I wake in the darkness, pull on running shoes, headband and clip on a pedometer.
There’s a new chill in the air. Summer is giving way to Fall. Last night, I had visions and disturbing dreams. I only know one cure for this: a challenging trail run.
And so I go. I run with friends because I’ve learned I can’t do this thing alone. I can’t get fit alone. I can’t get myself out of my head alone. I can’t heal alone. I need community.
We are a rogue, ragtag community of runners. We are not elite. We are in different stages of life and have different beliefs.
Since I began running with these women some of us have lost loved ones, gone through divorce, gotten tattoos, wept over broken hearts, changed jobs, changed diapers, changed hair color. But something remains: the run.
We are bound by pain and we are loosed by it. We grimace and grunt and sweat in the most unladylike of ways. But we also laugh and joke and cheer each other on. I get up in the dark because these are my women, this is my community and I know they’re waiting for me.
Do you have community? What does it look like? How does a sense of belonging help you?
Or maybe you don’t have community…where do you find YOUR sense of belonging?
Growing up fundamentalist, my body was a constant source of annoyance and betrayal. It was a vile body, a body of death. It couldn’t be trusted. A woman’s feelings led her astray from God’s will and a woman’s curves led men astray into sin.
I was taught to systematically shut down my feelings. I was taught to ignore my gut instinct. I was taught to completely cover my body.
Yes, our bodies were temples but the way to honor a temple was by covering it up, hiding it away and ignoring it. We were spiritual beings. Our bodies were mere vehicles. It was the inner person that mattered. We liked to quote I Timothy 4:8: “Bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable for all things!”
I guess it’s no surprise, then, that for most of my life I was adverse to exercise. I hated sweating. I hated moving. I especially hated running.
Running, I believed, was for a select breed of human, naturally gifted with long legs and genetically elite lungs.
For most of my life I lived outside my body. I ignored and suppressed my feelings. I drank gallons of caffeine to make up for sleep deprivation. I ate a poor diet. I did not exercise. And I bore five children.
After the twins were born, my body was a wreck. My immune system went down first: I was susceptible to every cold, flu and virus that passed within a five mile radius of my house. My menstrual cycle went crazy: I bled for two weeks each month. I got depressed. I gained weight. I lost interest in sex.
This is what I’ve learned: my body is important. It is very important. My body is good. It is very good. How I feel is important. It is very important. My feelings are good. They are very good.
My feelings and my body tell me important things. It is detrimental to my physical and spiritual health to ignore and suppress the things my body and my feelings are trying to tell me.
One year ago, in addition to a physical breakdown, I was suffering a spiritual crisis. I was disillusioned. My usual method for restarting my spirituality was praying more, fasting more, reading Scripture more. Except this time, I couldn’t do that anymore. It wasn’t working.
I stopped praying. I stopped fasting. I stopped reading Scripture.
Instead, I went running.
I started getting up at 5am every morning, lacing up my shoes and attending bootcamp before sunrise. I hated it. I hated every minute. My mind told me things like: running is bad, exercise is dangerous, getting fit is vain, you’re being selfish, you’ll never keep this up, why do people do this? this is insane! You’re going to die! STOP. NOW.
I kept going. I didn’t listen to my mind.
Two weeks later, I saw the first change. I could run just a little farther. I had more energy each day.
About three weeks into bootcamp, I experienced my first runner’s high. It was like an orgasm. It was sensuous. My entire body and mind was flooded with brilliance. I had been awakened. My body was alive.
I don’t run for speed or medals. I run for the feeling. I run for the orgasmic exhaustion, the sensation of being utterly spent. I run for the sweat pouring down my face and for the pounding of my real heart. I run for my heaving lungs and burning muscles. I run to expend every last shred of stress. I run to cast off my past.
I run to find God.
I run because each time my feet hit the pavement, pain is transfigured to glory.
I’m sitting here this morning trying to figure out what happened this past weekend. There’s a fragment of Scripture coursing through my heart: the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). This isn’t what I expected God to do at Allume. But reconciliation, healing and the hard work of peace-making really IS what happened, what is happening.
And might I dare suggest that God is using women to accomplish this ministry of reconciliation within the body of Christ?
Because if there is one thing I saw this weekend at Allume, it’s that women are weary of strife and division.
We are sick of us vs. them.
We are no longer willing to play the proof-texting, doctrine-scrutinizing, outsider-insider game.
We are ready–oh, we are SO ready–to lay aside our weapons and embrace each other. We are already loving across denominational lines. We are becoming what we already are: one in Christ.
It’s been a long time coming. But our dark night of the divided Christian soul just might be breaking into marvelous light.
If you’ve read here in the past year, you know I’ve been battling my own dark night of the soul. Actually, it’s been more like five years.
And then I started running. Literally running. As in, lacing up my shoes and doing the one thing I hated most: running.
My legs hated running. My feet hated running. My brain hated running. In fact, every fiber of my being fought against running.
When I first started running, I could hardly run half a city block. I ran for less than 2 minutes and felt like I was dying. I also hated those runner-type people who suggested stuff like: “Hey, let’s go for a run!”
To me that sounded like: “Hey, let’s go poke out our eyeballs!”
But something quite unexpected starting happening after about seven months of running: I started enjoying running. I started looking forward to a long, sweaty run. The hard work of running strengthened my body, healed my depression and–I know this sounds crazy–made me less cynical about God.
Running became a sort of spiritual experience. I was outdoors. I was moving. I was breathing. Running gave me a sense of incredible freedom.
This morning, to celebrate my Allume homecoming, I went for a 2 mile run. I borrowed my husband’s iShuffle. I had no idea what kind of music he had stored on it, so I just hit play. It was a worship-y song. I’m not super into those. I was about to fast-forward when I heard the opening line: Into marvelous light I’m running.
I smiled. I WAS running into marvelous light. I was running IN marvelous light.
So, I listened and I ran out of darkness, out of shame.
I was running like a total goofball with a huge grin across my face.
Your breath fills up my lungs. Now I’m free, now I’m free.
I hit repeat and listened again. I ran and I smiled and yeah, I might have shouted THANK YOU, JESUS!
Because do you know what happened to me this past weekend? I was healed. In community. I’ve been waiting for that for 10 years. I never, ever imagined I’d feel content, peaceful and happy in a group of Christian women. But that happened for me this past weekend.
Marvelous light broke all over me. It was the moment I’d been waiting for: confirmation that my story would be redeemed, that my story would end with God, that no matter how much darkness I’ve lived through–the Light of the world would shatter my darkness.
This is what I know for sure: if God can heal ME–a faith-wounded, scarred, frightened, cynical and disillusioned woman–His love is far, far bigger than I ever imagined.
And He can heal you, too. I’m so very sure of it now.
Run with me.
Run into marvelous light.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4-5)
Make it fun! ENFP’s get all deflated and mopey if they don’t have something fun to do or something fun to look forward to. When it comes to fitness, ENFPs need group exercise because the social interaction provides the necessary element of fun. For example, if enough people are running a 5k, an ENFP will run just to be with her friends.
Set short-term goals. Telling an ENFP that exercise will increase longevity is useless. ENFPs don’t think long-term. She needs something more immediately tangible; ie. exercise will help her fit into those pre-pregnancy jeans in one month!
Provide positive feedback. ENFPs are motivated by affirmation and validation. They want you to notice how hard they’re working. Keeping track of an ENFPs progress and then commenting on it is a surefire way to inspire an ENFP to remain committed to exercise.
Accountability. ENFPs resist conformity and don’t like being bossed around. However, they do appreciate honesty and being held accountable–in a way that respects their unique out-of-the-box thinking. Positive reinforcement works. Yelling doesn’t.
Cute outfits! ENFPs like to experiment with clothing. ENFPs shouldn’t wait until they lose weight to purchase a cute exercise outfit. Purchase one immediately. Chances are, the prospect of wearing something fun and pretty will be its own source of motivation. Confession: I’ve hauled my ass out of bed for bootcamp JUST BECAUSE I wanted to wear the cute outfit.
I ran my first 5k in 32:52. I placed 31st in my age category. I can honestly say it was one of the happiest days of this whole year. I laughed, I met up with bloggers and hung out with my pals from bootcamp. Running and fitness has radically changed my life for the better. Nine months ago I could barely run for 2 minutes. And I hated it! Every stride was painful, every minute felt like an hour. But I just kept going. Slowly–verrrry slowly–I increased my endurance.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. But small changes, repeated every day lead to complete transformation.
This is what I know: when you make positive change in ONE part of your life, it affects EVERY part of your life. I used to think I needed to get my WHOLE life under control all at once. I now realize this kind of perfectionistic thinking is a setup for failure. It is too much. It is too overwhelming. It is far better to focus on tiny, small, infinitesimal changes.
Can you simply put on your exercise clothes? GREAT! Just do that! Don’t even go to the gym! Don’t even exercise. Just put on the exercise clothes and tie up your running shoes. Then, go drink a cup of coffee. (I got this awesome idea from a column by Martha Beck).
Do you want to be a better homemaker? Just clean your sink. (That’s Fly-Lady).
I’m increasingly convinced that small acts of change are far superior to grand gestures. In the end, isn’t life really about the little things? The true measure of a person is based on their small acts of daily character: how they treat drivers on the freeway, how they tip their server at the restaurant, how they talk to their children, how they judge others, whether they gossip or encourage, whether they are always rushing around or take time to just be.
The important thing is not to mistake small change with easy change. Change is always hard and uncomfortable. This is precisely why it’s better to start very small. Getting fit is painful. It takes effort. The hard truth is that you’ll never get fit by popping a pill and then sitting on your ass. Shortcuts might lead to temporary results, but they’ll never effect true, longterm transformation.
There are no shortcuts in love–or fitness. Anyone who promises overnight results is a liar.
The good news is that you don’t have make huge changes. Making small, incremental changes that you sustain for a long time leads to total life transformation. In fitness, if you suddenly dive into an intense exercise regimen you will probably injure yourself.
But as one of my dearest friends told me when I started my fitness journey: “You can do anything for two minutes.” This is true. Just run for 2 minutes.
And then maybe 2 minutes more.
You can’t change your life in 2 minutes, but you CAN change it in 2 minute increments!
I’ve written about how running has changed my life. I just finished 8 months of bootcamp and I can testify that hard exercise is one of the BEST things I’ve ever done for myself AND my family! Within the first two weeks I started seeing results: better energy and less depressive feelings. Within the first two months I started noticing physical changes: I could run a mile without stopping and I started getting muscle definition! I have lost 11 pounds and FOUR dress sizes. I used to be a size 8, now I’m a size 4! But better than all that–I feel FABULOUS. I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
This was me 8 months ago:
This is me now:
Eight months ago I could only run HALF A BLOCK. Then I had to stop. Now I can run three miles without stopping. Eight months ago I could only do 10 leg lifts. Today I can do 50. Eight months ago my mile time was: 12 minutes, 10 seconds. My fastest mile time now is: 8 minutes, 40 seconds.
Eight months ago I had NO core strength and NO upper body strength. I could not finish ONE push-up. I’m not kidding. I could not do a push-up. Now? I can do 10 in a row.
I’m sharing all this with you today because I’ve learned that taking care of my body is one of the BEST ways to take control of my life and my happiness.
“No, you’re not!” my bootcamp instructor yelled back.
He was right and I was wrong. I wasn’t dying. I just felt like it. For the past ten minutes, my mind had been engaged in all out warfare against me. My mind was rapid-firing these thoughts: Ow, ow, ow. Pain, pain, pain. Pain means something is wrong. You are dying. Is this a heart attack I feel? It is! I’m dying! I’m dying! STOP NOW!
And it wasn’t just my thoughts. I was dry heaving. I felt dizzy. I felt literally sick.
It was sheer craziness to continue. Only an absolute fanatic would keep going, right? Only a total whackaloon. Exercise is for idiot fanatics!
Instead of stopping, I slowed down. Caught my breath a little. My bootcamp instructor was right. I wasn’t dying, after all. So, I started running again.
But later, as I thought about this, I started freaking out a little bit. What was happening to me during the workout felt so real. I really thought I might die. But the truth was that I was nowhere near dying.
So, what was really happening? This was happening: even after three months of bootcamp, my ass still doesn’t like moving.
My ass so dislikes moving that it will engage every weapon in its arsenal to make me stop moving. I will feel sick. I will dry heave. I will think awful, horrible, end-of-the-world thoughts.
This freaks me out.
I would like to think that I have total control over my mind. I would like to believe that what I think is true. But bootcamp has shown me something deeply disturbing: my mind can trick me into believing something false.
This really terrifies me. It’s almost a feeling of alien possession, as if my mind has a life of its own. Here’s the crux of it: how do I know what is real? If my mind can so persuasively convince me that I’m dying–when I’m not–what else is it persuading me to believe?
What if even my faith is a mind trick? I mean, I believe certain things. But believing in them doesn’t make them true, necessarily. However, by choosing to believe, I start experiencing confirmation bias. Once I lean into belief, things start happening which seem to confirm that belief.
The hopeful part of this is that positive believing seems to make manifest positive beliefs. Ultimately, I needed my bootcamp instructor to insert a positive thought into my barrage of negative ones. Once I heard his encouraging words, I was able to momentarily adjust my perception of what was happening. It didn’t take the pain away, but it kept me from quitting entirely.
Later, when I looked in the mirror, I could see with my own eyes that he was right. There is positive change happening in my body. Positive change is painful and difficult, but it reaps true results. For the first time since highschool, I can see muscle definition in my upper arms.
When it comes to matters of spirituality, I can’t say I know with absolute certainty that my beliefs are empirically true. Yes, I believe they are and, yes, I’ve placed my faith in them. But I also admit the possibility that maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. Maybe I’ve told myself these beliefs are true so many times that now I don’t just believe they are true for me personally, I also believe they are universally true for everyone.
The more I think about God, the more I talk to God, the more I pray and read Scripture–the more I believe in God. Does this make the existence of God more real empirically speaking or just more real to me, personally?
I don’t know.
But I’ve decided that I’m OK with that.
Ultimately, I’ve had an experience of Divine Love. I feel remarkably grateful for that. I don’t think it has anything to do with me, necessarily. Others search and pray and strive for an experience of Divine Love and perhaps never find it. I caught a glimpse of it. And it was enough.
It has momentarily adjusted my perception. The pain of life is still here. But Love keeps me from quitting faith entirely.