Unmeasured

I have written before about how much I love running on Saturday morning with my friends.  We met up this weekend after a long hiatus over the summer, when everyone was busy and going their separate ways.  If you hang around with people who like to run, sooner or later someone will try to recruit you for a 5K.  Or a 10K.  Or a half-marathon.  Or a whole marathon!  How about a corporate challenge?  A relay team?  A muddy sneaker?  An inflatable 5K?

Though I greatly respect those who choose to participate, I have never been interested in doing any of those things.  I like to run for the sake of running, and I have absolutely no competitive spirit about it whatsoever.  I have always thought this was because, growing up, I was just so miserably bad at sports of all kinds that I lowered my expectations of what I could achieve in the arena of sports.   And because I never had that drive, it just really doesn’t matter to me if I win or lose when it comes to a race or a game, or anything else sports-related.   But I always wondered if it was something else.  Maybe I am afraid to fail?  Afraid of embarrassing myself?  I know I’m afraid of the ball.  Ball sports are not my friend.

Just for kicks, the other day when I was running I turned on the Map My Run app, just to see what kind of distance I was running with my usual neighborhood loop.  Of course, the pleasant lady-voice interrupts your music every mile to confirm that you have just completed another mile, and to let you know your pace and speed.  I have to tell you, I didn’t like that pleasant-lady voice, who told me that my average pace per mile was 10:03.  I felt like I was running waaaay faster than that.  I was clearly motoring down my subdivision here, ruling the road, and she is talking smack about me.  What the heck, pleasant lady-voice?  I turned her off halfway through my run, because I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.  I noticed that my mood changed the moment I turned her off.  I went from feeling stressed and judged and worried about how fast I was running, to just free to enjoy my music, the movement of my body, and my mounting endorphins.

I had a moment of clarity while running the trails this weekend.  I think the reason that I don’t want to do any kind of competitive running is not because I am afraid of failure or that I have just embraced that I am bad at sports.  I think that I am just so tired of being measured.

It seems like almost everything in my life is measured somehow.   And as a woman, I feel the pressure of society always trying to measure me.

There are apps to measure my calories.  Color-coded boxes to measure portion sizes, if you are so inclined.  Dress sizes and jean sizes and bra sizes, all with their own brand of stigma attached to their numbers.  Measure my pace with a running app.  Measure my popularity with Facebook likes or the number of hits on my blog.  Measure my success by my salary.  Measure my productivity by the amount of revenue and RVU’s that I generate at work.  Measure my steps with a pedometer.  Measure the quality of my sleep and my activity level with a FitBit.  Measure my weight, always attaching some judgement or action plan to the number that is displayed.  Measure my progress and my potential.  The message is that the these numbers somehow add value to me, like I am just a placeholder or an incomplete equation, that needs more numbers to add or subtract or multiply me to determine the sum of my worth.

As a woman, I am told to count my steps, count my calories, count my carbs, and count my blessings.  And I am just so, so sick of it.

I totally bought into it though.  The world imposes all these measurements on me, but I buy into them hook, line, and sinker.  I do it to myself, just as much as the world does it to me.  I have the apps, I think the thoughts, and sometimes I also judge others by these arbitrary measures.

So as I ran on the trails, and let myself just be there, steps uncounted, mileage unaccounted for, no training goals–nothing but me and the trees and the sun and my friends.

It was simple, beautiful, and perfectly unmeasured.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to measure less.  Not just me, but other people too.  And when people try to measure me, I am going to try to remind myself of my immeasurable worth.

 

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Shade


I had a very uptight, clenchy day at work today.  Most days at work are like that for me.  I come out of work sore, stiff and tired.  I am busy all day, and yet when it is over I can’t decide if my physical discomfort is from sheer exhaustion or from inactivity.  And then today I stepped out the door, out from under the fluorescent lights and into the sunshine, and I knew the answer.  I needed to run.

Some days I have to make myself run.  Some days my body cries out to me to let it run.  This was one of those days.  So when I got home from my commute I suited up and headed outside.  Our babysitter graciously agreed to stay an extra 40 minutes, a priceless gift.

It was hot out today, but there was a nice breeze to take the edge off.  And as I ran, I found myself savoring the little patches of shade along the road that would crop up every now and then, as I passed beneath trees.  It was at least 5 degrees cooler in the shade, and it felt like a treat, every single time.  I found myself slowing my pace a little in the shady parts, just to savor it a moment longer.

It reminded me of something I heard in church a little while back.  We were studying about the desert, and how God provided for the needs of His people in big and small ways, even in the harsh Palestinian desert.  The psalmist wrote in Psalm 121:

“The Lord watches over you–
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”

I have no trouble picturing a big, lusciously shady spot.  My husband bought me a big hammock last week and hung it up in the shadiest part of our yard, slung between our biggest tree and the kid’s swing set.  It is the perfect place because, no matter where the sun is in the sky, it is always cool and protected from the sun’s rays.  This is the sort of place I call to mind when I read Psalm 121.

However, I learned that in the desert lands of the Bible, shade tended to be scarce.  It is more likely that the shade the Psalmist was referring to was a much smaller patch of shade under a broom tree.  A broom tree is more of a shrub than a tree, in fact, but commonly found in Middle Eastern deserts.  So when the Psalmist speaks of the “shade at your right hand”, he is literally saying that the shade is just enough to cover him and his outstretched arm.  Just enough to give him a little break from the harsh desert sun.

Just enough of a reprieve from the harsh fluorescent office lights and the daily grind so I can breathe again.

I remember us talking about how sometimes God uses other people to be shade in our lives.  Sometimes, we get to be someone’s broom tree.  Sometimes a teenage girl watches your kids for 40 minutes, so you can run off the frustrations of your day.  Broom tree.  Sometimes it is a quick chat with a friend who really listens or who makes you laugh.  Broom tree.  Sometimes it is a good book, or a good nap, or a good cup of coffee.  All broom trees.  The thing about broom trees is they aren’t very fancy, or very big, or even very pretty.  But they are there, and they are just enough to meet the need for shade.

I spend a lot time thinking about how I don’t have enough. This is especially true when it comes to time alone.  There are just not enough hours in the day to tend to my personal needs for solitude and self-care, not with a full-time job and a family depending on me.  Can I start thinking of those broom trees in my path as “just enough”, instead of “not enough”?

When I got home, the babysitter and Nate were standing outside, knocking on the door.  Leah had locked them out of the house on purpose, because she was mad.  It would seem my time of solitude and reflection was over.  And…back to the grind. The shade was nice while it lasted.

 

Running

 

This post is dedicated to my “Saturday Sistas”.

I took up trail running last winter.  It was the middle of February and gloomy as all-get-out, here in Rochester.  From January through March, it feels more like Blah-chester.  My friend Mary is a committed runner and goes out to Mendon Ponds Park every weekend with her sisters and a smattering of friends.  Whenever there is enough snow, they run on snowshoes.  I had heard her talk about it, and one week I asked if I could go along.  She graciously offered to loan me her spare pair of snowshoes, and off we went for a Saturday morning in the park.  I had been cooped up inside for so much of the winter.  Last winter was particularly long, cold, and snowy.  Getting out in the fresh air, running over a frozen pond, I felt like I was conquering winter!  I was sticking it to Mother Nature!  I was hooked right away.  I went out later that week and bought my own (very good quality) snowshoes.  This amused Jeff immensely, who enjoyed giving me a hard time about buying fancy snowshoes after just one run.  Then I reminded him about all the bikes in our garage.  Because you can’t have just one bike, right?  You need a road bike, a mountain bike, a winter bike, a “beater bike”, a spare bike, one for your trainer….anyhow, I think he figured it wise to lay off at that point!  The snow ended up lasting through the end of March, so I got some excellent wear out of my snowshoes.

As winter turned into spring and summer, our group continued to meet to run the trails, and I found running to be a huge outlet for me.  I look forward to it all week and get out of bed early Saturday morning, giddy to meet my friends at the park for our run.  I don’t think I could commit to run as far or as long on my own as I do with my group.  I am pushed on as we run by our conversation and laughter.

We get to be real in the woods.   We get to talk about hard stuff and funny stuff too.  “What happens in the woods stays in the woods.”

The landscape is always changing, so it is never boring.  In the winter we get to see the snow covering the trails and weighing down the tree branches, the sun reflecting so bright it is almost blinding.  In the spring we get to watch as the leaves start to bud and new life springs up everywhere.  In the summer, the woods become dense and shady, protecting us from the sun’s rays.  And in the fall we get to witness as the leaves burst into beautiful colors all around us.  Sometimes I will be on a trail we have run dozens of times and have a moment of panic.  “Where am I?  This doesn’t look familiar.  Have I been this way before?”  Then I will see a familiar landmark, and realize that it is just the changing season making my trail look unfamiliar.  It’s still the same trail.  It is just covered with leaves or snow or, sometimes, horse poop.  Yes, horse poop.  They allow horses on the trails, and part of the “experience” is catapulting over the steaming piles, then yelling a warning to your comrades behind you.

I think trail running is a good metaphor for life too, hopefully you won’t find it too cheesy.  Sometimes I look around and I feel lost or I get confused.  I thought I knew where I was going and how to get there, but then, all of a sudden, things look unfamiliar.  I think we go through different seasons in our lives that make the landscape look different, but the trail is still underneath there, in the same place it was before.  Sometimes you have to dodge horse poop along the way.  Sometimes you get some beautiful colors to look at, or some shade to protect you, and other times it is just really cold and quiet and bare.  It usually helps to have a few friends along to keep you company and help you if you lose your way.

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