that allowed me to think. About what I experienced. About what kind of person I was becoming. What I liked and what I didn’t. And that made me realize…

An unreflected life does not lead to good things. To who I want to be.

Life happens. Things get thrown at us. People change. We move (on).

Without reflecting, we just react. We don’t ACT purposefully. We also miss out on life. On the little things. Or the big things. We miss out on the gifts that God lavishes us with at every moment. We miss God’s presence in our lives. We don’t see the good.

We become a product of our circumstances instead of letting ourselves be molded by our Creator, the master Molder.

Reflecting isn’t about living in the past. It’s about living in the moment and finding God there. It’s about seeing His hand at work– in the past and present. And making ourselves open to His hand in the future.

May this blog help me remember to reflect. Apparently someone else thought reflecting was important too…

An unreflected life is not worth living.

Says Socrates.

i leave for chicago in two weeks. Better get preparing for and reflecting on that!!