An Open Letter to 41, On the Eve of my 42nd Birthday

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Dear 41,

With 42 standing just outside the door, waiting for you to make your exit, there are a few things I need to tell you before we part ways forever.  Before I can say good-bye, I want you to know how much our trip around the sun together has meant to me.

We have seen a lot of good days, and some bad.  We’ve shared laughter and tears.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but that was all after you came roaring in last October while I was in the middle of my third semester of nursing school.  We cried together when things were hard, but you also stayed by my side and saw me through to the end.  We made it all the way through school together.  You watched me graduate with honors and rise above my fears to be the student speaker at my graduation ceremony.

We experienced so many adventures together.  We traveled to NYC, Louisville, Columbus, Memphis, North Carolina, Kentucky Lakes, the mitten (twice), Chicago and more.  We saw my Cubbies win the World Series-something I always hoped for, but never really believed I would see.  We ran the St. Judes Marathon in December; running through the St. Judes campus hearing, “Thank you, Hero!” from the parents and the kids we raised money for, was absolutely unforgettable.

Traveling to NYC with the beau was amazing, spending a week at Kentucky Lake with the kids was full of laughs, we enjoyed a week at the beach with the Jacobs side and last but certainly not least, hiking to the top of a mountain in the Smokies where we got engaged to the love of my life!  It has been quite a year.

We started my very first nursing job, 41!  And I could not be happier.  I really love it!  Working with a father/daughter OB/Gyn team is the perfect setting for me.  I love the hope for the future that I get to witness on a daily basis.  I have found my passion, my calling, my purpose.  I was born for this, but you were the one who helped me figure that out.  On any given day, my heart bursts with happiness and breaks wide open for the patients I am coming to know.  All while wearing my dad’s stethoscope around my neck.

41, you were certainly not without frustrations, but we conquered things together and we made it.  You have set things up for 42 to be something really special.  Make no mistake about it, 41, you will always have a special place in my heart.  You helped me come to a point of truly accepting that I am a work in progress.  Not just saying those words, but owning them, believing them and embracing them.  You helped me find my peace, 41, and for that I will be forever grateful.  I know I’m going to miss you and it’s hard to let you go.  Not because I am afraid of 42, or whatever lies beyond, but because of all you have done to make me who I am, the person who I am supposed to be.  From the bottom of my heart, 41, thank you.  Thank you for everything.

All my love,

RRG

PS. Don’t tell the others, but so far, you are hands down my favorite.

First Day of 41

Last Day of 41

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Redefining and Refining

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So what’s next?

Its no surprise that after finishing nursing school and getting engaged in April, I’ve heard that question more than a few times this summer.

Initially, my response was, “I’m going to take boards and see where I’m at.”

Well, I took my boards (and passed, YAY!) in June, so what have I been doing since then?

I decided that I was going to take the summer off! Since I was going to have the kids for a big portion of the summer, and since we had a couple vacations planned, and since they have suffered through the last two summers with me going off to school every day, it seemed appropriate for us to have one last hurrah.  Pretty soon I will be working, and by next summer we’ll be a family of 6, so I felt I owed it to them, and to myself, to have some fun.

I took my board exam while they were on vacation with their dad in early June and that was about the end of my peace and quiet for the summer.  After that we had pool days and adventures.  We spent a few days in Kentucky at a lake house over the 4th of July where we shot off fireworks, fished, jumped in and swam off the doc, played games, ate A TON and just generally enjoyed ourselves.

A couple weeks later, we spent 10 days in Michigan with the Jacobs side.  We crammed 12 of us (my mom, brother and family, nieces and my kids) into my mom’s New Buffalo condo.  It was cozy, but we made it work.  We played Scrabble, went tubing, played on the beach and in the pool, watched sunsets, hiked up the dunes, picked blueberries, ate A TON and just generally enjoyed ourselves.  Are you sensing a theme here?  We’re Jacobs.  We like to eat.

We celebrated Silas’ 10th birthday.  We celebrated Greyson’s (my bonus kid’s) 8th birthday.  We started planning a wedding.  We took all the kids to Johnson’s Shut-ins, which they deemed the coolest place in the world, after whining the entire 1.5+ hour drive there that it wasn’t going to be worth it.  (Just a hint: It’s totally worth it!) We sent my oldest off to high school (very bittersweet!).  We watched a total solar eclipse, sadly not together, but it was absolutely stunning.  It’s been a fun, and somewhat exhausting, summer of Lindsey.

But it wasn’t all fun and games.  I spent quite a bit of time working on some projects around the house as well.  While the kids were gone in June, I spent a couple days peeling wallpaper, painting and surprised them with a makeover in their bathroom.  They loved it so much, they all stopped using my master shower and moved back into their own bathroom, that only took 5 years of living in this house.  I guess I should have done it sooner.  Unfortunately, the shift in shower usage, also revealed a leak in the pipes, resulting in a hole in my kitchen ceiling that is currently under repair.  Thanks, Roger!

The wallpaper removal has continued, with the kids’ help in the upstairs hallway, stairwell and into the front room of the house.  We recently hit a stall there, but will pick back up after these few nice days that St. Louis has for the year pass us by.  I also started a project of refinishing a couple of old chairs.  Since one of the dining room chairs busted several years back, we’re down to 5.  We need to rectify that before there are six of us sitting around the table on a regular basis.  Of course, that will also require that the dining room become a place to eat, as opposed to its current state of “craft and game room”.  Ah, well, life is all about redefining purposes, right?

Another thing that happened this summer was I spent several hours working in the yard.  This is something I always enjoyed the excuse of, “I’m in nursing school, so don’t judge my yard.”  To my dismay, it was time to let go of that excuse and dig in.  As many hours as I spent digging, you wouldn’t know it to look at it.  I’ve made a dent, but it’s a never-ending process.  Oddly, I did find it somewhat satisfying every time I filled a yard waste bag to drag to the curb for pick up on Thursdays.

You want to know what I didn’t do much of this summer?  Run.  If I got in an average of one run a week, I would be surprised.  I’ll tell you this, running in St. Louis in the summer humidity is abysmal.  Any confidence you ever had in your abilities can be wiped away as soon as you step foot out the front door on day that its 95 degrees and 95% humidity before the sun is up.  As soon as you try to make your feet move you wonder who put lead in your running shoes.  Gross.

I found that doing yoga with a background of Pandora’s Instrumental Chill station was just as productive and better for my mental health.  I’ve also found that after a long hiatus from the pool, as in the lap pool at the gym, I look forward to the soothing sound of myself blowing bubbles in the water.  Silence IS golden.  Especially when your house contains boys.  I’ve also averaged about a book a week, reading for pleasure is nice.  And it’s hard to run while reading, so I jumped on the elliptical with my book more often than not.

But between yard work and not running, here’s what I figured out.  This summer was not just about the summer of Lindsey because I got to play so much, it was more about the summer of redefining Lindsey.  I started thinking…I used to be a runner.  But does the fact that I don’t want to run because St. Louis is miserable this time of year mean that I should change the name of this blog to Rambling Swimmer Girl or Rambling Yardwork Girl?  I’m no less a runner just because I’m not as fast as I once was, or because I am only running when I feel like it and, sit down for this runner friends, WITHOUT a Garmin (Gasp!  The horror!)  I’m no less a runner when I average 5 miles a week than my friends who are posting about having a hundred-mile week…well, ok, maybe I am less a runner than them, because I literally AM running less.  A lot less.

But ya know what?  I’m ok with that.

The other day while I was sitting in a church parking lot with one of my best friends in the entire world waiting for the moon to eclipse the sun we were discussing how my relationship with running has changed.  I used to run 2 or sometimes 3 times a day.  Seriously.  It was kind of a sickness to be honest.  I had so much inner turmoil, my head and my heart were such a mess, that I felt this need to make the outside hurt just as much as the inside.  Every time I ran and pushed to the point of feeling sick.  Now I don’t think of that as particularly fun.  I told Lynn, “Running is there when I need it, but I no longer need it to be everything.”  Redefining Lindsey.

So where is the metaphor in this summer?  Because I’m RRG, and you know I’m all about metaphors.  Well, here you go.  I distinctly remember one of those days of working in the yard, I was a sweaty dirty mess in cutoff jeans that I’ve had since college and orange rain boots.  What?  I don’t want to come across some long slithery thing and have it take a stroll across my foot.  No thanks!  And besides, the one time I went out in sneakers, I ended up with poison ivy on my shin.  Grrrrrr.   Anyway, I was out there trimming hedges and gathering the clippings and pulling weeds, but it wasn’t just about making the parts you can see presentable, there were points that I was on my hands and knees digging underneath the bushes pulling out old, dead, rotted leaves that had collected in hard to reach places.  It gets nasty under there.  And I’m still bearing the battle scars of evergreens, holly plants and pricker bushes.  It got pretty ugly.  But it was necessary.  You have to clear out the crap to keep everything healthy and growing.  And it’s NEVER going to be finished, it’s always a work in progress.  There’s going to be blood, sweat and tears sometimes, but it’s going to be worth it in the end.  I guess you could pay someone to do it for you, but where is the satisfaction in that?

I am no more a gardener and no less a runner than I used to be.  I’m just RRG, doing what makes me happy.  And somedays that looks different than other days.  I will continue to redefine who I am, or maybe refine is a better word.  I’m sure I will find another race to train for in the not too distant future, but in the meantime, I’m going to leave the Garmin at home, or read my WW II novels, or whatever.

So, what’s next? The year ahead will be one with some pretty major transitions.  I’m going to start working again full time.  I’m planning a wedding.  I’m trying to finish some projects to get the house ready for 2 more.  Redefining and refining.  The leaves will fall, weeds will keep popping up, and so forth, but I’ll keep doing the best I can.

People have also been asking what exactly I want to do when I get a job.  I’ve been answering that I’m not really sure, so I’m keeping my options open.  I know I do not want to work in a nursing home, I prefer OB or Peds to geriatrics.  About a week and a half ago, I decided it was time to send out a resume with some intention, now that the summer is winding down I should start what has the potential to be a long, tedious process (like yard work?).  So, I sent a resume.  Yes, “a”. And yesterday afternoon, I was offered a job that feels completely meant to be.  Without knowing exactly what I was looking for, it is exactly what I was looking for. It doesn’t always work out that easily, but sometimes, like every 400 years or so, the sun and the moon align.  And when that happens, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I’m a nurse.  I start September 5th.  Stay tuned for more…

When the sun and moon align

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When the Skies Clear

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You never call, you never write…Oh, wait, I guess I’m the one who is supposed to be doing that, aren’t I?  Sorry, it’s been a busy year for RRG.  And it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. If anyone is still interested in my ramblings, I would love to give y’all an update.

Just this morning, I finished a book I’ve been reading, called The Keeper of Secrets.  The cover reads ‘A novel of love, loss and survival’.  As I finished reading the story of a family of German Jews, it occurred to me that it was also very much a story of healing.  Sound familiar?

Well, here’s my update in the form of a story of love, loss, survival and healing. In order to do so, I need to take you back in time a little bit, so you can see the progression through the Aprils. This might take a while, so bear with me.

April 2011

6 years ago. The absolute worst month of my entire life. I was stuck, trapped, miserable. On April 1, I knew that as the keeper of many of my own secrets, the only way to move forward was going to be to unlock them, but the very idea was absolutely terrifying.  I was dreading where my path would lead me if I opened that door and allowed the things to tumble out that I had kept locked away in a shroud of darkness and pain, some for many years. In the wee hours of April 2, I tapped into what was only the beginning of the nightmare, as I began telling my then husband how unhappy I was in our marriage.  And over the next couple of weeks, as the layers got peeled back, it got uglier and uglier, all the secrets of my life revealed, everything from small scrapes to deep gaping wounds.  My heart was raw and bleeding.  I was on the verge of losing absolutely everything I held dear and I wasn’t sure I had the capacity to carry on.  I spent most days that April getting the kids off to school and then hiding under a blanket until I had to go back to get them.  Everything I had feared in bringing my shame and my secrets out of the closet, had proven correct.  I was being dragged through the mud and threatened to have all of my dearest relationships stripped away from me.  I went back and forth between being wracked with grief and feeling numb, which was probably my brain’s way of not allowing more pain than I could handle.  On April 30, I was supposed to run the Nashville marathon with a couple of my girlfriends from Chicago.  Obviously, with my life falling apart, that had gotten set aside.  My friends had decided to run the Christie Clinic marathon instead.  I was laying on my couch in the living room, with a blanket over my head to block out the sunshine coming through the windows, that was in such stark contrast of the melancholy that was permeating my being.  I could hear the playful voices of my children outside in the back yard.  I got a text from my friends saying that they had qualified for the Boston Marathon, which was exactly what we had all been hoping to do that day.  How was it that instead, I had gotten to a place where my life had completely fallen apart?  How was it that hearing my kids voices outside was very possibly the only thing keeping me alive?  I had literally stopped eating, I didn’t care, I didn’t want to be in this world anymore.  But somewhere, under that blanket, from the deepest depth of my soul, I said a prayer.  My heart cried, “Jesus, be enough.”  And if He was enough, I needed him to show me.  I needed to believe that even if I lost everything, I would still be ok.

That night, I sat at the dinner table, across from a person I was still legally married to, but the vows were so broken that the relationship was a shell, a mask of what it was supposed to be.  I stared at the food on my plate and moved it around, not interested in providing my body with necessary life giving nutrients.  My shoulders slumped, my eyes and my heart downcast, my spirit broken.  And then there was a conversation. I asked question after question and finally started getting some answers.  After that conversation, he left to go pick up the kids from his parents’ house and I stood staring out the window, pondering the information I had just been given.  And in that moment, I went from being trapped and ready to give up to finding the will to fight.  I was ready to fight for my kids, for my freedom, for my life.

April 2012

I had filed for divorce in August of the previous year, it had taken me 3 full months to summon the courage, and we were deep in the process. We were still living under one roof, I had moved to the basement, or the “dungeon” as I called it.  I hated being two whole floors away from my kids, but it was necessary for me to have my own space, until we were working on an official custody schedule in separate residences. It was a long, tedious, painful process.  I had been in therapy which was imperative to help me get through the yuck.  I had started working for Fleet Feet not long after my fight showed up, I needed something of my own.  One of my friends at work, Jordan, had put together a team of people to go run an overnight relay of 200 miles through the Smoky Mountains.  It sounded amazing and I felt a pull to be a part of this team, the Smokin Aces.  Sometime in mid-April, several of us met up to caravan, we were meeting the rest of the team in Bryson City, NC.  I drove myself in my Pathfinder, behind a van full of my teammates.  At some point along the drive, maybe near Padukah, a couple of them jumped in with me to drive the rest of the way.  One of the guys was driving when we entered the forest and I remember staring out the window trying to take in all of the beauty before me.  We stayed in an amazing house in the mountains, owned by one of our teammates and headed to the race course the next morning.  We were all piled into a huge 15 passenger van, 9 of us with everything we could have possibly needed for a 24 hour period.  We took turns running, navigating, driving, prepping food, napping, etc.  I will never forget Nathan making me a tortilla with Nutella and sliced bananas, it was seriously the best thing I had ever tasted.  Partly, because it came with a realization that someone was willing to do that for me, with no expectation of anything in return.  It was a simple as a tortilla, but it meant the world to me.  I ran my parts of the race and loved every second, but it was also the quiet moments in between that I hold close to my heart.  I ran a part of the course that was 5.5 miles on a gravel road, up hill the whole way in the pitch dark of a forest in the middle of a foggy night.  I literally ran up a mountain, and when I got there, my teammates were waiting for me, cheering me on.  A while later, I found myself at one of the exchange points, a little church in the middle of nowhere, lying on a sleeping bag looking up at the stars, sharing stories with my teammates while someone tried to boil water with a camping stove to make Ramen noodles.  They were only lukewarm and mostly crunchy, but they were perfect.  My last leg of that race was up the side of a mountain, along a ridge, a crazy out of control downhill, across a river, through an unmarked trail through the woods where I got lost and trapped in a ravine.  Our team had gotten ahead of the race organizers and the trail hadn’t been marked yet, eventually, my friend Ken came into the woods and found me dehydrated and delirious, took me by the hand and dragged me out of the woods.  There were times he was actually pushing me up the hill, despite my pleas of I can’t.  He never let me stop.  In that moment, I had no idea that two and a half years later I would be participating in an Ironman, and that same friend would be running alongside me as I was a just a few miles from the finish, both of us smiling, me knowing that I could. I had battled mountains, fog, getting lost, trapped, and bruised, but I had survived.  And I knew I would continue to do so.

It was during that race that I fell in love with the North Carolina mountains, I fell in love with the friends that had taken care of me and taught me so much, and it was there that I realized I was going to be ok,  that someday I would heal and I would love again.

April 2013

Mid-month, the Smokin Aces were headed back to the mountains for an encore.  We had taken 2nd place the previous year and we were out for blood.  Ok, not really, we just loved our team and the race and we wanted to have a great time again, especially if it meant winning. 😉 Craig and Alamar flew in to St. Louis and we all piled into Ken’s van for the drive to Bryson City.  I didn’t drive myself this time, I wanted to be with my teammates.  I loved everything about that trip, that race, all of it.  We met up with the rest of our teammates in Carolina, got a little lost on the way to the starting line, and when 11 of us situated between 2 vehicles we set out to conquer the course. The race was a couple days after the Boston Marathon bombing, so I had brought armbands for us to wear in honor of the victims.  Again, the race was a menagerie of running, eating, napping, laughing and all the trimmings, but there was a different air about it for me a year later.  I crushed that same uphill in the middle of the night leg, taking 5 minutes off my time from the year before under a sky full of stars.  I was happier, lighter.  I had been officially single since September.  I had bought a house.  I was moving forward.  Still struggling, but making progress.  Even I could see how much difference a year had made.  And then I ran leg 34 again.  The uphill part was still hard, but I had a much better idea of where I was going.  The downhill didn’t feel as chaotic and out of control, I just enjoyed the momentum.  I got to the bridge, that incredible bridge, and my friends were waiting for me, but I smiled at my escorts out of the woods, rather than crying because I couldn’t do it.  Again, I was in love with the North Carolina mountains, the peace that they bring to my soul and their fragrant reminder of healing.  As we drove out of the mountains the next day on our drive home, I stared out the van window, my eyes filled with tears at leaving, but knowing I would inevitably be back someday.

April 2015

I don’t recall that we had a team go in 2014 or 2015, but I wouldn’t have been able to make it.  April 2015 is when I went back to school.  I had been feeling a pull for a career move and after some conversations with my beau who I had been seeing since December of 2013 and some investigating, I was enrolled in a program to become a Medical Assistant.  Let the school days begin.

April 2016

During my Medical Assistant externship, it became obvious to me that I wanted, I *needed* to be able to do more for my patients.  So I decided to continue my education in the Practical Nursing Program.  In April of last year, I had just finished my first semester of nursing, and school life as a single mom was about to test my limits in a way that I could not have prepared myself for, at least not any better than I already had.  I had already conquered an Ironman, I was beginning to understand what I was truly capable of, and I was going forth, fearless in my pursuit of excellence. I knew that the next year of my life was going to be challenging, but I had no idea that those 12 months would put to the test all the strength I had already built and challenge me in a way I had never even dreamed.  There would be blood, sweat and tears.  Lots of tears!  Especially in the moments that I questioned if the strain that this endeavor placed on my precious relationships was worth the quality time it took from my treasures.  There was lack of sleep, there was stress upon stress upon stress.  There were priorities that became second and third tier and then they were washed away into nothingness because in the grand scheme of life, they no longer mattered as much as they once did. They would have to wait until there was time.  But since I was blissfully unaware of how difficult the upcoming 3 semesters of nursing school was going to be, I signed up to run my comeback marathon in December and agreed to raise money for the kids of St. Jude.  I agreed to letting my daughter pick up a new sport, Cheer, not realizing how much travel would be involved as I neared the finish line of nursing school.  In April of 2016, Brian and I went to Nashville for a weekend during my break between 1st and 2nd semester.  And then, for approximately 365 days, my life was turned totally upside down.

The year leading up to April 2017

Being a single parent is hard.  Nursing school is hard.  But in this equation 1 + 1 does not equal 2.  Single parenting + nursing school equals about 65 billion.  There is a reason that people get degrees before they get married and have children.  But when April arrived, I realized I just had to hold on a little longer.  Two semesters of Clinical rotations were completed. 3 semesters of intense studying done.  I had traveled to about 10 different states for various things, a trip to both Michigan and New York with my love, travels to Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio for Cheer competitions with my teenager, and a weekend in Memphis to run a marathon.  I raised $3000 for St Jude, far surpassing my goal.  And there were the countless nights of helping kids with homework, chauffeuring kids to and from practices and games, and just generally keeping things afloat and being a mom.

There was a conversation that occurred with my friend Kim one morning during a long training run.  I was reminiscing about the days that I was fast.  Back when I could run a sub 4 hour marathon without a second thought, when another race day usually meant a new PR, back when I was within 2 minutes of my Boston qualifying time. Back then, I was a badass…

“Are you kidding?!” Kim said.  “You are still a total badass!  You are going to nursing school.  And you’re a single mom.  And you’re training for a marathon!  That IS badass!  Who cares how fast you run it, you’ve got a lot going on.  Give yourself a break.  Your badass may not look the same right now, but believe me, you are a badass.”

I can’t tell you how many times I replayed her words in my head to get me through especially those last few months.  The stress was sometimes unbearable, sometimes I was an emotional train wreck, other times all I wanted to do was sleep forever.  It was exhausting.  It’s amazing how using your brain to sit in a classroom and learn can take an extreme physical toll on your body.

April 2017

On April 1st, I knew I only had 3 weeks to go until graduation.  I had survived.  My grades were all in good standing and all I had to do was pass my finals.  Those three weeks draaaaaaagged like nobody’s business.

Two weeks to go…I had a massive meltdown, to the point that my instructor told me to get out and go home.  She knew that I never missed class and I just needed a break from people and from using my brain.  She told me to go for a run.  I did, and a massage, and margaritas.

A week to go…we had our first exit exam and I kicked its butt.  I had finally, over the past couple years, come to the actualization that I am smart, but even I had no expectation of doing as well as I did.  I picked off each exam one by one. We had our graduation pictures taken in our whites and the flying nun hats.  I only had one exam left but I knew that it didn’t matter, I had passed.  I made it.  As the weight lifted and the reality set it, I cried with joy.  I cried for all the lost moments of quality time with my family.  I cried for the lack of sleep and the struggles.  I cried because I was so happy it was finally over.  And I had done it.  I had sometimes clawed my way through the thick of it, but I had made it.

It occurred to me that I had conquered the physical realm in becoming an Ironman and now I had conquered the cognitive realm in becoming a nurse.  Braun and brains wrapped up in one, true strength and stamina personified.

After we finished tying up loose ends at school on Friday the 21st, it was finally time for a highly-anticipated road trip.  I had a cooler full of food, a suitcase full of hiking gear, and I was ready to show my beau the mountains I had fallen in love with 5 years ago, Bryson City, my bridge.  We drove through Gatlinburg and saw the devastation of the recent fires, we visited Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee and very nearly got blown off the mountain from the wind and then we found ourselves at the most perfect, peaceful cabin we could have imagined.  There was a huge porch with rocking chairs that overlooked the mountains and the sound of the river rushing below us.  The next couple days were a perfect combination of adventure and relaxation.  We hiked in the rain and saw beautiful waterfalls, and we sat on that porch or by the fireplace, drinking coffee, or wine, or moonshine, depending on the time of day and our hearts’ desires.

On our last day of hiking, I was planning to take him to my bridge.  We found it with relative ease, thanks to maps and directions from my friend, and former teammate, Michael.  As we hiked down the trail, I had twice run up during the Smoky Mountain Relay, I recounted my memories of those runs.  I told him about the difference a year had made, how the first time I was a hot mess in every sense, without someone coming to drag me out of the woods I might not have made it.  But a year later, I trusted my teammates to not leave me there, I had confidence in my own abilities and I had my smile back.  We found my bridge. It was helpful that the trail markers still hung in the trees due to the race only 2 days prior, so we were lead straight there. It was just as beautiful as I remembered it to be. And it was absolutely horrifying to Brian, who is neither a fan of heights nor shaky unstable swinging bridges over the Little Tennessee River, which is not so little.  Having the opportunity to take him there, I was glowing.  The day could have ended there, and I would have been happy, but it didn’t.

We stopped by Nantahala Outdoor Center, this is where the finish line to the race is staged each year and in 2013 they held the Kayak Championships at the same time.  Wow, you ever wanna watch something cool, that’s it.  We had packed a picnic and we wanted to find a hike, but since we were in a gorge, we didn’t figure we’d make it very far up the Appalachian Trail on either side of us to get some scenery.  We asked for some ideas and the NOC guys sent us up to Wesser Bald, it’s only about 1.5 miles up the Appalachian Trail, and when you get to the top there is an old fire tower you can climb up for 360 degree views.  Perfect.

Even the drive up was stunning, waterfalls everywhere we looked, and I never got tired of them.  When we got to the trail head, we parked the car and grabbed our jackets since it was sprinkling on us off and on.  I threw the backpack of food over my shoulders and we headed up the trail.  It was a very cool hike, beautiful views, we even crossed a small waterfall.  It was steep and we warmed up quickly.  It wasn’t too long and we were at the top.  And as promised, there was the tower.  He wasn’t too excited about climbing up, but he humored me and did it anyway.  When we got to the top, we were greeted with views of a big, giant cloud.  On one side, we could see off in the distance for a while until the mountains disappeared into the clouds, but in all other directions, we could see mostly just white.  We took pictures of what we could and then I, for whatever reason, was in a hurry to feed him, suggesting that we eat under the tower where it would be drier.  But he made me stay for a moment.

I’m not going to share all the details of how the next couple of minutes went, because I’m going to save that for us.  But with the mist falling lightly on us, as we stood in a cloud on top of a mountain, just the two of us, he gave me a ring. And I gave him a sandwich.

Immediately after it happened, a hiker climbed the stairs to join us, we had no idea where he had even come from, but he showed up just in time to take our picture.  Then he looked around and said, “Well this might clear in 5 minutes or it might take 5 hours.” He didn’t feel like waiting so he left.  He seriously came out of nowhere to take our picture and then he was gone.

We ate our sandwiches under the tower, mostly in shocked silence.  I know what you’re thinking, RRG, when are you ever silent?  But I was speechless, I really had not expected that and I had very few words. We agreed that we would mostly keep it on the down low until we had a chance to tell the kids, but we knew they would all be excited. As we finished our lunch, we could see the light of the sun trying to burn off the clouds, the view was changing.  So we climbed back up the fire tower and the scenery was stunning.  We had the 360 degree view that went on for miles.  It was incredible.  The sun was shining, the mountains were spectacular and we were engaged.  Who would have thought?

Eventually we made our way back down the mountain and went back to the cabin.  We ate leftover grilled pork and potatoes for dinner, and drank moonshine on the porch while we watched the most perfect sunset. And I couldn’t stop smiling.

It was hard to say goodbye to the mountains the following morning as we packed up and made the trip back home, but with more good memories in my pocket, I know I will be back again someday. The Smoky Mountains now have even more of my heart.

But how did April 2017 end?  Well, we did tell the kids, and they are excited.  We don’t have lots of details to share yet, we are still mostly just enjoying the moment.  We’ve never been ones to rush things, so we aren’t rushing this next chapter either.

On Saturday, April 29, the eve of the last day of the month we went to church.  In the beginning of the service we sang the old hymn How Great Thou Art. I sat with the words rolling around in my head, “…all I have needed, thy hand has provided” and it struck me how true that was.  He really did carry me through the last six years of my life and give me everything I needed, both good and bad, security and growth, joy and pain, sorrow and peace.  It was all what I needed to become the person I am.  As the service ended and I stood between my daughter, and my fiancé (still weird) I began to sing the words, “Christ is enough for me” but the tears filled my eyes and the words caught in my throat as I thought back to that prayer I said almost exactly 6 years before, “Jesus, be enough…”  It may have taken him 6 years, but He gave me everything I asked for, and so much more.  He showed me that when I ask him to show up, He will, every time. And when I trust His plan, it is better than I could have imagined.

I know things won’t always be happy and sunshine and rainbows, but I also know that some of the best moments happen in the rain.  And eventually, the skies will clear.  In the words of the random hiker on Wesser Bald, “it might take 5 minutes or it might take 5 hours” it might even take 6 years, but the clouds will pass and the skies will clear.  And you can be very sure that the view will be worth the wait!

Our big moment (Photo courtesy of random hiker guy on Wesser Bald)

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The Song of the Woods

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Wow, my second post in just a couple weeks!  I know what you’re thinking…um, Lindsey, shouldn’t you be studying?  The answer to that would be a resounding Yes.  But I’m starting to think that writing, for me, is even better therapy than running.  Or maybe it’s writing about running.  Yeah, it’s probably the combination.

But after this morning’s run, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to reflect on what that 30+ minutes was for my well-being.

Wednesday mornings are my favorite.  Typically I get Ally out the door to catch her bus around 6:45 before the boys are awake, so I have a few minutes to sit with her while she eats breakfast.  Usually the front door closing is the cue for Silas to stir.  And then a few minutes later I have to go nudge Ethan to get moving.  Today was no different.

By 8 am the boys were dropped at school and I was on my way to what I call, “My Secret Place,” to go for a run. It’s not really a huge secret, it just sometimes feels like one because I never see anyone else there.  Which I love.  And today I needed that. My life has been filled with so much excess noise and voices that I needed to seek refuge in solitude.

I pulled into a parking spot and was surprised to see a couple other cars there, but I knew their drivers were probably off on hikes, or bikes, and I would still likely be the only runner on the road.  I was, at least, the only human runner on the road.  I started my watch, just because I had to be diligent in observing the time.  School doesn’t start until 10 on Wednesdays, but I still try to be in my seat before Mr. Mahoney gets to the classroom, which is usually about 10:04.

Anyway, I started my watch and put in yurbuds in my ear, but I didn’t turn on my ipod just yet.  Over my head I heard a loud “Caw, Caw” from a big black crow, and I turned my face up to the blue sky.  I didn’t see the bird, but I heeded his warning that instead of filling my ears with the sounds of Kesha and Jayzee and the other trash that seems to motivate me, I needed to hear the song of the woods.

I started out and it wasn’t long before the sounds around me rewarded me with their symphony.

There’s a little brook that runs along the road, and almost immediately I was happy to hear its joyful babbling.  It struck me that so often, when we hear water, it is rushing, fast and furious, much like me in most aspects of my life lately.  But the brook was soft and peaceful.  At times the movement was so subtle, it was almost still, and I relished the reminder that sometimes is ok to be silent.

Just up ahead, about 25 yards ahead of me, I caught sight of a deer slowly crossing the road, into the woods on the other side.  A few seconds later, another one.  And a few seconds later, a young fawn, who stopped and stared down the canopy covered lane at me, before continuing on into the woods behind it’s guardians.  I smiled at how peaceful they were out for a morning stroll.

There was a chorus of critters all about me.  I can’t even pretend to know which birds I heard.  I recognized the rhythmic tapping of the woodpecker, but the ones I didn’t know, I enjoyed, nonetheless. There was one that sounded like it was whistling, one that had a high pitched squeak of squeezy toy and one that sounded like it was beaconing me, “Hey, you.  Hey, you. Hey, you…” as if I could just float up to join him in the branches above.  The orchestra was rounded out by the clickity-clack of cicadas, I think.  Are they even around right now?  And definitely lots of chirping from grasshoppers and their friends.

There was an occasional shuffle of leaves off to the side, squirrels scooting around in their hurried but indecisive patterns.  And then there was a chipmunk.  He stopped on the road right in front of me.  I stopped.  We regarded each other and then just as quickly he was gone.

It’s amazing how when you are really focused on hearing each and every sound around you, you can even hear the soft drifting of a leaf as it falls like a snowflake to the ground and softly plunks down on the pavement.  It became a game I played with myself, watching the leaves fall and seeing how far away I could hear them land.

I think if I would have had time, I might have made up for some of my missing marathon training mileage today.  However, Pharmacology was calling, so I answered.  After a quick shower at home, tossing my backpack in the car and a refill of my coffee for the drive to school, I walked in just after Mahoney had taken attendance.  He said hello and nothing more.  I’m usually prompt, so I think he let my minor tardiness slide.  I was out of breath from hustling in from the parking lot, but I was still pretty proud of the fact that on my way in the building another student acknowledged my Ironman backpack saying how much she liked it.  My response was, “Thank you.  I earned this.”

Unfortunately, school didn’t go quite as well as I hoped today.  Pharm is typically the one class, I am confident I can do well in, but today I think my anxiety of third semester got the best of me and I completely bombed my test this afternoon.  Somehow, I am going to need to figure out a way of reminding myself of my song of the woods while I sit in the computer lab where the silence is deafening and pummels me with doubt lately.

It’s not a secret that this semester has been a rollercoaster of emotions so far, and I’m confident that will probably continue until I make it to the next round and I can proudly say, “I earned this.”  But in the meantime, however brief the moments may be, I will often return to “My Secret Place”, my happy place, and allow the woods to sing to me a song that reminds me that I can and I will and this too shall pass.

Perhaps next time I should just make a recording to listen to while I study.

A peak inside My Secret Place.  It's not really such a secret, some of you probably recognize it.  I'll even tell you where it is, as long as you all promise not to show up all at once...

A peak inside My Secret Place. It’s not really such a secret, some of you probably recognize it. I’ll even tell you where it is, as long as you all promise not to show up all at once…

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Don’t Stop at Pain

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I wish I could take credit for the title, but I really can’t. It came from someone I have a lot of respect for, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Hi.  Remember me?  I’m that girl who runs, and raises three kids and tries to do way too much at any given time like training for an Ironman while learning how to be a single mom.  And when that’s done I jump into writing a book and going to nursing school, while still trying to figure out how to be a single mom.  Oh, and I write a blog about all of it.

Anyway, it’s been a while, so I figured I owed you all an update on how things have been going.  And if I’m being honest, I didn’t want you to forget about your old pal RRG.

Last time I wrote, I was kicking off my second semester of nursing school and continuing a course to help me write my book.  Well, second semester proved to be a little more than I was ready for, so after a couple weeks, I decided to take a hiatus from the book and just focus on getting through school and keeping the kids alive.  It was the right choice.  The book will happen, just not right now. As Nancy, the book professor, agreed, any of my non-school time right now has to be devoted to my kids.

It was a busy summer since I was in school 4 days a week and the kids were home, but we managed to carve out some quality time at the pool and go on some outings. Some days that consisted of the boys dragging the kayaks down to the lake while I sat nearby with my nose in a book, or a computer.  Or on rainy days, the three of them would set up a board game at the dining room table and I was just a few steps away at my desk.  But I think everyone was pretty happy with how the summer played out.  And I really couldn’t be more proud of how my kiddos handled it.  A couple days a week I would have to go off to school while they were still sleeping, so I would leave a list of daily chores and without fail, the chores were done when I got home and everyone was ready to play.

We were all rewarded at the end of the summer with a few days at a cabin in the woods near Table Rock Lake.  Brian and I took all 4 kids to the cabin we stayed at in January, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Thank you for bringing us here!”  They loved it.  We enjoyed endless ping-pong, swam in the lake, hunted for buried treasure, made s’mores, laid on a blanket gazing at meteors, played board games, went sight-seeing, made good use of the hot tub despite a heat index of 100 the first day or so, belly laughed, snuggled and fought like family.  I can think of no better way to celebrate coming through second semester on the Dean’s List.  My 4.0 is no longer intact due to an A- in Pharmacology, but I am learning to accept that sometimes survival trumps perfection, because sometimes perfection is found elsewhere.

As of last Wednesday, we are all back in school.  It was a staggered start with Ally on the 16th beginning 8th grade at a new (her first ever public) school, me on the 22nd and the boys on the 31st.  This was the first time in several years that I got to see them all off to their first day of school.  You may remember how much it tore me up the last couple of years to not pack their lunches and prep their backpacks and take pictures before driving them off to school since they were with their dad.  So, to say that I was happy that everything aligned for that this year would be an understatement.

With my clinicals really kicking off this semester, it’s been a little stressful the way all of our schedules overlap, but as has been the case time and time again, I have great people in my life who step up to help where it’s needed and ease the burden.  For that, I am grateful.

So, here we are at the end of week two of third semester.  2 weeks.  10 days.  And I have already gone from the high of making the Dean’s List a few weeks ago, to seriously doubting how anyone ever allowed me into nursing school.  Third semester is kicking my butt.  I know, I know, I said that last semester too.  There is absolutely a learning curve that comes along with the beginning of a new semester, new classes, new instructors, new methods of teaching and testing.  So, I should probably go easy on myself for the fact that my first few test scores haven’t been as high as I would like.  Yes, I still passed, but let’s keep in mind that in nursing school anything less than 80% is failing.  I think we all know by now I am not a fan of falling short of the mark.

By midweek last week, I had hit a wall.  By Thursday night, when I really blew it on an online charting assignment and had to email my program director, hoping and praying that she would reset it, I ended up falling asleep after many tears wondering if I should just quit.  Give up.  Find something else to do.  I have never wanted to quit something so bad in my entire life as I did Thursday night.  After the countless miles I have run, learning how to swim to become a triathlete, completing an Ironman, nothing has ever driven me to the point of wanting to totally throw in the towel like nursing school did.  I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, completely defeated.  I tried to convince myself that if I could just get through the first few weeks of this semester, it would get better.  It had to.  But even after getting some sleep, I woke up for Friday morning clinicals still doubting this path I have chosen.

I was fighting back tears as I arrived at the nursing home Friday morning.  Friday actually went better than expected.  I am gaining confidence in the field, completing my assessments, building a rapport with some of my patients, bonding with my classmates.  This is my niche, this part I’ve got.  But my head is still swimming with the what if’s…What if I drop the ball on an assignment?  What if I fail this Med Surg  test on Tuesday?  What if I can’t get past this semester?  Should I just stop now, before it hurts even more? Before it gets even harder?

After clinicals, a few of us went to Todd’s Canteen right down the road from our facility.  We talked and ate and shared our struggles.  I felt better by the time I left, but the doubts in my head were still holding on.  I got home to see Ally step off the bus, and then headed over to pick the boys up from school.  It was an absolutely perfect September afternoon so the boys were asking to go to the park where several of their friends were going.  Despite my desire to go home and bury my head under a pillow, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to let them play.  So off to the park we went.  I did my best to be social with the other moms even though I didn’t really have the mental or emotional energy to.  My battery was low.  I knew I needed to recharge.  I wasn’t entirely sure that getting up to run 19 miles with the training team on Saturday morning would do it, but I knew I needed to give it a shot.

I was asleep Friday night before the kids were, but I knew they were all at least quiet and settled.  I crashed.  And I was up and out the door before the sun came up, hoping that a good long run would be the therapy my soul was seeking.

As a few hundred of us, clad in reflective gear and high tech watches and hydration items, gathered in the parking lot on the river front listening to coach Brandi give us a pre-run pep talk, she said, “Eventually you’re going to hit the dark place.  It’s probably going to happen between miles 11-18, but be sure, it WILL happen.  And you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do to bring yourself through it.  For some, it may be thinking about family, or the finish line, or…” and she listed off several other ideas.  All I could think is that my whole life feels like a dark place right now.  Nursing school-kicking my butt.  As much as anything else in my life ever has.  And we all know I’ve taken a lot of butt kicking.

But I know that I run because it reminds me that I can fight through the hard stuff.  I DON’T stop at the pain.  It’s not in my nature.  We did a short warm up, took a group pic and off we went, down the Katy trail.  As I ran with the group, I talked with friends, learning that several others hadn’t been able to make it to many of the group runs lately either and had not put in the miles they should.  That made me feel better about my own situation.  My last and longest run lately was a 15 mile march of torture a few weeks ago during the summer of endless humidity that had me walking as much as running during the back half of those long, painful miles.  So, I relaxed knowing that I was just going to do the best I could.  I actually felt pretty good for most of it.  At one point, around mile 8, I even reached what we call the runner’s high.  My endorphins were on fire and I felt like I could run forever.  I knew it wouldn’t hold out for the entire run, so I rode the wave of adrenaline while it lasted.  It was brief.  By mile 11.5 I was starting to drag.  By mile 13, I was really looking forward to the 14 mile finish line of the first loop and being back at the red Fleet Feet tent to eat some sports beans and take a quick break before heading out for the last 5 miles.  My body was tired, but my mind was already convinced (mostly) that I could do the whole 19 if I needed to.  I was running with Joan and I had one earbud in listening to my ipod when Eminem came on and I heard the same words I’ve heard a thousand times.  But for some reason, they stood out to me this time.  He said, “Yeah, it’s been a ride.  I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one.  Now some of you might still be in that place.  If you’re trying to get out, just follow me.  I’ll get you there.”

And that’s what did it.  I did have to go to “that place to get to this one”.  But I’m not stuck there anymore.  Yes the voices in my head still pop back in for a visit sometimes, but they don’t get to stay.  I had temporarily forgotten that I am a leader and I know my way out, but a big thanks to Marshall Mathers for reminding me.  At 14 miles when we got back to the tent, a couple people from our group were debating going out for the last 5.  I could have topped off my mileage at 19 yesterday, but I decided to call it at 14.  I recently decided to drop to the half marathon in October since its not my A-race and it’s the day after my birthday when I have a wedding to go to.  So, just…why?  I really don’t need my mileage to be up at 19 yet since my marathon isn’t until December 3, when I go to Memphis for St. Judes.  I know I could have gutted it out and made 19 miles happen, but I also knew if I had, it would have been me trying to prove something.  And I don’t have anything to prove.  At least not to anyone other than myself. I opted for making a good decision for me.  I’d gotten my 14 miles in, it felt good, and then I went home to spend the day with my people.

Between Friday and Saturday, I didn’t get nearly as much studying done as I had hoped, but I have Sunday, and in this case the Monday holiday, to get prepped for Med Surg.

Last night we went off to church and you can ask Ally or Brian who were sitting on either side of me, but I’m pretty certain my face lit up when Pastor Rob announced that our guest speaker was David Hawkins, a tall skinny dude from East St Louis who has spoken at our church before.  I absolutely love listening to him.  His message was about trials, and it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.  “Don’t stop at pain,” he said and I felt like an arrow pierced right through my heart.  Yeah, that’s exactly what I was doing, I was stopping at pain.

David spoke about a basketball player named Tim Duncan who grew up on St. Croix as an Olympic hopeful in swimming, but when Hurricane Hugo destroyed the facility he trained at, he was forced to find a new sport.  With his 6’11” frame, someone suggested basketball, which turned out to be the right call.  Tim went on to be a force in the NBA.  You should go look him up on Wikipedia, I’ll still be here…

(Insert elevator music here)

He’s pretty amazing, right?  Well, the point David made was that “the storm lead him to his destiny.”  The STORM lead him to his DESTINY.  Just think, if I hadn’t been through the storm of the last several years, would I be where I am right now?  This is my destiny.  Being a nurse is my destiny.  And God has never let me go, not through any of it, and he won’t let me go now.

The other thing David said about pain, is that when you try to escape it, or try to push down pain, you also push down your hope, your faith, your dreams.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve done enough of that already.  I won’t let the pain stand in the way of what I’m doing.  I’ve never been one to quit because of pain before, so I’m sure not going to start now.  Don’t stop at pain.  Ride the highs, don’t stop at the pain. I can’t say it enough.  In fact, I might just go write that on a post it and slap it on every one of my nursing books.  And in my car.  And on my mirror.  Persevere, Lindsey, and Don’t stop at pain!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, Med Surg is calling.

Fleet Feet Training Team...Ready, Set, Go!

Fleet Feet Training Team…Ready, Set, Go!

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When Opportunity Knocks

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Is it just me, or does it seem like Opportunity always waits until the most inconvenient time to start knocking? I swear every time I am just getting out of the shower, or I’m sitting on the toilet, I hear ‘knock, knock, knock’ and then the door goes flying open…Oh, wait, that’s usually my kids.

But seriously, when I think back to when Opportunity came calling in regards to Ironman, I could not have been less prepared for his arrival. I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t have a bike and I was just newly a single mom, working a retail schedule wondering how in the world I was going to make this happen. But, like I usually do, I took a leap of faith in the hopes that the details would work themselves out. And I have been ever since grateful that I did.

Well, once again, Opportunity has picked an interesting time to show up on my doorstep. A few months ago, I started a program with a book coach. It has been a long time dream of mine to write a book. If you come here often, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that I love doing this. So, when I was introduced to Nancy last fall and she proposed the timing of her group coaching for Module 1 to lay the foundation of writing my book, I thought, “Yeah, I’ll be flying pretty easy through the end of my MA externship, through the holidays and into my first semester of nursing.” To clarify, I have a light class schedule right now due to transferred credits and at the time I had no idea the first few months of this year would be so emotionally taxing.

A couple weeks ago, Nancy and I met via Skype to go over everything I had accomplished in our first 16 weeks of working together in preparation to write my book. She was thrilled with the work I had done and was excited for me to press on to the next part of the course where I will actually write my book. I hesitated. I was like, “Yeah, well, ya know, I’m about to start my second semester of nursing school, we’re rounding the corner into summer when my kids will be home and I just don’t have a clue how I’m going to do this…” I promised I would pick back up the next time this part of the course came around. Nancy responded in terms that I understood, “Lindsey, stopping now would be like doing a triathlon and taking a nap after the swim. You won’t start back up again. I’ve seen this too many times and I would hate for you to lose this momentum.” I knew she was right, but I just couldn’t see how any of this was going to work. She agreed to let me think about it and we would reconvene in a few days to discuss.

I pulled out my school handbook and looked at the heavy course load I’ll be starting in May. I looked at the calendar that hangs in the laundry room for the kids to have a quick easy view of the custody schedule (I’ve blocked off mom days in red and dad days in blue, so they always know where they’ll be…and lets be real here, it’s helpful for me to have that information at a glance, too). I considered how daunting a task it is to WRITE AN ENTIRE BOOK. It’s a little different than sitting down for an hour every once in a while to write about whatever went through my head during a 45-minute run. Especially now that I use run time as study time. Yesterday I went out for an 8 mile run and spent most of it trying to recall the 12 pairs of Cranial Nerves and their functions. I’m pretty sure you’d all be really bored reading about Trochlear and Glossopharyngeal. (If not, let me know so we can start running together as study partners)

Anyway, yes, it’s daunting. And scary. And the fact that I am even considering it makes me quite nuts. But as I sit here looking at my Ironman Finisher coffee mug, that contains the sweet nectar that gets me through each day, I remember how I had no idea how I would tackle that dream at that specific time in my life. But I did it. And I can’t imagine if I hadn’t. Even better that I did it under the circumstances that I did. Since when do I not accept a challenge?

This morning I went off to the gym, Ironman backpack slung over my shoulder, containing my swimsuit, towel, swim cap and goggles. It has been months since I have been in the pool. Seriously, my last swim was the NEMO tri in September and I haven’t been in the water since. But for some reason I felt a draw to get in the pool today. After doing a workout on the elliptical, I didn’t end up with a whole lot of time, but I wanted to at least get wet and make sure I even remember how to swim. I couldn’t find a pool schedule posted anywhere so when I saw another woman, a little older than me, sitting on the edge of the pool putting on her swim cap, I asked if she knew the schedule. Typically, I have the entire pool all to myself, so the fact that anyone else was there was surprising. I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any classes that needed the lanes. She thought we were fine. And then we started chatting. My swim time was dwindling by the minute, but I was really enjoying our conversation. She was also a runner turned swimmer, due to loss of cartilage in her knees. She too loved the marathon like nothing else. But she said, “When you can’t run, you figure out what you can do, and do that.” She ran her first marathon in Chicago in ’86 and qualified for Boston. She didn’t realize at the time how special that was and since she had a young baby and life circumstances, she let the opportunity pass. I don’t recall her saying the word “regret” but I could feel it hanging there in the humidity.

As I swam my brief 600 meters, her words followed me like the blue line on the bottom of the pool. I couldn’t shake them. Anyone who knows me, knows that Boston is another of my dreams. I’ve been so close to a BQ, but it’s still just out of reach. Given the opportunity, we all know I would seize that one. I can’t fathom letting it slip from my grasp.

And that brings us back to the other dream in front of me. My book. How in the world am I going to undertake writing a book while I’m in the meat of nursing school? Well, how do I ever do anything? One thing, one day, one step at a time.

When Nancy and I reconvened last week, I had already made my decision. I said, “I was trying to decide if I was scared of how I would do this with my class schedule or if I was just scared of actually doing this at all.” I explained that my fear was more about tackling the dream of writing my book. There is a huge risk involved. What if I fail? What if I get stuck? What if I get behind and I can’t catch up? If I had let any of those things stop me with triathlon, I wouldn’t be able to call myself an Ironman.

So now, here I am, on the brink of another dream. And even though it’s scary, I’m ready to jump off that cliff and take a leap of faith that somehow it’s all going to work out. You probably won’t hear much from me around here for a while, but at the end of it, you might have a book to read.

Last week while I was in the middle of a workout, I pulled out my phone and went to my Evernote app. The following words just kind of came out of me:

Triathlons are hard. Ironmans are hard. Ya know what else is hard? Life.
The trials and turbulences of life take strength to endure. And if you don’t train up properly it can sometimes feel overwhelming, like you’re drowning. But if you push through, you’ll eventually find yourself back on solid ground, albeit sometimes shaky. You are likely to crash and burn once in a while, in between the moments when you think you are finding your rhythm. But perseverance is key. Ultimately through the mess that is life you will start to find your joy and even look back on the obstacles behind you with fondness and gratitude, for they brought you to where you are. There is beauty in the struggle and satisfaction at the finish when you hear the words, “You Are An Ironman.”

If that was on the back cover of a book, you’d buy it, right? (The correct answer is: Yes)

I may have only gotten in 600 meters in the pool today, but I got so much more by taking that step back out of my comfort zone and making the effort. Thanks to my new swim friend, I was reminded of something much more important.

I was reminded that Opportunity doesn’t always come back if you don’t answer the door. I don’t want to spend so long looking through the peep hole in the door trying to decide whether to invite Opportunity in or not. When Opportunity knocks, I won’t let fear stop me from answering. I will fling the door wide open! Even if I did just get out of the shower, and I’m only wearing a towel.  😉

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Growing Pains

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If you’ve read any of my posts this year, you know full well that 2016 has had kind of a rough start. January was hard.  And as it drew to a close, I braced for February to be even more so.  February followed through.  And just because it didn’t think I’d seen enough, February went and threw an extra day at me.  Thanks, Leap year.

As I sit on the precipice of March, I am quite certain it will prove itself to be challenging in its own right. But I am quite certain, I will prove to be stronger.  I usually do.

Yesterday was my first race in a really long time. I had signed up for a 15k trail race back in the fall to give me a little focus through the winter months.  I’m glad to say that it definitely helped me build my mileage and give me a sense of accomplishment during these weeks that have been a somewhat blurry funk.  While I was fortunate enough to get some really beautiful days for some long runs (I made it all the way up to 10 whole miles…albeit slow miles) I never managed to get out on the trails like I had hoped.  So I went into yesterday’s event with the motto that it wasn’t going to be a “race”, but rather an “accomplishment”.

When I awoke yesterday morning feeling well rested, I marveled at how unusual that is. I typically don’t sleep well the night before a race, so perhaps there is something to be said for the lack of stress when the pressure is off and the only expectation I have of myself is to go out and have fun.

As I dressed, I took 2 things into consideration. 1. The weather was expected to start cool but warm up to 60 degrees by the time we finished.  And 2. Perhaps starting with a personal trainer at the gym on Thursday had been really bad timing.  My quads were feeling it, but I managed to make my way down the stairs slowly and gather my necessary gear.  I got a good luck text from B while I sat eating a piece of toast with peanut butter and drinking my coffee.  A few minutes later, I kissed the kids goodbye and headed off to Castlewood.

When I arrived, I had to drive to the back of the park before I found open parking. I was sitting in the car checking my phone and changing into my shoes, for about 5 minutes before I finally realized that Steve was parked right next to me.  He admitted he had even noticed my 140.6 magnet on the back of my car and thought, “Oh cool, an Ironman” but failed to recognize it was me.  We can’t even blame being up early since this race has a late start time of 10am.  We grabbed our bags and walked toward the Start/Finish area together.  When we got there, he still needed to get his bib so he went off to do that and I joined Kristen and Gerry at a nice spot in the sun.  As we stood in line for the port-a-potties, Kristen and I discussed our mutual goal of finishing this race and not requiring medical attention.  Beyond that, we both hoped to finish in under 2 hours.  I knew she would probably smash that, even with the muddy trail conditions due to a typical Midwestern snow storm that hit mid-week and was completely melted making the trails nice and sloppy.

Our group grew as others showed up, Tony, Wes, Roberto and Brian (Laiderman, to avoid confusion). Even Shane and Heather who weren’t racing had run the Al Foster trail over to say hi and bid us all a good race.  I waved to several other familiar faces and I found myself smiling.  A lot.  It felt good.  As race time drew nearer, we had begun asking “Where are Nick and Andrea?” but we all know that Nick runs on his own time frame, so we banked on the fact that Andrea would get them there before the gun went off.  We were correct.  As we all gathered and determined that we were primarily split between waves 6 and 7, we decided to all start together in 7, with the exception of Nick, Steve and Brain who are faster than the rest of us.  I was just glad to have friends to run with, especially in the beginning.  It made it feel less like a race, and more like a typical Saturday at Castlewood.  When our turn came, it didn’t take long for our group to spread out.  We basically ice-skated across the muddy field and came to Lone Wolf hill which I haven’t run in ages.  I had been chatting with Andrea and we made it up most of the hill before we decided not to overdo it right off the bat.  I had planned that this “race” might be more of a glorified hike.  We got up to the bluff, veered right and carefully made our way down the switchbacks toward the creek.  We ran along the creek and at about 2.5 miles we came up on the aid station.  I grabbed a cup of water from Gerry, half expecting it to be Tequila.  Fortunately, it went down smooth, it was water.  We crossed the road and instead of taking Cardiac Hill we went right to go up the switchbacks.  Thank God!  It was shortly after that when I gave a quick glance over my shoulder and saw that several people had snuck in between me and Andrea.  Rather than stop where there isn’t really room to do so, I just kept going  and figured we would find each other somewhere on the course.  The next few miles were a lot of sloppy ups and downs.  At one point a young kid was running by me and I heard someone ask him how old he was. “12” he answered.  The lady right in front of me said, “My 12 year old is at home asleep”.  I responded, “My 13 year old is home watching my boys.  She got the tougher job today.”  We chatted some before she ultimately let me pass to run down the hill faster than she was comfortable with.

A little while later, as I made my way back up, my shoe had come untied, so as I stopped to make adjustments, a passing runner asked, “Everything ok?” And I realized it was Tim. So we walked up hill together, agreeing that neither of us had been on trails in way too long, but we couldn’t have asked for a better day.

About halfway through the race, with the temperature rising, the sun shining through the trees, the mud puddles splashing around me on trails where I have so many great memories, it occurred to me, this is like Homecoming, in the middle of winter. It was so perfect, I couldn’t stop smiling as I jumped over familiar roots and ran down hill with reckless abandon. My park was saying, “Welcome Home”.

With 6 miles down, I knew I would easily finish under the 2 hour goal I had set for myself. So I continued to enjoy myself.  At 7 miles, I was almost sad that there were only a couple miles left.  My quads were a different story, lamenting how much I had put them through in less than 48 hours.  At about 8 miles, we came back around to the aid station Gerry was at.  I tossed my gloves to him and said to a runner right over my shoulder, “It’s time to get wet!” and I plowed through the creek.  The cold water felt good, but it made my already heavy shoes feel even heavier.  I knew I didn’t have much farther to go, so I shook it off and just ran.  I passed a lot of folks in that last mile.  As we came around the field into the finish, I had my sights on the guys ahead of me, I made a push to pass him.  I caught him, but I felt another guy off my other shoulder trying to catch me.  I sped up.  He sped up.  I sped up again.  He sped up again. He was a step in front of me.  I took back the lead.  It was a photo finish.  But it was fun having that little bit of competition right at the very end.  And because I am who I am, I wasn’t going to let some guy in a green headband come from behind and beat me.  I said, “Nice race” and then I easily sauntered over to where Tony was standing, while green headband went hands to knees to catch his breath.  I may have been smirking. (Read: I was definitely smirking)

A minute or so later I saw Nick heading toward the finish line to cheer Andrea in. I walked over with him.  I said to him, “My face hurts from smiling.”  A more than 9 mile trail race I had just completed and my face is what I noted was hurting.  I’m a weirdo.

When Andrea crossed we walked over to the pavilion to enjoy the benefits of the post race party. We stood in line for our food and then found a spot at a picnic table in the sun.  Other members of our clique eventually joined us.  We ate, and drank, and laughed and caught up.  And my face still hurt from smiling.  As I sat there amidst my crew of friends that I haven’t seen nearly enough lately, it occurred to me that I felt like ME again.  The fog had finally lifted.  Even if only temporarily the hard had disappeared.

Everything about yesterday made me so happy. Being with friends that I love dearly in a place that feels like home with the sun shining on me while doing my favorite thing in the world.  I was so full of gratitude I thought my heart might explode.

As things started to die down and we all had to go our separate directions, I decided to walk back to the car, rather than wait for Steve who was going to ride back with Brian. He had pulled his jeep up to the pavilion but was busy saying good-bye to, um, everyone.  I knew exactly what would happen, and sure enough, just as I got back to the car, I heard cat calls from behind me.  They had arrived at exactly the same time.

The three of us were single file driving out of the park. I honked at Dan, who wasn’t able to run but came to hang out with us anyway. And I left Castlewood, with the windows down, the sun shining, and my face hurting from smiling.  I said softly to myself, “I needed this.  I needed this so much.”

I arrived home to find B helping Silas make a “super suit” out of cardboard boxes, construction paper and toilet paper rolls. Everyone was in good spirits.

B asked, “How was it?”

“It was perfect.” I responded, “It was exactly what I needed.”

“That’s what I was hoping,” he said.

 

Today was another absolutely gorgeous day. This morning the kids wanted to get donuts and go to the park, how could I say no to that?  There is this amazing new park just up the road from us and its set right in the middle of the woods.  It’s so unbelievably cool.  I sat on a bench with my coffee watching my kids play.  I could feel my frustrations wanting to come back and anxiety over the week ahead trying to creep back in.  No, I thought, just no.  I lifted my face to the sun and thought, “In this moment, right now, things are good.  I will not worry about what hasn’t happened yet, or the things I can’t do anything about. In this moment, things are good.”

A few minutes later, Ally came and sat with me. She was sharing her frustration with trying to plan out our day, but not getting much of a straight answer from those we were trying to plan with.  And we were talking through some things.

I said to her, “Well, adjustments are hard.”

She said, “But I’m happy, I mean I’m glad to have this new (adjustment)”…

“I know,” I said, “but even good change is an adjustment. Even good change can be hard.  It just takes time. That’s why it’s called ‘Growing pains’.”

She nodded in agreement and put her arm around my shoulders. We sat there in the sun, smiling.  And I realized that all this smiling, has made my heart hurt a little less.  It doesn’t mean March will be easy, but in this moment, right now, things are good.  Things are very good.

Typical

Typical

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What the Heart Needs

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It’s the middle of February and Valentine’s Day is upon us, so you can probably guess what this post is about. Yes, Love.  But before you roll your eyes, or run away screaming, just bear with me for a bit.  I guarantee I’m not going where you think I am with that.

I’m not gonna lie, the first 6 weeks of 2016 have been tough. I didn’t even blend a family and I can tell you that this blended family thing is haaaaard.  Going through a divorce, hard.  Learning to be a single parent, hard.  Helping my kids (and myself) through the transition of their dad getting remarried, I had no idea.

I’ve been saying it all along, my head knows that nothing, absolutely NO-THING, can replace me as my kiddos’ mom. My head has had that thought on repeat for the past couple of months.  I just wish my heart would catch up to the idea.  Every other Thursday when my babies leave for the weekend with their dad, my heart breaks a little, knowing that they are not only spending that time with their dad, but also growing a relationship with another mother figure.

Don’t get me wrong, I WANT them to have a relationship with their step-mom. And I want them to be close with her.  But I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt somewhat.

So, as we’ve been riding the rollercoaster of learning how to do this, I’ve tried to remind myself to find what my heart needs.

A couple weeks ago, knowing that I needed a break from the familiar everyday reminders of what life is now, Brian and I loaded up the car for a weekend in the woods. We drove to Table Rock Lake and spent a blissful weekend, with shockingly high temps for January, hiking, watching the sunset, playing pool and ping-pong (I went down gloriously at both) and sitting by the fireplace drinking wine.  It was perfect.  It was exactly what my heart, and my head, needed.

While it would be really nice to just jump in the car and drive to a cabin in the woods whenever I felt the anxiety or the sadness or the frustration start to overwhelm me, that’s just not realistic. Fortunately, I do have an old friend, that never lets me down when I need a break from reality.  His name is running.  He will go the distance with me, or if I don’t have time for a long visit, short and sweet works for him too.  The other day, we got another brief break from the cold of January, and while I only had time for 3 short miles, running came through.  It was one of those perfect experiences where my feet felt light, my lungs felt full and my heart felt happy.

So, back to the whole Valentine’s Day thing. February 14, to a lot of people, is really just another day.  A Hallmark Holiday. I totally get that.  But for me, it’s undeniably special.  This Sunday, while couples all over the world are exchanging flowers and chocolates (Yes, I have something for my sweetie, too) I will actually be celebrating the 13th anniversary of the day I became a mom.

I say all the time that God knew exactly what he was doing when He gave me Ally first. I also say that if Silas had been first, he would probably be an only child, but that’s beside the point.

Ally becomes a teenager on Sunday. My baby girl, who was the best Valentine ever, is about to turn 13.  With this milestone, it’s hard not to be even more reflective that usual.  13 is a big deal.

But here’s the hard part. This Sunday, Ally will wake up at my house and we’ll have cake for breakfast cause that’s how we roll.  And then she will go back to her dad’s and spend the rest of the day there, because that’s how the custody schedule works.

Fortunately, I get tomorrow with her, so we’ll get pedicures and drink Starbucks and I will probably even take her shopping (her choice, not mine). I’ve wrapped her presents and I’m working on her requested One Direction birthday cake.  I’m open to ideas on that one.  Anyone?

But then she will go and spend the rest of the weekend with her other family, the one I’m not a part of. I will be ok.  This is something that it took me a while to get used to, because anyone who knows me at all, knows that I LOVE Birthdays.  Seriously, I love them.  I make a huge deal out of them.  My mom always does the same, so I come by it honestly.  But I will be ok.  Because I know what my heart needs.  My heart just needs to be reminded that I am her mom and I always will be.

There’s a quote by Elizabeth Stone that goes, “Making a decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

My heart turns 13 on Sunday, and even though she won’t be with me all day, she will be well loved, by many. I can’t help but think about the song I used to sing to her as a baby.  I would sit and hold her and sing to her.  I would keep singing long after her eyes would close and she would drift off to sleep.

The song begins, “You’re a little piece of heaven, You’re a golden ray of light, And I wish I could protect you from the worries of this life…”

Since I can’t sing you the whole song, you can check it out here.

She’s still my little piece of heaven, and now she is a BOLD golden ray of light that shines brighter all the time. No matter how old she gets, I will always want to protect her.  As she crosses the threshold of 13, I know that so many heartbreaks are right around the corner for her, but she is strong and I will walk with her through anything.  I could not be more proud of the person she is and who she is becoming.  She is so beautiful, inside and out.  She is smart, and determined, and loving, and thoughtful and she is not afraid to stand up for herself.

I know my heart will be ok, because even when it wonders off, it always comes back. And I know who is holding my heart in His hands.  Because He knows what my heart needs even before I do.

There are seasons in life that are hard, it’s just that simple. But even during those times, the heart will find what it needs if you let it.  It’s in the moments when the sun is shining, or when the wind is at your back, when your feet feel light and your heart is happy.  Eventually it will be 13 years later and you’ll look back to realize you don’t even remember the pain, all you can see is the beauty that came from it.  And all that remains is love.

Happy 13th Birthday, Little Al.

Happy 13th Birthday, beautiful girl.

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Learning to Navigate the Weird

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Running in negative 14 degrees and watching your spit freeze in mid-air…weird, right? A few days later, running in shorts and short sleeves, in January, in Missouri…also weird.

The word ‘weird’ has been thrown around a lot at my house lately, and in my head.

During a conversation with Ally just after Christmas, it occurred to her that there were people living in her other house (her dad’s house) while she wasn’t there. “Weird.” She said.

After the first day of being back at school, “Hey Ethan, how was it having Miles (new step-brother) in your class?” “Weird” was his response.

Seeing my kids’ new step mom also in the drop off and/or pick up line each day…Weird. Even weirder…being out for a run on Thursday afternoon and knowing that she was picking them up instead of me.

It has occurred to me that we use the word weird, when we aren’t really sure what other word to use.

Yesterday Brian and I bundled up and went over to brave the cold at Castlewood to get our first look at the post-flood version of our favorite park. Driving in was certainly weird, as I kept telling him various places that I had seen pictures of that had been completely under water.  Even the spot we parked in had been submerged just a couple weeks ago.  There were still remnants of puddles in lower lying areas, but for the most part, the ground was dry.  At first glance, things appeared normal, but that eventually changed as we went deeper into the woods.

We hiked up Lone Wolf Hill and walked along the bluffs. The height up there allows for a good overview, which also gave the appearance of things being mostly back to normal.  When we approached the stairs, I mentioned to B about a picture I had seen of the water being way up into the massive staircase.  Hard to believe, especially since the water has since receded into the confines of the river banks.  As we sat for a moment at the bottom of the stairs, watching a red-headed woodpecker just overhead, an older fellow came by and said, “A couple weeks ago, you would have been sitting under water right there.”  Weird.

As we went through the tunnel that goes under the train tracks and popped out on the other side by the trail that runs along the river, I started to get my first glimpses of the changes that had taken place. To the average person who had only been there once or twice, I’m sure those changes wouldn’t have been noticeable.  But to those of us who have made this park a second home, they are glaringly obvious.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but there was a time when I felt more comfortable being lost in the woods out there than I felt in my own house.  Weird.

“Woah” I said when I noticed how the massive erosion had washed the rocks from beside the train tracks down over a signpost, almost covering it. And again when I saw that part of the trail was now completely gone.  Vanished.  Weird.

We turned right to head out into the flats to see how far we could get before we might be forced to turn around due to mud, or possibly still flooding. The tiny, little, almost invisible stump that B tripped over about a year and half ago, injuring his rib, was still there.  However, if he were to fall the same way now, he would have ended up in the water.  The path had eroded and narrowed considerably.

B kept pulling sticks out of trees, sticks that had likely floated into the tree branches weeks before. We came across a pile of saw dust, evidence of someone with a chainsaw clearing the path of some of the bigger obstacles…entire trees that had floated down the river and been deposited in a new location.  As we got to the flats, we had to climb over a tree to continue.  Shortly after that we decided to turn around and go back along the river.  When we got back to the stairs we ran into my friend Lara, we talked briefly, but we started getting cold standing still, so we parted ways knowing that we would reconvene at the tri club party later.

As we continued along the river, familiar places looked totally different. From where I am sitting right now in my house, I can see a picture of my kiddos framed and hanging on the wall.  It was one of the first pictures I had taken to fill my new home.  It’s the 3 of them, smiling, sitting on a huge downed tree right by the path B and I were on.  That tree is now almost completely gone.  As I noticed how different the trail looked, I thought of that picture, and it made me kind of sad.

“This is so weird.” I kept saying, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this was even the same place.  “New territory to explore, new trails,” he said.  I smiled.  While that’s true, there are parts of Castlewood that are almost unrecognizable to me now because of the changes that have transpired.  There were parts that the old brush had been completely washed away, and parts that looked more like a tornado had gone through depositing so much debris up in the tree that it looked like a fort.

I’ve been struggling lately with the unfairness of the world. Having lost 2 friends to cancer, less than three weeks apart, who knew each other, I am having a hard time accepting that their children will have to grow up without their moms.  And when I think about how weird that my kids have another mother figure in their lives that isn’t me, what I am really thinking of is…it’s not fair.  Now, I don’t want to be someone who whines all the time about ‘It’s not fair’, but the reality is, it’s not.  I say to my kids all the time when they are unhappy about the fairness of some situation that parental line, “Sometimes life isn’t fair.”  No one ever promised us that it would be fair all the time, but sometimes what we mean when we say something is ‘weird’, what we really mean is…it’s not fair.  It’s not normal.  It’s different. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  And honestly, when we realize that, it hurts.  It hurts a lot.

So, what do I do with that? How do I navigate the unfair?  Sometimes I grieve it, sometimes I call it weird and keep on moving, sometimes I have to look a little deeper to figure out what’s really changed.  And what do I do with the weird?  Well, I cry when I need to.  I hug B and my kids, sometimes more than they probably want to be hugged.  And I just keep doing the best I can with it, until the weird becomes the new normal.  And I remember that even though the trail is still in the same place, there was no way it was always going to look the same.  Some of the same little details are there, some of the big things are now missing.  There are some places where someone paved the way by clearing some of the larger obstacles and there are some places where the path has narrowed and made the trek significantly more challenging.  But I’ll climb over things, or swing from vines (yes, I actually did this yesterday.  B shook his head at me, but I laughed despite hurting myself) and I’ll do whatever I need to do to get back to where I need to be.

Fact: I am the old wife. There is another who has taken my place in that role.  Also fact:  I cannot ever be replaced in my more important roles.  There is some truth to the saying ‘Out with the old and in with the new’, but if you didn’t know what it looked like before, how would you even know it was new now?

Just like Castlewood, I have weathered the storm and I am not the same as I was before. But this won’t be the last storm, and I will be forced to change again.  The old plus the storms equal the new.  And just like B said, that gives us new territory to explore, and new territory equals new experiences. I am being refined in the fire, and being made new.

So now what? Is it weird that I find myself wanting to be friends with the new wife?  Maybe.  But wouldn’t it be even weirder if I didn’t want to forge a relationship with the other person who will be nurturing and helping to raise my children?  The other person who is listed as their emergency contact?  The other person who has the word mom in her title? I think so.  But maybe I’m just weird.

This is the photo of my kiddos from Castlewood on that tree.  The tree may be changed, but so are we.

This is the photo of my kiddos from Castlewood on that tree. The tree may be changed, but so are we.

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Expectation vs. Hope

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Since I haven’t had a chance to say this until now, Happy 2016! A year ago I said that I wanted 2015 to be big, and I’m pretty sure I lived up to that. It was certainly a year of surprises.  Surprises like a week in the hospital, a trip to Nicaragua, a new step family for my kids, jumping out of a plane, a diploma and a budding nursing career.  I haven’t quite figured out what 2016 is the year of yet, but I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately.  After a week in LA to finish out the year, a week that proved to be the week of failed expectations (or so I thought), how could I not?  Expectations of our lives, expectations of others, others expectations of us.   If we aren’t careful, expectations can be really damaging, especially to ourselves and our relationships with others.

Am I the only one who does this? With a vacation on the horizon, I plan out everything we are going to do and what it’s going to look like and how perfect it’s going to be.  I do not however, work the stomach flu into the equation.  I had plans of going on lots of hikes, having a ball at Legoland with the kids and taking them all around Hollywood to see the sights.  In reality, a very few of us went on 1 single hike, Legoland was pretty much lame and only Ethan made it to Hollywood with me.  Failed, right?  Well, not exactly.  Ok, so the things I had set my sights on didn’t go just as I thought they would but how often does anything turn out how we think it will?

The other day I set off for my first run of 2016. My expectations were looooooooow.  Seriously, I have been seriously struggling to get back on track physically since I tried to shut my kidneys down in May.  It continues to amaze me, as it becomes clearer, just how close I was to not being here today.  At my annual doctor visit the other day, Dr. Meddows was looking at my electronic chart and she said, “LINDSEY!  Oh my gosh, this was really bad!”  She used words that no one had said to me in the hospital, I’m sure in an effort to keep me calm.  Or maybe they told me and I was so delirious I just have no recollection.   At any rate, I am in the very early stages of a comeback now, so maybe 2016 should be the year of the Comeback.  But that insinuates that I didn’t learn anything from last year.  I need to remember that sometimes the unexpected happens, and that I need to not expect more from my body than it’s capable of.  I’d like to think that I’m back on the horse, but I’m going forth with a much better awareness of listening to my body.  And not being dumb.

That being said, as I set out for my run the other day, I kept in mind that while I used to be able to run sub 8 minute miles, now the goal is to return home without feeling like I’m going to keel over. So I set out with a general distance in mind, but considerably slower than what used to be my normal.  So what if I’m a couple minutes slower now, the point is to enjoy it.  And I did.  It was a beautiful 55 degree day, not like today’s running temp of -14 that I faced this morning.  Ouch.  Anyway, I took my water and set out in search of potentially my longest run since the Berryman Marathon nearly did me in.

While I ran, I did a lot of reflecting on our week in LA. I’ll be honest, what was supposed to be a fantastic week of vacation with family, turned out to be a really tough week.  Before picking the kids up from their dad’s house to head to the airport on Christmas day, I was in the middle of getting ready to go when I grabbed my phone and read a text from my friend Stephanie.  I think I gasped slightly before Brian and I looked at each other, I simply said, “Inga…” and he knew.  Our friend that we had known since grade school, who has been battling Cancer for 8 long years, had finally been called home to celebrate Christmas with Jesus this year.

While we were in LA, we missed a lot of what was happening back here in Missouri. Watching videos of the flooding Meremac River was surreal.  Places that I pass on a daily basis and places that I love, all became completely submerged.  The Al Foster trail, where Brian and I ran on Christmas Eve was probably among the first to be under water.  My beloved Castlewood was totally unrecognizable in the pictures I saw.  I was very fortunate that my house is in a secure location and when Brian checked on it, he reported that all was well.  But hearing the pleas for prayer over friends’ businesses and the homes of their loved ones made my heart hurt for them.

Several of our vacation plans got side-lined or rearranged as the week went on and Silas was the first to go down with a round of the stomach flu. But he was only down and out for a day before he bounced back and we thought we were good to go.  I was able to take Ethan and Ally, along with their cousin Brooke, off for a hike at Rocky Peak that day while Silas recovered.  It was 6 years to the day since the last time we had been there.  It was weird to think about how much life has changed for all of us since then.  The next day when Silas woke up feeling like himself, and no one else was showing any signs, we thought we were back on track.  We headed off to Legoland, which turned out to be something that we never have to do again.  But my mom and I had taken the 4 big kids and enjoyed spending the day with them.  Unfortunately, on the drive back from Carlsbad to my brother’s, Ally was the next to go down.  And she went down hard.  The poor girl was a mess and being in the car only made it worse.  She always somehow ends up sicker than the others and has been to the hospital multiple times for dehydration, so it gets scary really quick.  By New Years Eve, Silas, Ally and mom had all fallen victim.  While they were pulling through it, they were just out of energy.

Adam and I took the last 2 standing off to Hollywood for a few hours of fun before heading home to witness the Spartans massive destruction that was the Cotton Bowl. I’d like to say it was the game that did me in, but the reality was, I was the next to fall.  At 10pm on New Years Eve.  12 hours before we had to begin our journey back to St. Louis.  And as much as I hoped that Ethan would remain the strong one, he followed shortly after me.  I somehow, miraculously, woke up feeling almost completely 100%normal.  It was a tough journey home for my little dude, but he was a trooper.

I promise you our trip wasn’t entirely tears and illness. We actually had some really great moments mixed in there too.  And the best part is they were things that were totally unexpected.  One night, before everyone got sick, my brother decided to take the kids over to the church playground just to get them out of the house for a bit.  I needed some air too, so I went along.  I couldn’t be happier about that decision as it turned into my favorite memory of the week.  We laid the ground rules for hide and seek, and then we played by the light of the almost full moon.  AJ found that he could just lie down on the ground in his black sweats and he was pretty much invisible against the dark green spongy ground.  Ally sat curled up in a ball on a tree stump and went unnoticed for several minutes.  We crouched into tiny spaces until we had leg cramps, Brooke found Ethan when she tripped on a “rock” which turned out to be Ethan, and I actually climbed a tree for the winning spot.  And we laughed hysterically.  It was pretty chilly out, but we agreed unanimously that the only parts of us that were cold were our ungloved hands.  It could be said that running around is what kept us warm, but I’m pretty sure there was more to it than that.

As I ran the other day, I found myself smiling at that memory. I also found myself thinking a lot about Inga.  I was really sad that I missed her memorial service while I was gone.  But I have some pretty special memories of that girl.  I love that whenever I would see her, even if she already knew my stories from reading them here, she would always say, “Tell me a story!  Tell me the story about…”  So, if you will indulge me, now I want to tell you a story about my friend Inga.  Maybe not a story exactly, but I want to tell you about the woman she was.  Inga was an absolutely amazing person.  She was stunning.  She was valedictorian of our high school class.  I didn’t actually graduate with that class because I had moved back to Michigan, but I still feel very much a part of it. More than anything, Inga was one of the sweetest, kindest souls you could ever meet.  In 8 long years of battling a totally unfair disease, Inga never once waivered in her faith.  She rarely complained about anything, she just simply continued to live out everything she believed and have hope.  So much hope.  Christmas was her favorite time of year, so as hard as it had to be for her family to say goodbye to her on Christmas, it almost seems appropriate somehow that she got to spend Christmas celebrating in Heaven.  Especially since she was born on Easter Sunday.  And could there be any other 2 days of the year that signify ‘Hope’ more than Christmas and Easter?  I didn’t get to see Inga much over the past year, but I was able to be present on her 40th birthday when my friend Teri presented her with her Powered by Hope medal.

By definition hope means a feeling or expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, or a feeling of trust. There’s that word again, expectation.  But in this case, it sounds so positive.  I don’t typically ‘expect’ that bad things will happen, like massive flooding and Cancer and the likes, even though I know these things happen in our world.  Why is that?  Well, I guess it’s because of hope.  I don’t claim to have even a fraction of the hope that Inga exhibited on a regular basis, but I think that’s my goal for the year.  More hope in 2016.  Hope for myself, hope for the people I love, hope for many little unexpected moments of wonder.

A little over a year ago, just before Christmas, Inga and I had a spontaneous lunch date at Panera. I was headed to her house to drop something off when she suggested that we meet for lunch instead.  I remember sitting across from her and she said, “You’re such a good storyteller.  Please don’t ever stop telling stories.”  You got it, friend.  RRG is officially signed on for another year.  The year of Hope.

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