Romans 7 Afternoon

When the snow starts to fall in Portland, a very rare event, I have the experience of living Romans 7 between my head and my heart.  My head looks at the weather predictions, sees the cars driving past, knows the youth of my car, and estimates the simple journey to my destination.  My heart just beats louder and louder as I flash back to three Christmases ago as I drove for 7 hours in the snow attempting to get home and arriving only at The Dalles.  My feet, a Switzerland in the midst of the rising battle, are stuck, already in their laced up tennis shoes and assuming that we are all heading out to church and then soccer this afternoon.  But since no body part can dominate the rest (a bit of 1 Corinthian experience), I remain standing at the window, staring at the lovely snowflakes fall down and wishing some part of me would win already.

Finally the snow lets up, the blue skies part and I’m freed to drive to church and listen to a sermon on vocation.  Pastor Rick spoke about that calling we all hear for our lives that can get drowned out by pursuit of the American Dream, the corporate ladder, and that picture perfect retirement destination.  Ironically I am reading a book on this same topic right as well as teaching on spirituality in the midst of the everyday, so his words resonate with other thoughts I’ve been having and a drive to not only seek out a larger life for myself but also for my students.  At no point in the sermon, or in my reflections, does the focus shift to abandoning all to run away to France.  Instead it is about seeing the ministry and worship within the everyday, to seeing the brothers and sisters who are waiting in the next office or car lane over in need of a bit of mercy or joy.  I work on my scarf and smile silently as God brings together a few more threads in my wondering heart.  And I am grateful for those blue skies that allowed me to come today.

With no one to visit with after church I bundle up to head for soccer but meet the view through the windows first.  Snowflakes are again cascading down; beautiful and terrifying.  My mind again goes to my phone, my heart again beats louder, and my feet still remain for 10 minutes, not knowing which way to turn.  This time the skies do not let up in time; I make a break for home and warmth and the promise I won’t be stuck 72+ blocks from home.  I wish I was stronger than this memory, that by willpower I could change the direction my feet are now headed, but this is who I am for right now: she who fears driving in snow.

In 5 minutes I will have missed all of soccer for this week, a fact I truly regret.  So instead I am focusing on the mercy this experience shows as well: there will be another small group gathering for soccer next week and I can enter those doors without penance or fear.  I am welcome there, just as I was welcome in the church this morning to learn about calling, and I am welcomed home by candles, blankets, chai, and a bit of Once Upon a Time.

It looks like I was given two sermons today.

Hometown

Gertrude Stein once said, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”  I’m not sure when she said this or why, but I know that in many ways I echo this feeling but for me, London is my hometown.  There is something about that city that I have loved for most of my life, even before I visited there the first time three years ago.  Maybe it’s the cathedrals with windows that point to the heavens and tourists who have no understanding of the sacred stones they are walking on.  Or perhaps it is the story of a city that refuses to give in, even when German warplanes bombard her rooftops with fire night after night.  Or maybe it’s the possibility of a street like Portobello Road (I sometimes day-dream of dancing there with Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson).  I’m not sure what it is about that city, but even as I prepare to travel there in a few days, I know six days will not be enough to quench this thirst.

Realizing my time will be short, I’ve decided to focus on just a few experiences rather than trying to squish in the insane amount I attempted with my mother a few years ago.

  • Portobello Road – We visited last time on a weekday and were a bit saddened by the last of life.  I did pick up my two favorite souvenirs there: a compass and a small plaque “In 1832 on this spot nothing happened.”  This time I’ll venture back on a Saturday when the booths are out and hopefully the tourists too.
  • Royal Parks Half Marathon – This is one of my better and more foolish ideas since I’ll be running / walking this journey about 24 hours after landing in the city.  I wish I was prepared enough to run the entire thing but for this round I will have to obey my legs when they demand a break.
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral – Three years ago I traveled to this church by myself while my mother returned to Westminster Abbey for their gift shop (yes, I’ll definitely be returning to the abbey as well).  I made it, slowly, up the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery of the Dome, then back down, even more slowly.  I was disappointed by the experience but couldn’t figure out why for a long while.  Now I can finally admit that I was angry at myself for being in such horrible shape that I couldn’t make it up the 528 steps to the top.  I want to make it all the way to the top, even if I am huffing, puffing, and looking like an American tourist.  I want to look out over that golden dome and onto the city from one of the best views around (a view that volunteer firefighters fought for during World War II).  I’m going to make it this time.
  • Westminster Abbey – More than going back, I just want to be there longer, hiding in a corner somewhere, reading through Psalms and wondering at how God allowed man to create this amazing work.
  • Speaker’s Corner – Where else can you hear about men who want to save the world next to others predicting its end due to an alien invasion.  It’s no more insane than the 2012 Presidential Debates in mid-2011.
  • Wandering – There are plenty of other maybes and possibles that I have notes in my bag for, but mostly I just want to wander up and down the Thames, sometimes in my running shoes, and pretend for a few minutes that it truly is my hometown.

Reading in this New Season

I’m not sure who I want to be when I grow up, let alone what I want to do.  But what I do know is that for now I want to explore who I can be in this time and in this place.  One of the doors I might want some day is to continue with my formal education, either through courses at a community college, another master’s degree, or perhaps that doctorate gauntlet.  To try and keep the doors open, while also enjoying my current space, I decided to create a type of syllabus on reading for pleasure.

The people in the real world (sorry Facebook, you’re not a real boy yet) that I’ve shared this idea with have definitely given me a smile and laugh that I believe God created just in my honor.  It’s a lovely mixture of you’re nuts / that’s cute / there might be some logic there.  So feel free to LOL at this schedule, then take what nuggets of potential you’d like.

Basically I’m rotating between four different types of books:

  • Christian – history, cultural studies, philosophy, etc
  • Running – may expand to exercise in general later
  • Dante – because my thesis project involved too much skimming and not enough depth
  • Other – including fiction or just books that don’t fit into the other categories

This nice circle of reading (or perhaps chain of reading…HIMYM anyone?) gives me balance and works well with my internal ADHD and OCD forces that hate boredom and enjoy structure as long as its self-imposed.  I’ve just finished my first cycle and am loving it so far.  I’m also starting to go for walks before work in the morning which means I’m getting to read twice a day and multi-task with the physical and mental fitness areas.

So there you go, Meg’s RD 101: “Reading for Pleasure in the August 2011 season”

Part of My Story

I wrote this post to possibly share through a project taking place at Warner, but wanted to share it here before the editing process begins.

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I went to college after high school because that’s what I was supposed to do.  In my family, you went to church on Sunday, you obeyed your parents, you collected Happy Meal toys, and you went to college after high school.  My only real decision was my location and my major, and the second part of that was not decided until after my first semester, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Because of a mission trip to Alaska my junior year of high school, I dreamed of going to college there one day.  But once I found out that most of the majors were about wildlife or minerals, my interest dwindled considerably.  In addition I was the first grandchild, so the family said I needed to remain in the state.  No problem!  I looked at colleges throughout Washington, and enjoyed a brief fantasy about Harvard when they sent me an application packet, before narrowing it down to Western Washington, Whitworth, Whitman, Washington State, or Seattle Pacific (had to have one non-“W” in there).  I applied to Whitworth first, primarily because of their application deadline, and was overjoyed at my acceptance without knowing if I really wanted to go or who I really wanted to be.  Just before the application deadlines for the other schools, I received a new brochure from Whitworth that was sent to my address under a slightly different name.  Looking through I spotted a service organization that included mission trips to Alaska.  I literally fell of the bed as the figurative lightning struck.  I had found my new home!  The irony is that the organization mentioned had never done a single mission trip but rather served lunches in downtown Spokane; an unusual misprint in that brochure that guided my next four years.

So off to Spokane I went, with big hopes, dreams, and wishes about becoming a fabulous something.  My first semester was spent primarily in the all-guy’s dorm enjoying my new-found freedom (no, nothing bad happened) and attending general education courses in my pajamas.  I lived in an all-girl’s dorm, survived the laundry room drama sessions, played powder-puff football, and just enjoyed this new world.

Now I mentioned before that I had not selected a major yet so I was among the many many undeclared freshman; not a place I wanted to be.  As I talked with friends and dorm mates, I kept finding myself rejecting their majors as possibilities for my own.  Education?  No.  Biology?  No.  Sociology?  No.  Psychology?  No.  Business?  No.  Religion?  Hmmm…I have no idea what I would do with that so why not.  I had grown up in the church but only during the autumn before college had decided that my faith needed to be more than a “Get out of Hell” card.  So the spring semester included my first religion courses with the plan of one day working in children’s ministry.

While the major stayed the same, the career goals shifted a few more times during those four years, but I want to skip to my senior year for now.

Whitworth College had a wonderful concept called “Jan Term” which was a three-week period in January where students took one intense course or were able to take an off-campus course.  This was a great option for those who wanted to travel but could not fit a semester abroad into their four or five-year plans.  Over my years at Whitworth I survived an upper-division philosophy course that included 10 hours of homework a day, a weeklong jazz adventure in Cuba, an administrative ministry course with every personality test ever created, and finally a three-week trip to Germany where we studied Reformation and World War II history.  During the Germany trip I learned about “two-beer theology”, the Swiss education system, and the value of an iPod when traveling with a group of 30 people for 21 days.  Oh, and there were some cathedrals and museums in there too.

The most significant moment came near the end of our time in Germany, just before we ventured on to Switzerland for a few days in the Alps.  We were in a monastery, with most of the group listening to a speaker and me wandering just a bit behind the group.  I vividly remember walking past a low bookshelf and realizing every single book on there was written hundreds of years ago, and I could not read a single word on a single page.  In that moment I realized I was not done with my education.  I realized that God had, for some reason, given me an academic gift and I needed to find out why.  I had to continue on to graduate school some day and that I still needed to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up.

As I type this story, I am one graded paper away from completing my second Master’s Degree, and I am in some ways still wandering through that library, amazed at the accomplishments of mankind and wondering who I should be when I grow up.  There are simply too many books, too many experiences, and too many opportunities to stop now.

“It was nice meeting you…surreal, but nice.”

This quote from Notting Hill summarizes my feeling well today, on the day after my first half marathon and on the first day of my 30s.  Or maybe it fits for the entire weekend.  I took a nap on Friday, to be awoken by the Portland Opera calling for the 7th time to get me to subscribe, then headed to Barnes and Noble to grade papers.  Then Saturday morning the alarm went off at 5:15 to get me to Hillsboro by 6:30 for an 8am start (they recommended an early arrival due to traffic and I trusted them since 4,000+ runners and walkers were coming).  Then I spent the afternoon with friends so I could witness their daughter’s first hip hop performance; at 5 years old she was an amazing jumping bean who definitely got the hop part down pat.  The evening involved my first bath in 3 years (I shower, goodness you people have weird minds).  And today I slept in, had a few friends over for pie, and am now back at Barnes and Noble finishing up grading.  So this weekend has been surreal but nice.

First, the half marathon…this was the longest run I had ever done; it was double the length of my previous race.  I jogged the first 6 miles, walked a mile, jogged 2 miles, and then mostly jogged the rest because the pain in my left calf was starting to affect my knee and ankle.  It seemed like walking was a better plan then heading to a doctor’s office on Monday for a torn something.  I was happy to reach my base goal of jogging the first 6 miles and completing the whole thing, but fell a bit short of my stretch goal of 3 hours (my official time was 3:11.36, a 14:37 average pace).  So what was I thinking when I travelled across that finish line?

  1. Where is a masseuse when you need one?
  2. OMG – I can’t believe I made it.
  3. I can do better.

 In late July I’ll be starting with a Running Group to help get me off my plateau and meet some new people.  I’m excited because it’ll be starting right as Western ends, and my fee is being covered by my mother’s birthday present to me: money to help with the Bucket List I’ve put on hold for the past few years.My next few runs are 5Ks and then the London Parks Half Marathon in October.

And about being 30…well I’m still processing that part.  A good friend asked me a few weeks ago why I was so caught up in this one day and change in age.  The logical part of my brain knows it’s no big deal, that age is just one label among many, and in many ways I am in better physical shape at 30 than I was at 18.  I think this birthday is like graduation day (which I’m also experiencing this summer); you are forced by the calendar to consider who you are, who you want to be, and if that person is who you wanted to be as a youth.  When I graduated college, I had no expectation of one day working with adult students (I don’t think I even knew there were adult students other than those taking community college courses for fun) or going to seminary (I didn’t want to be one of those Christians).  What I did expect was to work at a church, to get married, to travel, to write, and to magically be thin.  At 30, it’s just not quite what I expected.

But I must end this pondering on the right note: I love being in Portland and getting to be an active part of the transformation possible through education; I have some dear friends who support me better than I support myself sometimes; and this is a season of opening doors, not closing ones.  Like I said, it’s surreal but nice.

One Among Thousands

At church this morning, I admit that I was not paying much attention.  My mind was wandering amid thoughts about my evaluation project, the coffee from the girl next to me right under my feet, and a short night’s sleep.  What I did get from the sermon was that the focus was on a passage in Matthew describing the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed, an almost invisible and insignificant thing that can grow large enough for birds to nest.  The pastor compared this transformation to what is possible for the church, despite all of its flaws and foibles.

Whatever whispers of the sermon I did mange to hear were brought together near the end of the service, as some members of the congregation went forward while the majority stood singing and waiting their turn (a tradition that encourages reflection and choice).  The final song was Come Thou Font, with lyrics that have been sung for generations and a melody line that was updated more recently.

God of Glory, Voice of Thunder
Split the cedars, Bring us under
Oh the shadows of your wings
You give us strength, 
You give us peace

As the chorus was repeated at the end, I was able to close my eyes in comfortable familiarity rather than concentrate on the PowerPoint before me.  My eyes flashed open and a smile arose on my face as I realized, in sudden amazement, that I was standing among hundreds of people singing and since it was noon on Sunday, there were probably thousands and thousands of other believers singing across the nation, possibly even these exact same words.  I looked to the giant stained glass window before me and realized how significant all of these insignificant voices would be to God as He listened and took pleasure in the works of His work.

First Step to Worst Day

This past February a friend from Bible Study encouraged members of the group to sign up for the Worst Day of the Year Ride.  Its an 18 mile bike ride through downtown Portland that falls on a weekend in February that is anticipated to be the coldest / wettest / just plain nastiest of the year.  While I was intrigued by the idea, I also realized that my bike was in another state at that point and I hadn’t touched it in at least a decade.  Actually my bike skills are even sadder than that since I didn’t learn to ride a bike until Middle School (a good bonding experience with the step-dad) and even then I preferred a scooter or, in all truth, the television to riding around my hilly neighborhood.  So when I saw the email I thought “Yea…no” and hit delete. 

But the idea stayed in my head, especially as I would attempt to weave around bikers on Division, Lincoln, Hawthorne, 96th, Powell, Naito…seriously where are all of these people coming from.  After a few weeks, I decided to ask my parents about my bike in the garage to see if it was salvageable (not sure what a decade does) or if I’d be starting from total scratch.  My step-dad, as a surprise, had my bike all cleaned up with new wheels and brought it to Portland as my birthday present (my b-day is June 12th so plenty of shopping days left).

So now that I’ve shared all of that context, the real point of this post is that this morning, after some repair work to the chain, I went for a four mile bike ride up 96th and then the I-205 trail.  I purposely waited for a weekend morning, in case “easy as riding a bike” was not quite true for me.  But in my gym clothes and cute new flower helmet, I manged to stay upright the whole time and my legs are only slightly spaghetti like.

I will need to learn a few things before February though, like how to signal, how to add air to my tires, and where to put my keys.  But this was a first step, and a I’m happy to share that I hope to take a second next Saturday.

Aaron and Joe, I’ll be there next year!

Trainer No More

The purpose of this blog is all about planning for the future, and then hopefully recording some of the adventures to that future.  Yet tonight I want to write not about something I’m going to do but rather something I’m going to avoid and feel I need to record that plan officially.  I, Meg, being of over-thinking mind and sore body, am not going to see a trainer ever again at my gym.

I’m a member at 24-Fitness.  Every few months they offer a deal where if you do twice in that month you get either a free month membership for a friend or one free personal training session.  For the past year I’ve been pretty consistent in my gym visits, usually six times a week, so hitting the two minimum is pretty easy and I enjoy the idea of a prize.  I’ve now had three free training sessions and each time I’ve walked away discouraged and feeling overwhelmed by how much of my life I need to change.  Take this Friday for example…I met with Sara at 10am and after the fun paperwork she asked me about my exercise and nutrition habits.  Now I admit that my eating habits need work, since chai is not a food group, but I’ve cut out most desserts, junk food, and am generally making much better choices.  And in the area of exercise I rock compared to two years ago when going up the one flight of stairs at work left me a bit winded (let alone the climb that is Egtvedt to third floor A.F. Gray).  But there is no “Good Job” or “Wow” in this conversation, even after I smilingly share how much weight I’ve lost or the goals I’ve accomplished.  Nope, its straight to here is how I need to turn my diet upside down and need to cut back on the cardio (which I enjoy) to half while adding in weights (which I find boring and testosterone dominated).  We spend the next 40 minutes going through weights exercises, which I’m still feeling 36 hours later, and then back to the desk where she labels everything I have been doing “BAD” and the plan she has set out for me, including six meals a day always with meat and/or veggies, as “GOOD”. And of course the ultimate good would be to purchase more personal training sessions, you know if I’m really serious about fitness.

The rest of Friday was spent wandering in between guilt and anger as I considered how much I’ve already given up and learned to rebalance in pursuit of the 30 minute 5K and medium size clothes.  It was this evening though, after an hour on the elliptical and 20 minutes on the treadmill (a “BAD” workout according to Sara) that I finally had a break through.  Maybe my way won’t get me to 150 pounds by October 2011, but Sara’s way will make me doubt every choice and come to hate my new home away from home away from home away from home (that series wasn’t a typo, it’s just that work and Starbucks have to come before gym time; I am still in Hebrew after all).  So I choose to take the “BAD” route that has served me pretty well so far and stick with the fun of jogging and chinese take-out (with maybe a few more veggies).

And the next time that coupon comes in the mail, I’ll turn it into a lovely airplane to float on over to the weights side of the gym where all the “GOOD” boys and girls are.

Just Run

A little over a year ago I had a “Come to Jesus” moment with the scale when I finally admitted how far my health had fallen and how high my weight had soared.  So did what hundreds of Americans do every New Years Day, just a few weeks late: I joined a gym.  And then I actually went. = )

The goal from the beginning was all about weight loss, with the idea that there would be side benefits such as self-confidence, nicer clothes, the ability to sit in roller coaster seats, and less fear about so many social situations.  The completely unexpected effect was that after a few months, it actually became a normal part of my life and something I choose to schedule other commitments around.  But being a perfectionist at times, I needed something to shoot for other than the numbers on the scale which just don’t change as often as I want them to, so I started entering some races over the summer.  I had no expectations I would win, but I wanted to finish.  And then I wanted to finish by jogging the whole thing.  And now I want to run.

In two weeks I’ll be taking part in my first 5K of 2011: The Shamrock Run.  My goal for this run will be 35 minutes, or about 11 minute miles.  I hope, by the end of the season in December, to be closer to my 30 minute goal.

So why is this history lesson in a blog all about the future?  Because running is a part of my future, though the me of a year ago would have never imagined it.  This summer I am scheduled for three 5Ks, 2 10Ks, 1 quarter marathon, and 1 half marathon (with hopes of another one if I get randomly selected in the ballot this Friday).  And I’m hoping to sign up for another three or four in the fall.  But the big goal will be the Portland Marathon in October 2012.  For a run like that, to do it well, I’ll need to train and maybe even join one of the Saturday morning running groups to make sure I can run it and not just hop into the nearest taxi.  So that is an August 2011 goal: to start preparing for a marathon.

(The memory I have of my 6th grade self just dropped her jaw to the floor so hard it bounced. )