Archive for August, 2012


Running for my Life

Ok. So, I talked about starting Couch to 5k earlier in the summer. Well, I think the universe heard me because we got some really hot weather down here after that. Now, I grew up in Georgia, so I am used to functioning in typical Georgia heat. Normal Georgia heat is no problem for me, but when I was growing up, I only once remember having the kind of heat we have had over the past few summers. This well-over-one-hundred-degree heat with roughly-one hundred-percent-humidity makes me want to hibernate. Bears hibernate when it is cold, I tend to hibernate when it is hot, which is also the reason I haven’t posted much to this blog in the past few weeks.  No, I don’t hibernate in the sense that I eat a lot and then sleep for a long time, for that would defeat the purpose, since eating creates energy and energy creates heat. I’m only half kidding. Sort of.  I do stay inside the house, where the air conditioning has some chance of dispersing some of the heat.  I grew up in a house that wasn’t air conditioned, also in Georgia, so I figure I’ve paid my dues. I am very hedonistic in this matter.

Needless to say, then, I tried to get myself in gear to run in that type of heat, but it didn’t work. I tried running early in the morning, when the temperature was a balmy 88 or 89 degrees, with roughly one hundred percent humidity. I tried running later in the evening, when the air had cooled from the heat of the day, or even after we had had a shower to dispel some of the humidity. That didn’t work either, largely because I don’t find it motivating to exercise in a sauna, where the air is so thick that breathing is difficult, nor do I find it particularly beneficial to expose myself to heatstroke for the sake of staying healthy. Kind of defeats the purpose, in my opinion. In fairness, one of the reasons it was so difficult is the extra weight I am carrying. When I came back from Peace Corps seven years ago, I was used to running regularly there, and I drank plenty of water, so I had my own type of internal air conditioner. But, I was also in my late twenties, and that was before I spent years working too long in my classroom, and caring for a terminally ill family member (the events otherwise known as gaining sixty pounds). So, that was the state of the C25K program in my life until recently. I thought my 5k running adventure had ended before it really got started.

Enter Chubby Jones. Chubby, whose real name is Mia, has created a series of podcasts (or three) for the iPod, with voiced over music for the C25K program. They are really nicely done, and I find them quite motivational. Since the unusual weather pattern we are having means that the heat has subsided into a wet and very nearly chilly-in-the-morning August, (shh, maybe the universe won’t hear me) I started the program again. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It only sucked a little. I am pushing myself, but I am also going at my own pace, acknowledging what my body’s limitations are. I still run like Forrest Gump, but at least I am running. It is one positive change that will lead to others.

What kinds of obstacles do you face during your exercise routine? How do you overcome them? I will look forward to reading your stories in the comments section below.

 

 

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A/N: This is the prologue to a new story I am working on. I welcome constructive comments from readers. Please let me know if anything doesn’t flow well or if there are any problems you see. I appreciate your help.

Prologue

The darkening sun settled below the horizon and the surrounding hills, which were once rosy golden with the sun’s fury, now sank into the purple blue shadows of night. The stately old Romanov mansion sat atop the highest hill in the tiny town of Silver City, which was actually part of a larger city, though the citizens would never admit it. All that could be seen of the house from the road were the two gables on either side of the roof. The rest of the house was hidden from view by the thick growth of trees that framed each edge of the property along the road, and a high stone wall that surrounded the grounds immediately around the place. The tall, forbidding wrought iron gate creaked on its hinges between two crumbling stone columns, and the gravel drive meandered way back through the trees and disappeared from sight about halfway to the house. The part of the house that anyone could see seemed well kept, but it almost seemed to have an invisible shield around it that would not allow anyone to enter there. Almost.

For you see, this house was no ordinary house. Families had come and gone over the years, most of them progeny of the Romanovs, but some family friends as well. Visitors came and went from the old house, and it was even rented a time or two. That was before the house had burned some years back, and now it simply lay in ruins. This house had many secrets, like old houses do, and some battle scars too. Many of the folks in the town below claimed to have, in their youth, been guests of one Romanov or the other, and to have stayed in the house with the family. None of them would talk about their experiences in the house, but none of them could be persuaded to return either.

The groundskeeper was an old shriveled little man, skeletally thin, who looked in danger of being blown away by a puff of wind. He resembled a large, upright turtle. Not being blessed with much of a neck, all he could do was move his head from side to side in an arc when he wanted to look around. The strange thing about the gatekeeper is that no one ever saw him in town. He never went into town for supplies, he never even left the property to visit a restaurant or tavern in the tiny town below. In fact, the only glimpses folks got of him were in passing, when he passed near enough to the gate while mowing grass or pruning flowers. That was the only way they knew he was real, and not just some story made up next to the bonfire, to scare the kids.

The dusky sky had reached that delightfully white time after twilight and before nightfall. This is the time of changing, the time outside of time, when lines are blurred, when boundaries grow ever thinner and thinner, and some with the power in such things can see through to that other world. Some with the power to do so can even step from the realm of that world into this one, and vice versa. One must be careful to return before the time of changing ends, and time begins again, or else risk being stranded somewhere one might not wish to be. No one really knew what would happen if one got stranded, and no one really wanted to find out.

Good Dr. Romanov was one such man, or so it was rumoured anyway. He was an ageless figure, overly tall and overly thin, with the look of one who was slightly ill, as though he’d not completely grown into his body or else suffered long years of malnutrition. He wobbled slightly when he walked, although there was no evident explanation for this. His demeanor was slightly careworn, and his clothing smelled of dark, dank places, and mothballs. Indeed, there were small patches in places where the moths had eaten through various pieces of clothing upon his person. His face was creased with worry lines, though he did not act old, but his warm brown eyes blazed with the knowledge of things and places no one else would ever see. His expression rarely changed, and he never smiled, as though he had forgotten how to work the muscles that would cause the deed to happen.

People generally fear that which they do not understand, and so, Dr. Romanov was often seen walking through town at nightfall, a solitary figure in a long, black cloak. He carried an old fashioned medical bag with him wherever he went, a testament to his chosen profession. As far as anyone knew, he had no patients, so what he carried in the bag was a mystery, like most things about him. People could often be seen crossing to the other side of the street when they saw him coming. For his part, Dr. Romanov wished the world at large no harm; in fact, he had dedicated his life to trying to help people. He simply chose to meet the world on his own terms. He tried to help where he could, and otherwise just wished to be left alone.

As far as the folks in the village below were concerned, leaving him alone was all right by them. In fact, most of the parents forbade their children to play anywhere in the vicinity of the old house, going so far as to tell them the house was inhabited by ghosts, in order to keep them away from it. Children, being what they are, were more curious about the house than frightened by it, and their parents dire warnings of ghosts just made them want to play around the old house even more.  An old, winding road ran up the hill in front of the house and drew on a little further along to the top of the hill.  It became a sort of gathering place where whispered conferences were held about the strangeness of the house and its elusive inhabitants before they zoomed down the hill, racing their friends until the house was out of sight once more.

On the evening that our story begins, we find Dr. Romanov seated in his library, in front of a tall cabinet with darkened glass doors. The library was hidden between several other rooms in the house, and a visitor would never know it existed unless they were invited to enter. Dr. Romanov warmed his feet in front of the fire, sipping something in a mug on the desk in front of him while he did so, and perusing the papers he was holding in his hand thoughtfully. Though the room appeared empty except for him, he was talking to someone.

“Yes, yes, I realize that we need someone new. Time draws short. It will not be long before she comes again, and we must be ready to face her.”

He paused, as if listening for a response, still deeply absorbed in his thoughts. Then, he spoke again. “It’s not so easy anymore. The stories scare them. The stories and the cloak. Yes, I know that both are necessary…” He stopped talking again, and sat still, now reading the papers in front of him in earnest. When he spoke again, his voice was grave, and yet, there was a question there as well. “Well, did you have a suggestion for who we need to bring in?” He suddenly grew rigid, and sat on the very edge of his chair, staring at the glass in the door, and holding onto the desk with white knuckles, as though it was the only thing keeping him up off of the floor. He shuddered, and without warning, he reached forward, grasped the key sticking out of the drawer below the glass doors, and turned it. Then, he opened the drawer and withdrew the file that lay in the bottom.

He rose and paced rapidly over to the window, where he stood staring out onto the sprawling grounds below, his back to the desk and the cabinet, as though he cannot stand to look at them. This time when he spoke, he did so very softly.

“Kathleen McCullough—why she’s just a child. We can’t. It wouldn’t be right…No. There’s always a choice.” He was silent for a long time, hoping somehow he had misunderstood, had heard wrong, and running rapidly through the other choices in his head. Finally, he said, “If we must, we must.”

Truth is not a finite thing; some feel that there is one truth to any matter, and all else is falsehood.  Others can only be convinced of the truth after seeing what they call proof.  If, as I said before, truth is not a finite thing, then time and space are even less so.  One moment time crawls or hobbles along, and the next it flies as fleet as gentle Mercury, with no set or stable pattern.  Sometimes, past becomes present, and present becomes past, and space thins to the point where those who have studied such things can pass between worlds.

“Yes, I agree, her quiet nature is a virtue,” said Dr. Romanov.  “It will take ears to hear what needs to be said.  And so, it begins again.  Let us prepare, old friend.” He covered himself with the cloak and awaited the inevitable thinning.

 

ImageAs most of you know, I spent the week before this last week at the beach. This was the first true vacation I’ve had in about six years, and I have to say that I was really looking forward to it, for several reasons, but mostly because I wanted to see how my soon to be three year old niece, Marlee,  would react to the sand and the water, and all the other things that make the beach well, the beach. I reflected on several things while I was there, and tried to write down those I remembered when I came back.

The first morning we were there, we all woke up at 6:30 am. When we went to the beach after breakfast, I saw all of these little mussels on the beach. The water would come up and cover them, and they’d be buried under the sand, and as we walked along, they would dig themselves out and all of them would appear at pretty much the same time. Most of the time, when I’ve seen the mussels digging, I have seen them burying themselves in the sand, not digging out. Marlee, who was supposed to be looking for shells with Grammy, kept trying to help them re-bury, and knowing the survival instinct of every living thing, I wondered why there were hundreds and thousands of these little critters, all digging out of the sand at the same time. My guess was that they would suffocate under the sand, and yet, if they got beached by the tide, they’d die as well. I decided it’s a hard life for mussels.

If any of you have been to North Myrtle Beach recently, you know how full of shells the beach is. I noticed how so many of the shells washing up on the beach were broken, and I wondered whether it was the vast power of the sea beating against the shore that broke those shells, or simply people walking the beach, stepping on them. Perhaps it was both.

Some people stood out for me, too. There was the woman who sat in the edge of the surf with her child, who couldn’t have been much more than a year old, and just sat in the edge of the water. There was the exuberance of young family half walking, half jogging down the beach, looking for shells and stopping occasionally to play in the sand. There were those who wanted to be, and were in their own world, who were either running or wandering aimlessly down the beach, a part of all that went on there, but also removed from it. Then there were the endless rows of chairs and umbrellas, the endless stream of humanity that oozed out of the resorts and onto the beach. These were the people who wanted to enjoy the beach with all the small luxuries of beach life. They wanted to be able to sun-bathe, to go into the water as it suited them, to have shelter from the sun, and who had someone next to them to talk to, wanted or not. Last, there were the lifeguards, sitting high up in their guard chairs, looking down on all the activity around them, ready to jump in and help if needed, and also ready to assert authority, if required. Most of them were awfully young for such responsibility.  Then, there was Marlee. She ran with such joy and reckless abandon on the beach. She dug in the sand with her little shovel, and threw it back into the water, thinking it was lapping up to try to get its sand back. She built partial castles with her Grammy and Aunt Kim, and gleefully destroyed them when she tired of them.

As I walked along the beach over the course of several days, pondering these things as I interacted with people of all types, it occurred to me that what I was seeing on the beach in that time is how life is, too. There are some people in this world who are struggling for survival, as those little mussels were. Despite great adversity and near cultural extinction, these people choose to use their talents and let their diversity shine as beacons of hope to other weary travelers, as God wants us all to do.

There are some people who are beaten by the power of the ocean in their own lives, and who wash up on the shore, not really knowing how they got there, but broken and bruised, and maybe even bleeding. They dig their fingers into the sand, and struggle to their feet, determined not to be washed out to sea one more time, determined to hang on. These people may need our encouragement to hang on, may need to know that God sees the beauty in broken souls, just as he does in whole ones. In fact, God uses the broken among us to give us all hope—the hope of His healing touch on our lives—and that Peace that passes understanding. The fact is that all of us are broken at times.

Other people want to walk around on the outskirts of life, never really coming down far enough to interact with anyone else, but still a part of the larger picture, whether they want to be, or not. God calls His followers to live lives that become the gospel, and that set us apart as Christians, so that these who are on the outskirts can feel the love of Jesus radiating from His followers, and know who we are, so that maybe they are drawn to the Kingdom through us.

Still others try to do all the right things, and they crave a deeper connection to others and to the purpose for their own lives. Perhaps they crave the passion they once had, which they’ve lost somewhere. They walk the walk, and talk the talk, hoping that what is lost will be found again, longing for a new perspective or new hope or deeper understanding, but too many of the superficialities of life get in the way, and they are having trouble finding what they seek. I think God knows that we identify with these people, as we all feel this way sometimes, and we’ve all seen this type of person at church. They come to church, they sit in the pew, they sing the songs, and they listen to the sermon. They even greet their neighbors, but at the end of the day, they still can’t make the connections they need to make with the scripture or with who they are as Christians to find the fulfillment they are desperately seeking. Perhaps it is a crisis of faith that is keeping them from finding what they seek, or perhaps it is just that the mundane things in life, the routine, makes it hard to find time to pray, to study, to reflect, and to interact as much as they desire. God calls us to reach out to these people, who might be walking in darkness, and offer them a hand back into the light of His love and acceptance and forgiveness.

I think we all find ourselves in each of these situations at times, and I think God wants us to experience and understand each of these things, so that we are more understanding of others who find themselves there. The good news, though, is that God is always there, always nudging us toward the light, calling us to be better than we are, and then forgiving us when we aren’t.