The burden of faith

I’ve been tormented the past few days because of my faith. That might sound odd because faith is supposed to be something that heals you and that makes all your doubts and fears go away. And it does. But it’s one thing being able to have faith and another thing being able to share that faith with others in a way that “makes sense.”

Recently, I’ve recommitted myself to Christ. I am seeking to be Christ-like in all that I do. And that’s easier said than done because you actually have to DO IT.

Of course, I am seeking the Holy Spirit in this endeavor, but there is so much that I don’t know about God or theology or liturgy. And for those who are so literal in this world – the academics, the scientists, the anti-theists (or atheists) – you make it hard to explain a system of beliefs that is so incongruent with your worldviews.

I am struggling to identify what I fully believe in, but I know that the Holy Spirit is leading me somewhere. I trust in the Lord to give me guidance.

Matthew 17:20 – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

My faith is strong, but my knowledge is lacking. I know that it’s not up to me to know God’s mind. It’s up to me to trust in a plan and to give myself fully to his mission. That part is hard, but it’s doable. And I’m starting now and continuing to do it every daym

Dinosaurs > Alligators > Chickens?

A few months ago, I was on a date with my (now ex-)boyfriend in Cambridge. We were at a Southern style restaurant that served fried alligator. I’ve had gator before in the South, when I lived there, and I remembered it tasting somewhat like chicken. During dinner, I commented that chickens were related to gators. I also commented that chickens were also essentially new-age dinosaurs. My ex laughed at me so hard and said that I was wrong and asked if I had learned that in kindergarten as an urban legend.

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Completely shocked, I was embarrassed that I had been called out like that for thinking of such a false familial connection and tucked my tail. I said that I thought that I had learned it SOMEWHERE and thought that it had a ring of truth, if only a little. Then, I went home afterwards and regaled the story to my roommates who both looked at me saying that chickens are not related to alligators nor are they dinosaurs, or something to that effect. They’re in different geneses or similar but definitely not related. “That’s what an Arkansas education will get you,” they all said, somewhat jokingly.

Completely defeated by now, I realized that I had been false in thinking an apparently “obvious” truth for so long. I hate feeling like someone is speaking condescendingly to me as if I am the silliest person to have such thoughts. BUT, I refused to give up 100% because somewhere inside my brain, I had read that chickens were related to dinosaurs!

I KNEW that I wasn’t fully crazy when I thought that chickens somehow were related to alligators and dinosaurs when I recently did some more research and read up on some more science. The Harvard Gazette reported that:

Alligators and birds are part of the same larger group, called archosaurs, which has existed for 250 million years and which has given rise not only to birds and crocodilians, but also to dinosaurs. Though dinosaurs are now extinct, the crocodilians, such as alligators, crocodiles, and narrow-jawed gharials live on, and scientists see in them many characteristics of the primitive archosaurs.
(…)
Millions of years ago, archosaurs diverged into several groups, scientists say. One became modern crocodilians, and another dinosaurs. The dinosaurs evolved many forms, including the smaller and feathered kind, like the archaeopteryx, which is considered ancestral to modern birds.
Then I dug a little deeper and found that the University of Kent had reported on this avian > dinosaur connection:
Professor (Darren) Griffin explained that bird genomes are distinctive in that they have more tiny microchromosomes than any other vertebrate group. These small packages of gene-rich material are thought to have been present in their dinosaur ancestors. The team found that the chicken has the most similar overall chromosome pattern to its avian dinosaur ancestor.
OK, so it’s possible that the current form of chicken that we know was once part of the dinosaur population and had to adapt to battle extinction. So what about alligators? Where do they fit in? Are chickens and alligators related? The short answer, is yes, in a way. Many, many years ago they came from the same group: the Archosaurs.
I found this little helpful article on Discovery Kids that gave me a little bit more on the dinosaur-esque alligator:
Danger and scariness aside, alligators are amazing animals. They’ve been around for millions of years, and they’re about as close as we’ll probably ever get to seeing a living dinosaur.
IN CONCLUSION, I realized that while I was mostly right about chickens being related to gators and to dinosaurs, there is a more nuanced distinction between crocodiles/alligators and chicken in the present day. They all are, however, descended from the same ancestors, essentially, countless years ago. So I don’t feel like such a dummy!

dinsoaurs ruled the mind

The Tipping Point – Can We Change Stigmas?

I’m halfway done reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and it is blowing my mind. I just read Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Gladwell the other day, which in itself is a mind blower. These books are just making me think so much!

For those of you have read this, I’ll briefly recap some of what Gladwell talks about. For those of you who haven’t read it, you definitely need to read it! Tipping Point is all about how there are certain small things that happen that “tip” a whole bunch of things over the edge, resulting in some mass action. He talks about Paul Revere’s midnight ride and how successful it was because of Revere’s power as a Maven of information as well as a Connector because of his personality. This means that Revere was more successful than someone else in that position because he had what it took to take a lot of small noises and movements and transform it into a movement.

Gladwell also talks about the power of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues in creating “sticky” information for children who learn from these programs in different ways because of their ability to create an educational virus. Meaning that they were extremely successful programs because of how they approached the material and how they communicated it.

Finally, Gladwell talks about the power of context. This is the section that spoke to me the most because of my interest in taking down stigmas against aging, especially in the U.S.

Once you understand that context matters, however, that specific and relatively small elements in the environment can serve as Tipping Points, that defeatism is turned upside down.

Gladwell is talking about the importance of environmental contexts in shaping how we interact with each other and how our personality/character changes according to our environment. This got me to thinking about how do we translate this to a world focused on providing better services for older adults? What is that environmental context?

I get the sense that the context that non-older people interact with older people is a huge determinant in how we feel about said older people. Generally, we see old people as people in nursing homes or in wheelchairs. We see them as frail, unable to perform simple tasks, outdated, out of touch, foreign, etc. This list goes on and on. When we see people this way, in a negative environment, we then have a negative impression of them.

So, to change how we see the people, we have to change how we see the environment. Or we have to change the environment itself. This means that we have to make areas surrounding older adults attractive and pleasant. I think this would help everyone have better thoughts of older adults, including those older adults themselves.

Where do we begin? Media? Marketing? There are attractive retirement communities and exciting looking housing units. We have to make these people seem accessible and relatable. How do we change perspectives, and where do we begin?

I guess I am a runner…perhaps a crazy one

yacht club runningPeople have always thought that I was weird for running when I’m drunk or have been drinking. I used to run in D.C. all of the time. I would be in the U Street area and my other friends would be in Dupont Circle. I could A) take the Metro and spend 35-60 minutes waiting. I could B) take two buses to get down to Dupont plus walking. I could C) take an expensive taxi or Uber ride. Or D) I could walk/run there.

I usually chose to run because it was, to me, the most efficient way to get there. It may not be the most normal way to do it (it most certainly isn’t, actually), but for me it was fun. I was totally fine running barefoot, in flats or in heeled boots (sometimes) to my destination, oftentimes with a nice buzz aiding my efforts. I did this all throughout D.C. (mostly in the “safe,” well-populated areas), and I have done it a couple of times here in Cambridge/Boston.

One of my favorite times to run is in the morning or the evening in the dark. I feel like I’m all alone and running in the stars to some faraway galaxy. I don’t have to worry too much about what other people think of me when I run by them because they don’t always see me.

Of course this isn’t the safest thing to do in the city. Obviously I know that. But, I like to take risks and figured if I was running most people would have to stop and think about messing with me, and by then, I would have already flown by them. The most interesting thing about my night runs were the odd stares I get from people while I’m flying by, grinning like a fool. The wind blows through my hair as I run, and I feel alive as the alcohol-buzzed blood flows through my veins.

With drunk running, I get to my destination in no time. I get some exercise to burn off those beers I just drank. And, I get to do what I love – running at night. Seems like a win-win to me. As I mentioned, this isn’t the safest thing to do. But, if we spend our time just worrying about safety all of the time, we forget that we can enjoy ourselves living somewhat on the edge.

I just finished reading ultramarathon guru and legend Scott Jurek’s book called Eat and Run which is about his life as an ultrarunner and a vegan/vegetarian/raw foodie. He talks about runs being for people to escape worries and thoughts for the alternative of being present in their lives and in existence. One with the body and the mind with not a care in the world other than the basic essentials.

I love this philosophy of running and it makes sense. Coming off of my first marathon, I still have that runner’s high and that sense of tranquility of the long run in my mind. People think I’m crazy to have done 26.2 miles, just as people thought that I was crazy that I used to run randomly at night. People say “I would never do that. I could NEVER do that” about running in general, let alone night running.

But, as Jurek points out in his book, running, especially ultras (think 100+ mile runs), makes people realize something about life – it is all about the way you do something not the end result. For me, running is a means and an end but it is mostly about a journey. It’s the sense of being a basic part of nature and doing something that your body loves to do.

It’s amazing. I really have become a running convert. I used to run many years ago when I was a child, but then I broke my leg and had various surgeries and problems with my legs and was afraid to run. Coming back into it the past year and a half has reawakened a sense of longing and joy in me that I have only found recently in Bikram yoga.

So, for all of you people out there who think runners are crazy, you’re right. We are crazy. But you wanna know what else? We’re crazy happy most of the time and we get that way by putting ourselves on our feet and going. Life IS about the journey and we should spend our time enjoying and doing rather than worrying and thinking too hard.

Go for a run and just keep going. Don’t stop after one attempt. When did anyone get good at something after one shot? Open your mind and enjoy.

Maybe you’ll catch me night running sometime when you’re out on a weekend.

26.2: I’ve got the magic in me

As some of you know, I recently completed my first-ever marathon during the Walt Disney World Marathon 2014 weekend. I finished the 26.2 miles in 4 hour, 9 minutes, and 7 seconds. I finished in 2319th place overall, 637th place in the female category, and 118th in my division 25-29 year olds (I think). (See my breakdown in the picture here.)Image

There were apparently close to 26,000 people racing in the marathon with 7,000 or so people running what was called the Dopey Challenge – 48.6 miles of “fun” over the course of four days. A 5K (3.1 miles) Thursday, 10K (6.2 miles) Friday, half-marathon (13.1 miles) Saturday, and a full marathon (26.2 miles) Sunday. I wasn’t feeling that “doped” up to attempt that on my first long-distance race. 

Race day was Sunday, January 12, and I could not be more anxious or nervous. I think that was the most nervous I have been in the days prior to the race than I have been in everyday life in probably 10 years. For some reason, I had many doubts and little worries that were floating around my head making my heart race, my blood pressure rise, and my brain act like it was on Adderall (as the effects of that drug have been described to me by friends who have used it, not from personal experience). Sleep was not in my future nor was relaxation in the twelve hours prior to the race’s start. 

But, despite my jitters and anxiety, I was fairly confident that I would be able to complete this race. Why? Because I had spent nearly seven months preparing for the race, mostly mentally. I signed up for the race back in April 2013 before I moved from D.C. and left my job. I had just completed two half-marathons and thought that I would be able to successfully complete a full marathon, with proper training. I ramped up my workouts from September through December to prepare my body for the stress of running for four+ hours straight. I was biking, swimming, doing some strength training, and most importantly, running. 

There was one thing, however, that happened that was the root of my anxiety. Right before Thanksgiving I ran the longest distance to-date – 16 miles out and back from Cambridge. I ran with a pack on and a water bottle in-hand. I stopped occasionally to refuel with some candy and to stretch my body a little. But something happened in the last few miles as I was pushing myself back home – my foot began hurting and my knee began hurting. All on my left side. As most runners do, I pushed through the pain and kept going until I had reached my goal. But as my body came down from that run, I knew something was wrong. In the days that followed, my knee began hurting, and I couldn’t straighten it or bend it all of the way. Something was wrong with a tendon behind my left knee. I had to stop biking to work; I had a limp; I spent my nights studying with an ice pack wrapped around my knee. I took a full two weeks off of exercise hoping to recover. (I later surmised that this injury was due to the having the wrong type of running shoes that caused me to under-pronate.) 

I was signed up for three consecutive races in the first three Sundays in December, a 5K, half-marathon, and another 5K. Because I had rested for at least a week, I thought that I would attempt to run with a brace and see what happened. The first 5K was on Dec. 1, and I made it a mile before my knee started throbbing and giving me wincing pain with each step. I walked the rest of it. I didn’t even look up my time. I realized, with worry and sadness, that I wouldn’t be able to do the half-marathon the next weekend. I was afraid that I wouldn’t heal at all.

Two more weeks went by, and I tried to do another race. Another 5K, the Jingle Bell Run. This time, feeling fresh with my rest and my new knee brace, I ran the race and managed to get a PR for a 5K – around 23:19 minutes.Image

I was back. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I started biking more, and I threw myself into the pool and onto a treadmill. I needed to keep my cardio up even if that mean that I couldn’t use my body as much as I wanted to use it. I came to Florida on New Year’s Eve with a mere 12 days until the start of my race. I came to relax, to acclimate and to prepare.

Luckily, in the two weeks before my race, my knee felt almost normal in a fancy brace my mother bought me. I was spending enough time in the pool and on the recumbent bike that I was able to put more mileage on my body and to keep up the cardio. Despite all of the training and reading and motivation, I was still petrified that I wouldn’t be able to finish my race. But, I have enough supportive and loving people in my life that they all reassured me that the fact that I was even considering doing a marathon was something braggable enough. And if I pushed myself I could succeed if I had the right attitude, didn’t give up, and listened to my body. 

And that is what I did. 

Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. I got out of bed, made myself some breakfast, chugged a Gatorade, and made my way to the race start. Walking around the parking lot in Epcot, I felt the air buzzing with excitement. Tens of thousands of people had prepared for this day, and I was not alone. Standing in my corral doing some light stretches, I raised my hands with excitement when the emcee asked who was doing their first marathon. A couple of people around me waved their hands too. I was most definitely not alone. 

“It’s only a race. It’s only a 10 miler, a 10 miler and then a 6.2 miler. Or, it’s only a half-marathon followed by another half.” I tried to break down the race to a digestible size. It sort of worked. I think the thing that kept me most present in the moment was the fact that I had to pee like a racehorse. The immediacy of having to go to the bathroom quelled my nerves and encouraged me to go out with a pop when the fireworks shot out over the start line. 

“Find the nearest bathroom and go!” I shouted to myself (internally).

I ran through mile one with my corral cohort and saw my salvation in the first few portapotties. Jumping into the first open one, I took care of business and then got right back onto the race course. From there the most exciting, fun four hours of my life began. 

ImageRunning through WDW in the early morning with thousands of others is one of the best ways to do a first marathon, in my inexperienced but enlightened opinion. Why? Because, when you’re running through the Magic Kingdom or the Animal Kingdom and finishing under the great Spaceship Earth at Epcot, you’re running through one of the magical places on earth. And you’re not alone; you’re experiencing it with thousands of others who are taking in the same magic you are.  

While I won’t say that it was easy to run straight for that long (I had my share of cramps and aches and pains), I will say that it was the most magical experiences of running that I had yet. And, I can’t wait to do it again. 

Maybe I’ll feel “dopey” enough to try the 48.6 miles next year. Let me know your thoughts and if you had a similar first marathon story to share!

 I’ve got the magic in me.

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