living a better story…

This post is an entrance to win a trip to Portland for DM’s conference of living a better story. I want to learn to craft my life in such a way that I have stories to tell and share with others, in hopes that in some small way I can influence someone else’s story for the better.

So, here goes:

I became a runner not because I wanted to, but because my brother had. It seemed logical: he ran cross country, made friends, won a few shiny things and had a great time. I wanted that. It fit the expectations of my family, friends, and community. Running seemed like a good thing to do, a challenge and something that would bring a reward, something better than coming home from school to eat cookies and watch soap operas.

So, I ran cross country, too. I wasn’t all that great at first, but soon enough I made varsity and it was thrilling. I’d like to say that my motives were pure, but, once again, the thrill of winning things, and having my family proud of me and finding my name in the paper were much more exciting than the actual race. I learned to identify myself as a runner in the correct social circles to ensure that what I was doing was valuable. When others asked what I did, running was at the top of the list. I wanted success wherever I could find it, and if running was deemed successful, then I pursued it head on.

But, because it wasn’t my passion, when the competition was done, it became very stale and boring. There was no life in it if I wasn’t competing. There was no expectation for me to meet and no opponent to beat. Instead, I began to look at running as the thing to do after I had one too many cookies or needed a break from life. For me, the actual act of running lost all meaning, but the idea of meeting other’s expectations and winning remained.

About this time, winter arrived; equipped with its best guns and ready to wreck havoc. Depending on where you are from, you may think you know what winter is, but please come spend 5 weeks in Michigan in late January or February and you’ll understand the bleakness it brings and the underlying sense of stumbling around in the dark, day in and day out. This particular winter was a bad one; it brought snow all the time, darkness, and no motivation. A typical day consisted of trudging to the bus to go to class, pretending to be interested, doing the work required, and coming home to play Dr. Mario on my roommate’s N64.

Somewhere deep within me, I knew this was not the kind of day to day routine I wanted, or that I wanted to tell others about. So, I signed up for a race. I thought it would be sensible to take up an activity that could get me some recognition, was deemed correct by the community and had a bit of challenge to it. Running in the snow certainly fit the ticket and so I began. I printed off a schedule that the race sponsors provided and ran exactly how long and when it told me to run. I followed this religiously even when all that was in me was screaming to take a break, breath a little, and eat something.

I became addicted to running, once again, not because I wanted it, but because it met the expectations of someone out there. I disregarded the needs of my body and soul for the goal of finishing a 25K. I began to place my run as the activity of the day; the one thing that needed to be accomplished. One particular run led me down an unplowed road in -10 degree weather. I don’t remember the run at all, I only slightly remember arriving home and lying on the floor exhausted. I pushed myself through this, not because I wanted to run faster at the race, but because the schedule required this of me and I knew that I had adequately burned the amount of calories I deemed acceptable. This kind of self-judgment began to overtake my life. Every time I ate more than I anticipated in a day, I beat myself up about it the next day. I would stand in the shower analyzing my thighs or arms, obsessively ensuring that nothing had grown magically overnight.

Eventually, my actions towards others also began to reflect the judgment and extreme pressure I put on myself. I was harsh with my closest of friends, showing no grace if they didn’t ‘follow the schedule’. If one of my friends showed up late, I would secretly harbor some sort of grudge against them. Or if they came to me honest and open, I tried to listen, but all I could think of was nice solutions orcompare their problems to my own, without graciously accepting where they were coming from and being present for them. There was no grace in my story, no joy, and no admitting the path I had taken.

I couldn’t admit what I was doing to myself or others, because failure was not allowed in my self- concocted world. To admit that, maybe, I needed help or counseling, that my ‘unexplained’ weight loss wasn’t due to a fast metabolism, but to the fact that I wasn’t feeding my body would be utterly unacceptable to the community I spent my whole life with. Growing up in a tight Christian circle yielded these types of things as ‘problems’, something my parents’ friends would certainly talk about over Styrofoam coffee and stale cookies. It didn’t fit into their nice world like running and good grades did.

The day of the race came, and my body knew it was exhausted. There was no fuel in the tank; therefore, the race became one more mark on my destructive path. It looked like I was doing the right thing, but in actuality, what I was doing was so far from the true, good act of running that it was a joke. I was living and running like a fraud, walking through life not recognizing the support of friends, not being honest with them, and not even listening to the cries of my very own body.

Unfortunately, this destructive journey did not immediately end when the race did; it took time and gentle prodding. Eventually, however, by God’s grace, something sparked in me to change. Maybe it was the fact that I was surrounded by people who loved and cared about me and I finally didn’t feel like I had to meet their expectations, or maybe I realized I was so deeply broken I no longer cared. Either way, something caused me to make a pact with a friend to sign up for counseling that fall, no matter what.

I remember the first session clearly. I was so afraid and didn’t really wanting healing because I knew it would require change and difficult thought. It wouldn’t be easy. It would require me to dig up all the crazy expectations I had placed on myself all my life. It would require me to listen to my body and soul crying out and to be gracious and kind to that cry. But, after a few months of this, I was in a better place. I still searched wildly for expectations to exceed and ways to live in a manner pleasing to society and my community, but at the very least, I recognized my own body’s cry for nourishment and I learned to listen to it.

A few years later, I decided to sign up for the same race that led me to the deepest depths of hunger, sorrow, and sadness. But this time, I wanted it to be different. I began to run, but instead of following the schedule to the tee, I broke it a few times. I only ran 4 times a week instead of 6, and I trusted beyond my power that this was okay because it felt right. Sometimes I’d even skip an anticipated run because friends were going out for dinner, and community is important.

The day of the race arrived, and, this time, I felt powerful. I wanted this more than anything else. Yes, it would make my friends and family proud and it did meet a lot of people’s expectations for me, and for that I was happy. Deeper than that though, I knew this time I had listened to my body, perhaps better than I knew how. It was by God’s grace I had strength and power and I ran. I ran because I wanted it.

And it was the best run of my life. I broke crazy goals, felt like a champion, and crossed the finish line still aware of my surroundings and full of a deep joy and accomplishment that glowed from my face. I had finished within my time goal, yes, but more important than anything else, I had listened to my body and soul and that proved to be the best thing.

The passion I discovered through this race was profound. I was running not for anyone else, not because it’s how my brother made friends in high school, or because it made my parents proud or that it looked good at work, but because it illustrated a deep inward journey that I had walked and labored and stumbled through and had somehow made it to this point.

I want to live a story based on what God wants for me, not on what others want for me. If society says I must graduate, get a nice job, a hard-working husband and a dog to bring to the groomer every week, I may do some of these things, but only if it’s because of a deeper yearning and calling. If I’m a student, I want to do well because I care and because God calls me to do all things excellently for him not just because it looks nice to have friendly little A’s on a report card.

If I keep running, I will run for the sheer exuberance it brings. My story will not be one of calorie counting, of deprivation or of selfishness. My story will be a life giving one, to myself and others, a symphony and chorus filled with what matters. If I can continue living with that frame of mind, , then no matter what I give my life to, it will be given out of a deep calling from God and not for anyone else. And that will be the best thing, because listening to that call is what matters in this life.

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

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