Pounding Pavement: On the Road Again

running1They say the first step is the hardest.

It’s mostly true for me. I haven’t done anything remotely like exercise forever – unless you count chasing the twins into the bath or wrangling diapers on and off them. At the beginning of July Andy and I decided to hold each other accountable to run every other day. I knew getting out the door would be the hardest. No. Actually, lacing up my shoes would be the hardest. Scratch that, too. Finding my workout clothes and sports bras and running socks would be the hardest step.

But that first step. The honest-to-God first step off the sidewalk out onto the road? In reality, it feels pretty amazing.

It feels like I never stopped running. Those aches and pains from lugging three squirming babies all around town I woke up with in the morning seem like they never existed and I am 17 again.

But then I get to the point in the run where I need to turn around. I dread the hills that I now have to climb forgetting too quickly they were easy because of the downward slope on the way out and not because of my stamina. The full force and weight of my almost-atrophied muscles makes all my limbs unmanageable. I’m plodding along like the Ents (talking trees) in Lord of the Rings (#nerdalert) arms swinging uselessly. My feet start throbbing and my mythical abs feel crampy. I’m thirsty and my lips are unnaturally parched. I start thinking that maybe I should just walk and try running later.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet…-Hebrews 12

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Andy talked this past Sunday in his sermon about the Boston Marathon and a stretch of the race that runners call Heartbreak Hill. Even though it doesn’t climb that high in elevation it comes at around the mile 20 where many runners slam straight into their wall.

Sometimes the middle is the hardest.

Sometimes being in the middle of uncertainty about finances and a home on the verge of foreclosure – that’s the hardest. Sometimes being in the middle of depression and loneliness while everyone else around you seems to have it all figured out – that’s the hardest. Sometimes being in the middle of piles of dirty clothes, screaming children, burning dinner, spastic dog, and 100 unread emails and half finished blogs – that’s the hardest.

The first step isn’t so bad. The middle? Heartbreak.

When Andy and I were in seminary together and Jimmy Eat World was becoming that band that everyone talked about constantly he made me a mixed CD when I was feeling swallowed up by it all. And The Middle was the first song.

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything will be just fine, everything will be alright.

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I’m 35 now. I carry these words “it takes time” and “everything will be fine” like a quiet prayer because I need simple. Simple words. Simple ways. Simple practices. But I pound out the words with my feet with all the careful deliberation of monks making a precious mandala. And it shapes me. When I get swept up into the middle of the chaos that eventually finds me I know I can find solace in those prayers remaining and working, even more, really anchoring me to that Something outside of myself – many names though I call God, Jesus, Holy Spirit – but not get swept away with the hands and brooms of artists starting over.