Tag Archives: mental health

Just Hang On

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Just hang on

My stomach has that flip-flopping feeling, which signifies another marathon. Sunday will mark my 5th, which is 5 more than I ever thought I would do in a lifetime.

This will also be my first marathon as a Crossfitter, yet another activity in which I had never pictured myself. It just goes to show, you never know the path God will set before you.

I am nervous about the marathon because there are so many unknown factors:

  • I’ve been doing Crossfit in lieu of my shorter runs
  • I want to fuel with ‘natural’ foods
  • Marathon #5 is in a new location
  • The first three miles will be up a mountain to a glacier
  • I will be running at altitude (though I live in the countryside)
  • It will be cold in the mountains but (hopefully) will warm up as we descend
  • The weather forecast is bleak
  • I’ll be wearing barefoot shoes (which I can’t wear my compression socks with–or else my feet slide around)
  • They only offer cola at km 36 (bummer…I love a cola halfway through)
  • I can’t bring cola in my hydration pack

The list could go on and on…

However, for me, it is a worthy endeavor, as the spiritual/mental/physical aspects of my life are rolled up into one package. If one suffers, the others suffer. The physical training helps me to be more focused, disciplined and peaceful in other areas of my life.

The rewards of training are not merely physical, but I’ve learned many life-lessons as well:

  • Quitting is mental before it is physical
  • When things get tough (and painful) just hang on
  • When the weight is too heavy, let it drop
  • Use the correct muscles for each exercise
  • Don’t squander energy
  • Keep good form, even when you’re tired
  • ‘Relax’ does not mean being sloppy
  • Commitment increases strength
  • Trust the coach, and do what he says

God is the one who created the body, and we can learn spiritual lessons from something as seemingly innocuous as a WOD or a really long run. The point is to stick with it, and to run well on the path before you.

2 Chronicles 15:7 “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”

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No Worries

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No Worries

When I go to CrossFit, I have no worries for an entire hour.

The only knots in my stomach are from doing a lot of sit-ups in a little amount of time. The only weight on my shoulders is attached to a 20 kg bar. The only thing I have to remember is what rep I’m on.

There are no meetings, no appointments, no long commutes–I am purely living in the moment, and I often feel guilty about it.

I don’t think I’m trying to completely escape my problems, but it IS nice to ‘get away’ for a little while. If I lived closer to the box, I would go five days a week or more. It is THAT refreshing to me. Some people listen to music, or play it; some people watch TV or eat or play video games; they walk the beach or take cruises; but for me, stress-relief is packaged in a CrossFit box.

I walk away from a workout feeling completely relaxed, refocused and re-energized, and I think ultimately, it enables me to deal with stress.

When we were in London, I saw two women at Harrod’s, draped from head to toe in black, with only their eyes and some flashy rings on their hands showing. They were at the jewelry counter. Read that again: the JEWELRY counter.

If you’ve ever been to Harrod’s, and you’re just an average person like me, then you know how thrilling yet painful it is to buy a single truffle from the food counter in the basement. This is a store where a pair of socks costs more than my wedding dress. They probably charge money just to glance at the jewelry counter. I’m sure no matter how rich or poor you are, women everywhere have to deal with stress, and I wondered if shopping was the outlet of choice for these women.

Then my thoughts go back to the woman at the top of the mountain at Petra, Jordan. One of her many sons probably brought jugs of water up the mountain on donkey. She looked as if she had enough to eat. She was just alongside the path, selling her wares in one of the most scenic locations on earth. I don’t think that her life is stress-free, but she probably deals with it differently than I (a spoiled Westerner) would.

I can go to CrossFit, but what does she do? Maybe she daydreams or makes jewelry for tourists. I’m not sure.

It makes me wonder if stress is a luxury? I do think it’s easier to focus on the things that really matter when you don’t have a bunch of junk clogging up your home.

As for us, we’d like to downsize–get a smaller house and live more simply. Think about it: if I have fewer clothes, it’s less laundry. And besides, a family of 6 does NOT need 5 bathrooms!

But what happens next? Move to a developing nation? Learn to be happy with the clothes on my back. I could still do push-ups and squats and lift heavy things (like orphans, ideally). The pressures would be different: like cooking for the family without a supermarket nearby and finding clean water. Internet? That WOULD be a luxury, I’m sure.

For the moment, here I am: an American woman in rural Germany, speeding down the autobahn in my leather-seated van, worrying if the baustelle will make me late for the next appointment. And you will find me at CrossFit, putting down the worries and picking up weights, as often as possible.

Under the Rock Pile

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Today was stressful for no one particular reason. Rather, it was a lot of little things stacking up like bricks in a wall. The last ‘brick’ was more like a pebble, placed jovially atop the rapidly crumbling structure by one of my unfortunate children, and the whole thing collapsed.

Yes, I lost my cool.

It happens from time to time. I almost didn’t blog today because I was so out of sorts, but my daughter said that I should talk about my meltdown because, “It is such a rare occurrence.”

I’m glad it’s rare.

There was a time in my life when fits of anger would build inside me, and the only way to alleviate it was through yelling, since violence wasn’t my thing. It took many years to break the yelling habit. After all, many women I respected assured me that they, too, yelled at their kids. It was ‘normal.’ But something about that never sat right with me. I knew I wanted something different. I didn’t want to pass on the yelling gene to my own kids. Or heaven forbid, to watch my theoretical grandchildren become yellers.

This morning, I didn’t exactly yell–it was more of a verbal pounce, but in our sensitive house, it was the same as full-lunged bellowing. Afterwards I felt so badly, I went to my study to ‘be alone,’ which means praying and leaving a little puddle of tears on the floor.

Normally, I handle stress through running (which is also my time of prayer and contemplation) and proper nutrition. But lately I’ve been lacking both sunshine and sufficient exercise. And let’s face it–it’s hard, if not downright impossible to feel happy eating salad when it’s cold and dark outside! I’d rather cozy up with some gluten-free croissants drizzled with Nutella.

It is hard for me when there is no sunshine, and the puppy, cute as he is, pees on the brand-new rug after I’ve been outside with him for an hour.

I know there are worse things in life, and that the puppy IS a little glimpse of heaven; but even small doses of stress are toxic, and if you let stress build up, it can lead to a meltdown of nuclear proportions.

After “Mommy’s Time-Out” today, I emerged from my study to find a pink card on my pillow, a loving email from a concerned teen, and a pint of my favorite ice cream, wrapped up with a bow, sitting right outside my door. Sure, one of my kids was completely oblivious to the whole thing, but that’s okay too. My kids are so loving and so forgiving that I think they came through it unscathed.

In fact, it might be good for them to see me fail once in a while and for them to see me make amends when I’m wrong.

Sometimes we stumble.

The key is to get up and look ahead.

Because you can’t see clearly from under the rock pile.

Almost Never Christmas

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I saw my shadow today!

I saw my shadow today!

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve quoted the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe since December 26th. Though Lewis has written more inspirational lines, none can capture Germany’s winter this year quite as well as his phrase: Always winter, never Christmas.

And I’m not just whining. There was a reason for chasing my vitamin D pills with multiple shots of espresso.

My husband sent me a link to an article in der Spiegel that states this has officially been the darkest winter in Germany in 43 years, which completely validates my compulsive macaroni-and-cheese eating.

After nearly 13 years living in Alaska, I know I shouldn’t complain. But at least in Alaska, I knew what I was getting into. I KNEW the Arctic Circle wasn’t arbitrarily named. I KNEW polar bears only lived near a pole, which meant, coldness. But Germany duped me.

When we moved here seven years ago, they had the mildest winter on record. It looked like the shire in perpetual spring. Gazing at the emerald fields in February, I thought, “This isn’t so bad!” In fact, the winters have typically been more mild than my native midwest, where you can go from 80 to zero in a day.

But this German winter won the fight. I have posts on this very blog describing the beauty of running in the snow–when the road is frozen and gentle flakes are falling all around–blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Enough! I am done with winter! So done with it that I briefly stopped running. I was simply sick of feeling cold. So, I slunk away and hid in the Crossfit box until things began to thaw.

Fortunately, the sun came out a couple days ago, and with it, warmer weather. It was above freezing for the first time in weeks, and I was able to run without a jacket and YakTrax. Today, I didn’t even need mittens. It wasn’t particularly sunny today, but it was warm, so I stepped out into the fresh air, and it felt so incredible, I ran for 12 miles.

I’ve heard rumors that winter will be back again, but I don’t want to think about it. In fact, my friends won’t even talk about the forecast in front of me (bless them…I have the most awesome friends).

For today, the sun is peeking through the clouds, the birds are singing, flowers have pushed their delicate white and yellow heads through the mud, and I went running.

Yes, I had mud to my ankles, bugs in my face and some remnants of snow to slide through, but I went running and did NOT feel cold! That is a reason to celebrate! That is a reason to hope! Christmas WILL come eventually! And we shall call it “Spring!”

Doldrums

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One of my wise children said, “Runners are like farmers–they’re never happy with the weather.”

It’s almost true.

  • When the weather is hot, I complain about getting up early to run before the bugs and manure trucks awake.
  • When the weather is rainy, I complain about getting up early to run because it’s dark and my feet get wet.
  • When the weather is snowy, I complain about getting up early to run because it’s STILL dark, and I have to wear ten pounds of gear.
  • When the weather is perfect, I complain about getting up early to run.

I’m sensing a theme here.

Though I usually have something to complain about on any given day of the year, I’m finding that winter marathon training is extremely challenging.

The snow was okay in November–even quaint and lovely, but by January I was ready to pack up my Amphipod and move south. The snow has melted now, but I’ve been living in a wind tunnel for weeks–and it is trying my patience.

On a recent 18-mile run, I could lean my body to a 45 degree angle and the wind would keep me in position–even running DOWNHILL was hard. As much as I hated slipping on snow and ice the previous week, I would have traded it for the wind.

On a usual day, I get up at 4 or 5 am and run 8 or 10 miles. But lately, I’ve felt that the particular combination of elements has made running that early simply miserable, not to mention a little dangerous. I can run through snow, on ice, in rain or high winds, but to willingly combine those with the dark seems crazy–and I’m not an ultra-marathoner yet, otherwise it probably wouldn’t phase me.

I find myself longing for the doldrums so I CAN get up at 4am and run.

It's all about perspective.

When I lived in Alaska, I came to the conclusion that Alaskans have a special appreciation for spring. Winter is so cold and dark up there, when the temps get above freezing, people wear shorts outside.

Every little thing gives Alaskans hope: birdsong, a robin, two extra minutes of daylight, or seeing the top of your patio table emerge from the snowpack you thought was ground-level all winter. When the seat of your child’s swing is finally freed from its icy prison, you rejoice and kick the kid outside with a pair of rubber boots and some knit gloves.

The least little niblet of spring is savored.

Likewise, I think runners who train in the winter will enter spring with a new appreciation of the world. A little mud? Who cares? A  rain shower? No big deal–that’s why we have rain jackets.

At least it’s not icy.

At least the wind won’t make me feel like I’m lolling the wrong way on a moving sidewalk.

Right now I am both longing for and fighting the doldrums.

You may know that the word can simply mean a period of calm: horrible for sailors, great for runners. But it can also mean a depressed state of mind, and it is incredibly easy to let it swallow you up.

I looked up the word doldrums on the fount of all knowledge, WikiPedia, and “The term is derived from dold (an archaic term meaning stupid and -rum(s), a noun suffix found in such words as tantrum.”

I HAVE run in the wind, but I hate it so much, I’m having a ‘stupid tantrum’ about it–and it is something I need to guard against.

I can shake my fist in the air and yell, “Fine! I won’t run at all.” But the wind wouldn’t care. It would keep blowing branches off the trees and probably fling something at me in the process.

I trust that God has a reason for all this–I just can’t see it yet. My part is to just keep doing what I do (praying, reading scripture, staying active and eating a little chocolate) and trust that the patience I learn will refine me into something better.

I’ve gotten ‘creative’ by doing the elliptical in the basement (marginally better than running in high winds) and my sanity has been preserved by CrossFit, after which, I always feel better.

As things stand, I won’t be running a marathon on March 1st, as I had hoped, which takes away my motivation to do hard things like run in foul weather.

I find myself fighting against the doldrums.

I hope God gives me the strength to win.

Thanks A Lot

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Ours is probably the only house in this village that smells like pumpkin pie and turkey today. Like many of you, yesterday was spent cooking, running errands, cooking some more, and translating the word for ‘nutmeg’ into German.

Holidays, especially ones that are country-specific, can be difficult when you live abroad. In a few hours, everyone will pour into Grandma’s house, my aunts bringing their little lap dogs and plenty of great food.

And I won’t be there.

I am thankful for all those years I could be with my family, but I am also thankful for what I have now, at this very moment.

  • the God of the Universe, who daily gives me reasons to be thankful
  • my husband, who I love dearly

  • my kids, who make me laugh and who inspire me

  • my food processor, and the fact that I can afford to put food in it
  • my friends, who are like family to me

  • I have legs that will carry me through a marathon, if the mind is willing
  • my aches and pains, because they keep me on the right path
  • I can write words on a page that people want to read

  • my food allergies, because they force me to eat healthy(ish) whether I like it or not
  • I live in Europe, which is quite amazing when I really think about it

This list could go on and on, and I’m sure yours could too.

I could write volumes about my kids, and how absolutely amazing they are. Sometimes I look at them and think, “Where did you come from?” I know I bore them, and raised them, but they seem too good to be true for a person like me, with so many dark chapters in my backstory.

I could also rave about my friends, because I never thought that I, mid-narrative, would make friends who feel like sisters.

But I don’t want you to get the idea that my life boils down to a perfect little list of blessings.

My life does contain its share of difficult times: as much as I’d like to, I can’t simply edit them out of my life, though I can dress them up and make them look presentable.

Every marriage has issues to be worked out, every child needs correction from time to time, every parent needs consistency and patience, which are not easy things to balance. Sometimes we go through inner struggles as God seeks to refine us, and too often, these inner struggles are taken out on those around us. We get frustrated or discouraged or our feelings are hurt–these things are all part of life. And in retrospect, I AM thankful for the hard times, because they make me realize my own frailty, and my utter reliance upon God.

I have a lot to be thankful for–even the things that are not so pleasant to talk about. I’m sure the pilgrims were the same way. Theirs was not an easy journey–working eleven years in Holland to prepare for the trip, getting scammed, their money stolen, thrown in jail, persecuted by the government, having the “good” ship sink, having their friends (who probably felt like family to them) die in front of them, arriving in a frozen wasteland and having more people die, encountering a vastly different culture, and trying to walk with God through it all.

How could they NOT give in to despair during their journey? How could they go on AFTER the Thanksgiving feast was over?

Their journey, filled with toil and horrors that would send us straight to the doctor for antidepressants, forged them into a group of people who could endure in a hard, foreign land. And I am thankful they held on.

Struggles are difficult, and I wouldn’t wish hardship upon anyone, but as you make your list of thankfulness this year, ponder the bad stuff too. If you can’t even look at the hard times without falling apart, then maybe it’s time to turn to God.

He is the only one who can pick up the pieces, no matter where in this world you are.

There is hope, once the feast is over.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

For my family in the States, will someone please give Grandma a hug for me? 

Why God Wants Me to Run on Sundays

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For in Him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:28

One of the main moments of crises in the classic runner’s movie Chariots of Fire, is when Eric Liddell, a renown runner and Christian (later martyr), cannot bring himself to race on a Sunday, even if it means missing the Olympic trials.

I was contemplating this as I was running on Sunday.

I won’t go into the complete history of the sabbath here, but there are people who say the sabbath (a day set apart for God) shouldn’t be on Sunday at all but on Saturday.

We have a pastor friend who maintains his sabbath on Saturdays, because although he is doing churchy stuff, Sunday is a work day for him.

As I try and apply Biblical truths to my life in practical ways, the question isn’t so much “Is it okay to run on Sunday,” but rather, “Does running break the sabbath?” (because sometimes I run on Saturdays too!)

Jesus wasn’t big on man-made traditions, as shown in John 5:17 when, despite Pharisaic outrage, He healed a man on the sabbath, replying to the scoffers, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Jesus’ work was devoted to God, and therefore, He wasn’t breaking any commandments when He made the lame beggar walk.

Now, I’m not trying to equate running with miracles, nor am I attempting to put myself on the same level as Jesus, but if He is our example, then what kind of license does that give me regarding the sabbath?

The beauty of Biblical Christianity is that as a Christian, I am not bound to conform to any type of man-made religious regulations, but I have the freedom to be a unique child of God. And as long as I live by what I find in God’s word (without twisting it to fit my own crazy ideas) I’m on the right track.

Which is why I think God wants me to run on Sundays.

On the outside, running appears to be a vain, selfish endeavor, but for me, running is much more than a physical exercise, it is time I get to spend alone with God.

There are things that I need to talk to Him about, and when I run, I can not only talk to Him, but I can listen to Him as well. Running sharpens my mind and refreshes my spirit.

With every step I take through this gorgeous German countryside, I am thankful that the Creator of the Universe gave me life and breath and a knowledge of what is good and beautiful. He is the one who allows me to put one foot in front of the other (whether quickly or slowly), the one who keeps air in my lungs, and the one who surprises me with a group of deer or a field of flowers.

When I come back from a run (even in the most horrible weather), I feel centered again and ready to take on any task set before me. I am no theologian, but I think I just described the sabbath.

It is a day set apart for the Lord, in order that we, in our frail human bodies might be refreshed.

Rather than exhausting me, or causing my brain to shut down, running adds to my energy and resets any cross-wired circuits in my brain.

Because God is a God of order, the God of fixing things that are broken, and the God who makes the weak strong, I believe I should keep on running, no matter what day it is.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, Colossians 3:23