Friday, February 14, 2014

on loving myself

For the past few summers, I've been helping to lead the senior Kairos retreat at my school and in my talks, one of the focuses always seems to be theme of learning to love myself.  This past year, I had a student come up to me after my talk and ask me "how do you love yourself?"  I didn't know what to tell her, started crying and gave her a big hug, because this is something that I have had to continually work on throughout my life. Since graduating from college, this is a lesson and a job that I've realized in the last three years is the single-best thing I could have done for myself, my friends, my family and my future husband and children. 

After graduation a lot of my closest friends moved away, and I spent a lot of time with people who were part of my bigger social group because we were the ones left.  I enjoyed getting to know these people better and making memories with them, but after a few years, I began to realize that those relationships were not enriching or life-giving and I began to pull away.  We didn't have the same values or life-trajectories and I began to get down on myself because I didn't want to go out and drink all the time, I had other things I wanted to do with my time and energy.  So, on more than a few cold, lonely winter nights, I sat in my favorite arm chair, eating my favorite pasta, grading papers, drinking a bottle of wine (sometimes the whole thing), and feeling proud of myself for being strong enough to say no and to risk being lonely to be happy.  There was a solace in sadness; at least I was doing what I wanted and being true to me.

Pulling away from these friends coincided with a 4-month long relationship that was never right from the start.  We didn't have a connection, we didn't love each other and he was wise enough to see that.  I was crushed.  I had put so much of my hope and my happiness into the fact that I had a boyfriend-- it could have been anyone.  It took me a very long time to get over the hurt and despair that I found myself in.  Here I was, 27 years old, with my younger brother getting married and a knee I had put-out while trying to get my ex to fall in love with me.  I spent a lot of time crying that winter, of wishing my life were so different.  I also spent a lot of time at yoga, which helped me in profound ways.  It gave me time away to focus on strengthening my body, which wound up strengthening my heart and my soul.  It helped me deal with my emotions in a healthy way and gave me hope.  It taught me that I am strong, valuable and capable and for that, I will be forever grateful. 

As I waded back into the dating pool I made myself some promises: that I wouldn't settle and that at the end of the day, WHO I was, WHAT I was and what I DID had to be enough.  I had to be enough for me when I laid down to sleep at night and when I got up in the morning.  I also promised myself that I would speak up for myself, I would tell him when he hurt my feelings or when something wasn't right.  I had worked so hard to be safe and confident in myself that I couldn't let someone take that from me.  And so, when I entered my most recent relationship, I told him that off the bat, one of our very first deep conversations.  But eventually, I forgot.  I couldn't love him the way he wanted me to, and so not only did I question my standards and beliefs, I began to question everything: my role in my family, my teaching, the friendship I was offering to other.  I couldn't make simple decisions about what to wear in the morning, or what color underwear without getting stressed out, I stopped trusting my instincts because they had created this huge issue in our relationship that was all my fault.  At the end of the day, I wasn't enough.  At the end of lots of days, I wasn't enough.  After three solid weeks of crying every single day, and an afternoon when I sat on his couch SOBBING that I didn't know how to make him happy, I came to realize that I had broken my promise to myself.  I realized just how unhappy I was and that our relationship, for a variety of reasons, was not enriching or life-giving to me and that I simply did not want to marry him.  After the shortest break-up of a 10-month relationship on record, I came home and cried for about 30 minutes, while I put everything that had accumulated at his house over the course of our relationship away, got a bit indignant that he didn't try to convince me to stay and then ate dinner and haven't cried since.

That love that I have for myself, so far down inside that has been supported and nurtured by the true friends that I have now, by my family and by God bubbled up inside and gave me the strength to end a relationship that I truly cherished and that I learned a lot about myself and life from.  The year-long road of self-discovery and self-love that I found myself on after that first breakup has served me well; I know who I am, I know what I want and I am confident that I will find it one of these days.  In the meantime, I'm going to spend time with the people I love, doing the things I love, being me!  This week, this means going to a happy hour where I knew not a soul and staying home with the dog on Valentine's Day so that I can get up to run on the snowy roads tomorrow morning with a bunch of other people just as crazy as me!  I'm not going to stress out over not having plans, I need to live life at my pace and sometimes that means I need to sit at home and chill or hole up and grade papers for hours on end, or soak up the Olympics from the couch. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

We came for the walk; we stayed for the fellowship

It always amazes me that we have the ability to connect with complete strangers when we find ourselves in the same situation, whether it be a fellow stranded traveler or someone in line at the grocery store who just happens to be buying your very favorite candy, or maybe someone you see everyday on your way to work.  Regardless, we have a connection to these people on a very human level and for a period of time, we are connected and fully aware of the other as a human being.

 My mom and I found this at Winton Woods park out on the trail as we walked our old dog, Meeko (pictured left) every morning.  We got Meeko when I turned 16 and because Australian Shepherds are working dogs, he needed that daily 6-mile walk to expend his energy.  Jo-Momma walks every day and I join her when I'm off.  We make a point of greeting everyone on the trail, picking up trash and acting as ambassadors to people who have never been to our little piece of paradise.

 Over the course of the past 12 years, we have come to know many of the people who are out there every day, rain/shine/heat/wind/cold and even on holidays and snow days.  There's a few people who we simply get a wave and a nod from and then there are those who will turn around to walk extra miles just to talk with us.  Mostly we stop to chit-chat about the weather, grandkids and the antics of my students while the dogs sniff each other out and enjoy their treats that everyone carries for them. Although we don't know each other's last names, we have a very strong bond.  When we had to put Meeko down, somehow everyone found out in the matter of days and we had cards show up at our house and on our car at the grocery store.  When I had ACL surgery, they all shared my triumph of being able to walk around the loop without needing to rest and then again when I could run the whole thing.  When we don't see someone for weeks, we worry and keep asking around until we find someone who has seen them.   

One of the greatest friends we made is a woman named Lynn and her dog, Lucky--a rescued beagle.  Lynn is in her 70s and is a very slight woman who is just as likely to complain about the heat as she is to put a sweater on Lucky anytime the mercury dips below 50.  Lynn is out there every day, and on nice days, even twice.  She carries a variety of treats for the picky eaters of the group and even carries water and a bowl in case any pooches need a drink.  Lynn has a few resting places that she frequents and sometimes we let Jasper off his leash and he goes tearing across the field toward her and Lucky, startling and delighting them both.  Because I don't get out to the park everyday, Lynn will often give me a hug when she sees me.  While she typically sticks to the paved path, every once in a while, Lynn hikes her walker over the curb and Lucky leads her down the actual road to go on an adventure and see something different than what we normally see everyday. 

This is just what she was doing this past week when the trail was too frozen for a 75 year old woman with a walker and an enthusiastic dog, on the same park road that I've already written about.  She was on the side of the road when snow plows, riding tandem, as they often do for more efficient clearing, hit Lynn.  The power of the walking community became evident immediately.  Within 24 hours everyone in our walking community had heard the news.  Although most of us don't even know each other's last names, we were able to get a hold of each other.  For instance, my mom knew what church one of the women goes to, so she called the church and described her and she got the number and my mom and the other woman went down to visit Lynn a few days ago.  At the time, Lynn was in the second of a series of surgeries that she will have to have, but her daughter was there and absolutely stunned that they showed up.  Lynn always tells her kids that walking at Winton Woods every day is her life, but they didn't understand until that moment when the people that Lynn shares a few brief moments with every morning showed up to support her and show their love in her darkest hour.  Lynn is in really bad shape: she's got four fractures in her back, a broken femur and ankle on one leg and a broken patella and tibia on the other. Her walking days are over. 

Lynn needs her community right now more than ever and this has caused this community to break the boundaries of their relationships, and to leave the park, to find out each other's last names, addresses, phone numbers and what they look like when they're not in their walking clothes.  This group full of the most unlikely of friends has rallied together in the coldest, snowiest winter in recent memory to support one of the members at it's heart.

**While I am very angry that this happened and am so very worried about Lynn pulling through all of her terrible injuries, my heart also goes out to that plow driver.  Who would have expected a little old lady to be in the road on a snowy, icy day?  No matter what the outcome for Lynn, I know that his life will be changed in a very profound way, so as much as I pray for Lynn's healing, I also pray for the heart and soul of that man who must be feeling so much guilt, regret and questions at this point.  I will continue to hope for the recovery of Lynn and for peace to that driver.