The Everyday Miracle of Marriage

Five years ago almost to the day, I sat on a park bench with my husband just outside of Anchorage, Alaska. The weather was perfect, the setting idyllic. We had just completed an incredible kayaking trip and hike. Denali was off in the distance, and if you’ve seen it, you know that there are no words to describe its beauty. I should have been struck speechless with awe and wonder.

But I wasn’t.

My marriage was not in a good place, and I couldn’t see anything else. It was as though I was viewing the world through blinders. My husband and I were physically on the same trip (ironically for our anniversary), yet in every other way, we were miles apart.

***

Our tenth anniversary is in a couple of weeks. We took a trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona, to get away, to remember, to celebrate. This isn’t where either of us thought we would go if you had asked us five years ago, but then again, this isn’t where either of us thought we would be five years later. Quite honestly, I didn’t think we would still be married.

Grand Canyon

***

grand canyon 4

Our sweet neighbors will have been married for 57 years later this summer.  My grandparents were married for almost 50.  My parents just hit 35.  These long, successful marriages seem like miracles to me.  And they are!  But so is ten.  So is every day past ten and every day since July 11, 2009.  It is miraculous that God took the two most opposite people on the planet (quite literally, we are polar opposites on both the enneagram and Myers-Briggs personality tests) and brought us to a place where we are not just still married, but we actually really like each other.  Somehow we opposite humans sleep in the same bed, raise small humans, and have built a life that we love.  The miracle is in the everyday motions of walking hand-in-hand toward this long road that leads to heaven … together. 

Just as I couldn’t see the beauty of Alaska, our eyes can be blinded to these commonplace miracles of which marriage is one.  My counselor told me that many people see this and other anniversaries as just another day.  (More on why everyone should go to counseling in another post.)  It is and it isn’t.  Knowing that the sun rises every morning makes it no less spectacular to watch.  Technically, the day of our anniversary won’t feel any differently than the day before did, but it’s a huge milestone for us.  We made it, and amazingly, we are better than we have ever been.

grand canyon 2

***

While we were in Arizona, we hiked all the way down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in a single day. We didn’t plan that, and the park rangers don’t recommend it. We had intended to hike seven miles and actually did close to twenty. Going all the way down was difficult, but it didn’t feel terrible. Coming back up was brutal. I have run marathons that seemed far easier, and my muscles have never been so sore in my life as they were the next day.

Looking across and down into the canyon from the top was spectacular. Everyone says that pictures can’t capture the vastness of it, nor the colors, and all of that is true. We watched the sun set at the Grand Canyon the night before our hike and saw it rise early the next morning. Both moments took my breath away. But I didn’t cry until we looked out at the canyon from the top for the third time, after we had made it all the way back up from our hike. Its vastness and beauty were all the more impressive after having been at the bottom.

colorado river

This is also the story of our marriage.

No one recommends hitting rock bottom and sticking your feet in the Colorado River, as it were. They advise you that it can be done, that people do make it back up, but most do not. Because we are crazy or stupid or naive or maybe a little of all three, we didn’t listen. And somehow, through time and outside support and lots of conversations and prayer and ultimately the grace of God, we took every grueling step back to the top. We made it, and not a day goes by that I am not surprised and immensely grateful that we did.

Andrew, here’s to ten or twenty or fifty more … together. Oh, and let’s not hike the whole thing again.

We closed our home.

Four years ago this week, I was scheduled to run the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon.  It would have been my sixth full marathon, and I had trained for it for months.  If all went according to plan, I could beat my previous personal record and finish in 3 hours, 50 minutes.

On Monday of Race Week, I found myself at urgent care with a nasty case of strep throat.  Undeterred from my race goals, I began taking antibiotics immediately and felt much better in a few days.  I headed to Tulsa that weekend, exhausted from a long week of sickness, but ready to accomplish what I set out to do several months before. 

Disaster hit at Mile 3 of the race.  Mile 3!  This never happened with so many miles to go.  I felt as though I was floating and on the verge of vomiting and about to fall asleep all at the same time.  I attributed these effects to the antibiotics I had been taking and willed my legs to run for several more miles. 

As the race dragged on, I was becoming more and more miserable, and it became increasingly clear that finishing the full marathon was out of the question.  Again, this never happened.  I never quit races.  My previous mode of operation had always been to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what. For whatever reason that day, though, I listened to my body (or maybe it was the Holy Spirit).  When the road split, I tearfully made the choice to continue with the half marathoners, letting go of all of the goals I had prior to the start of the race.  I hated myself for it at the time.  Quitting was much harder than finishing would have been.

***

We are closing our home to foster care for awhile.  After Little Man left, our worker asked us when we’d be ready to accept another placement.  We told her that we wouldn’t.

foster son

I hate that I just typed that. 

I had anticipated having many children in and out of our home over many years.  Maybe we still will.  Maybe in five years, we’ll be in a different season and ready to try this again.  But I didn’t anticipate closing so soon.  We still had a few more months to give before I start school full-time, and it feels like we quit.  Quitting was much harder than finishing would have been.

***

Two days after I failed to complete the full Tulsa Marathon, I took a pregnancy test.  For the first time in years, it was positive.  In that moment, I knew exactly why God and my body had been telling me to stop racing, and I was overwhelmingly grateful that I had listened to both of them.

***

I’m not there yet with our decision to take a break from foster care. 

Most days, I feel that we are making a huge mistake.  I have a defeating sense that we didn’t do enough … that we gave up … that everyone everywhere is as disappointed with me as I am. 

When I look at what we are doing (or not doing) from a logical stance, it makes complete sense.  My own capacity and limitations have become very evident to me over the past year, and while I often wish that they were different than what they are, I know that full-time school and full-time fostering are not an option for me.  I wouldn’t be able to do either well, and my family would suffer.  Accepting another placement without knowing how long the child will stay seems careless, when I know that the time we can dedicate to fostering is limited and the system is painfully slow.

This is the correct, logical decision.  However, emotions often speak louder to me than logic, and there have been some pretty noisy emotions lately telling me that I’m a failure.

***

A friend revealed to me last week that we have been fostering for almost a year.  Somehow, I literally had not thought about that until she mentioned it.  The last year has slipped through my fingers, and there have been moments when it feels as though my own life has been passing me by. 

There are good reasons for our family to take a break - good reasons that aren’t purely logical. 

Foster care requires far more than a willing heart.  I’ve poured out my life for the two kids who we’ve had in our home this year, which has simultaneously been a joy and a sacrifice.  Somewhere along the way, I lost a piece of myself.  In caring for these children, I didn’t care for myself (spiritually, emotionally, or physically).  As I’ve been accustomed to doing during marathon training, I ignored all signs that I was not doing well at all and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  My foster kids had everything they needed, but my own kids lost their patient mom, and my husband lost his loving wife.

Everyone talks about how children are resilient, and they are.  However, becoming a foster family is asking an extraordinary amount of two-and-four-year-old girls.  They loved both of our foster children better than I did at times and never showed them anything but grace and kindness, which has been extremely humbling for me to watch.  But they struggled in ways that they may never be able to voice, as their little worlds became increasingly unpredictable and their parents became increasingly unavailable. 

I know what a great dad my husband is to our girls, and watching him being a dad to two children whose own fathers were mostly MIA brought me to tears multiple times throughout the year.  He couldn’t have loved them any better than he did.  Foster care took a toll on him, too, though, and having two completely spent people in a relationship strains it, no matter how strong it was to start.  I almost lost my marriage once; I’m not about to lose it again. 

Death has, unfortunately, been a consistent theme in the lives of several close to me throughout 2018, and attending three funerals in the last four months has caused me to reflect on my own mortality and the shortness of life.  I’ve been thinking about the legacy I want to leave and wondering what people will stand and say at my funeral.  I want my children and spouse, more than anyone else, to say that I cared for them well. 

I don’t regret a day of our journey through foster care.  God called us to this and gave us the grace to be obedient.  Now he’s calling us to something else, and I must choose to be obedient again.  I know I won’t regret a day of being fully present for my home team over the next few months.

***

foster daughter

It is easy to become discouraged when I see other foster families living out their calling so well.  They make it look easy, and maybe it is for them.  Maybe, too, I don’t see everything.  Definitely, we are not them, and that is okayComparison is the thief of joy.  It is also the thing that sometimes keeps me from following the Lord’s will for my life because I am overly concerned with how that doesn’t always look like His will for everyone else’s.  I may never have a revelation as to why I listened to His voice this time which is on the scale of my pregnancy in 2014.  But hopefully, when I stand at the gates of heaven, I will hear His voice louder than ever, proclaiming, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!  You did all that I asked you to do.”  When that day comes, I know I won’t wish that I had run the race He laid out for someone else.

***

When our first foster child entered our home, she had so much shame that she would hardly look us in the eyes.  (I’m thankful to report that this was no longer the case by the time she left.)  She seemed consistently afraid that we would be disappointed in or angry with her.  I remember trying to talk to her one day early on in her stay, and she would not look up from her shoes.  I lifted her head, cupped her face in my hands, looked straight into her big blue eyes, and said, “K, I love you no matter what!”  In that moment, tears streamed down my own face as I realized that this is exactly what my Father does for me.  He lifts my head out of my shame, and although I can’t see His face today, I know that there is no disappointment or anger in His eyes. He loves me because I am His daughter, and not because I did or didn’t do foster care for a certain amount of time.  He says I’ve done enough, and that is enough for me.  Well, at least I want it to be.

More than the sum of my parts.

running

Since my sophomore year of college, I've been defining myself as a runner.

My husband and I had been dating for about a year and a half when he suggested that we train for our first half marathon together.  

"I could never do that," I told him.  "No way."

Then, in May 2008, I did do it. 

I haven't stopped running since.  

I guess there is a bit of pride that comes with typing "Distance Runner" into an "About Me" section of a profile.  I've always known that most people will never run a marathon, so that makes me one of the few.  (That probably makes me more crazy than awesome.)

Part of me loves running because it is healthy and stress-relieving, but a bigger part of me has loved running for the way that it defines me.

Lately, I've been able to let some of that go.  Yes, I am a distance runner.  But that's not all that I am.  I'm also a Jesus-loving, coffee-drinking writer, momma, wife, student, business owner and friend.  I am more than the sum of my parts.

This past weekend, I ran another half marathon.  I stuck with my training for the most part.  However, I also learned to listen to my body and to modify when necessary.

And it was all fine because sometimes, to be great at the other things that I am, I can be just an okay runner.  I'm not less or more of a person because I did or didn't run for one day (or a few, or a lot).  

All of the above is where my head was before the Prairie Fire Half Marathon last weekend.

prairie fire marathon

At that race, I set a new PR.  I had the run of my life.  But about halfway through, because I was feeling strong, I decided to revise my longstanding goal of crossing the finish under 1 hour and 50 minutes.  That goal was somehow not good enough anymore, and I started dreaming about a 1:47 time and about catching up with my friend who was a mile ahead.  At mile 6.5, I threw my training out the window to compete against everyone else instead of against myself.  It was also at mile 6.5 that the race was no longer fun.  My final time was 1:49:44, and I finished 6th of 93 in my age group, but I was angry and disappointed.  

I'm going to take a step back from running, which is uncharted and scary territory for me.   I saw the number I've always wanted to see on the clock this past weekend, I saw my friends on the podium instead of me ... and I let those things tell me who I am.  Until I've gained a healthier perspective and am able to appreciate running for what it is instead of who it makes me, I'll be on a break.

For everyone's sake, hopefully it won't be a long one. :)

Fan Club Friday: Wahoo! Running

Guys.  I know I get excited about every Fan Club Friday because I seriously have so many talented friends, but this one ... {Insert heart eyes emoji here.} 

Meet my friends and fellow runners, Christie and Carlee.

I've known Christie for years, and she has walked (or should I say, run) with me through some of the hardest and happiest moments of my life, imparting wisdom all along the way.  Though Carlee and I only met within the last year, our similar status as runner moms of two little girls has allowed us to strike a fast friendship.

A couple of years ago, Christie single-handedly spearheaded a kids' running club in which children of all ages trained with her and then ran a 5k as the culmination of twelve weeks of practice.

wahoo kids running club

Since that first season, Wahoo! Running has become far more than a kids' running organization, though it is still that, too.  While kids run with Christie, Carlee coaches their parents to accomplish a variety of running goals from simply getting up off of the couch to completing a first marathon or half marathon.

With literally hundreds of combined races between them, Christie and Carlee have a wealth of knowledge to offer to both newbies and seasoned runners.  So, they have started creating customizable training plans to share their insight with others!

wahoo training plan

Because I wanted to get the full Wahoo Running experience, I decided to order my own training plan from my coaching friends.  I am aiming to "crush all of my goals" (a Christie Thomas-ism) at the Prairie Fire half marathon in Wichita, Kansas, in October.  

I have used a couple of other training strategies in the past, but none of them were specifically tailored to my body or running goals.  Wahoo goes above and beyond to do just that.  Prior to constructing my plan, Wahoo sent me an Athlete Questionnaire.  In addition to basic demographic information, Christie and Carlee asked me about my height, weight, previous running experience, best times, goal times, average times, how often I workout,  other types of exercise I enjoy, and why I run.  (That sounds like a lot of information, but I completed the whole thing in under 10 minutes.)  Now, Christie and Carlee are using my answers to customize a twelve-week calendar that tells me precisely what I need to do each day.  Since I'm the most Type A person you may ever meet, I need an exact schedule which includes rest and stretching as an integral part of my program.  

Along with my training plan, I'm expecting my Wahoo! Winning Kit to arrive on my doorstep day!  My box will include a lacrosse ball, resistance band, and other goodies to motivate me and keep my muscles healthy for race day.  Dare I say that I'm pumped about running again?!

I get to train with Christie and Carlee because I am fortunate enough to live locally, and we do more than run together.  In our group of girls, we laugh, we cry, we laugh until we cry, we poop on the side of the road (I personally haven't done this one yet, but don't put it past me), and we run the literal and figurative hills and valleys of life together.  If you don't have a running community where you live, I know that the faces behind Wahoo would encourage you to start one.

Wahoo Runners

I'm a big fan of winning, but that isn't why I run.  Christie and Carlee get this.  In a matter of months since they have launched their business, these coaches have guided multiple runners to set new PRs and win age categories in the races they enter.  However, Christie and Carlee's main goals are for runners to stay healthy and to have fun.  Their desire is for people to "experience running the way it's meant to be."  In other words, they want runners to never outrun their love of running.  

If you've lost your purpose for running or are looking to find a purpose for the first time, Christie and Carlee can create the perfect plan to get you on track within a week.  After that, they will follow up with you to see how things are going, not because they're trying to build a business but because they genuinely care about you as a runner and as a whole person.

Check out Wahoo! Running on their website, Instagram, or Facebook page.  You can also email the coaches directly at christie@wahoorunning.com or carlee@wahoorunning.com.  

WAHOO!

Photo credits: Christie Thomas and Teena Moore Photography.

Lessons About Running From My 3-Year-Old Coach

My daughter completed her first marathon this past weekend in Oklahoma City.  

She's three.

Every year, Oklahoma City hosts a race called "Run to Remember" in honor of the victims who were killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing.  This year had the highest participation ever, with over 25,000 runners completing either a 5k, half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, or kids' marathon.

All of the other races are self-explanatory; you show up on race day and run the distance that you signed up to do. {Hopefully you've trained.}  

In the kids' marathon, the idea is for little runners to run 25 miles in the days leading up to the race.  Then, they complete the final 1.2 miles of a marathon on race day for a grand total of 26.2 miles over a period of a few weeks. Some kids just show up and run 1.2 miles on race day, and that's totally fine.

Piper did the whole thing.

I'm so proud of her, and I'm also grateful for the many lessons that she unknowingly taught me along the way.  I've run just about every distance of the OKC race at some point, but "training" with her for this particular event was probably more satisfying than crossing the finish line after a grueling 26.2 miles a couple of years ago.  Running with my daughter changed me.

Through this process, I learned just how much my child watches everything I do and tries to pattern her life after me.  That is both terrifying and humbling.  Before every run, she asks if she can wear her Nike running shorts "like you're wearing Nike running shorts, Mom!"  She wanted to complete a marathon because I have.  Because of these things, I have been hyper-aware of my attitudes toward running, racing, and my body over the last few weeks.  I want her to have a healthy perspective, which means that I should model it for her.  

I needed a three-year-old to speak truth to me, because sometimes kids just seem to "get it" more than their parents do.  Piper reminded me of some practical lessons, such as pacing yourself and looking up instead of at your dang shoes so you don't trip.  But she also coached me in some other equally important areas.

Winning isn't just about being the first person to cross the finish line.  Of the 25,000+ people who ran the race, only five people actually won (one for each event), if you define winning in terms of finishing first.  As Piper was running her race, she looked over at me several times and asked, "Mom, am I winning?"  Of course you are, baby.  Why?  Because she's three and she's persevering and she's completing a marathon.

Speed doesn't matter.  Piper's good friend, Nora, ran the race, also.  At the beginning, Piper was excited about running with her and tried to keep up for a quarter mile or so.  However, it quickly became evident that Nora is a faster runner than Piper.  Piper let her run ahead and quit worrying about whatever Nora was doing to focus on her own run.  Novel idea.  

One of the goals of running is to still like running at the end of a race.  Sometimes I train so hard that I burn myself out.  Piper ran because she thought it was fun.  If at any point it stopped being fun for her, I would have let her stop.  I don't often give myself this grace, though, and maybe I should.

Walking during a run or missing a training run entirely is not the end of the world.  There were some days in the past few weeks when I had planned to run with Piper, but we decided to take the night off due to weather, a long day, or not feeling 100%.  Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.  Also, sometimes while we were out in the neighborhood, Piper's legs would get tired...or she would spot a dandelion that she just had to pick, and we would walk for a minute or two.  Again, Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.

Running solo is great, but running with people is, too.  Some of my favorite runs in the past few weeks have been the ones that I did with my daughter.  She's in preschool, so it's not like we were having deep conversations, but our runs gave me an opportunity to encourage her and to hear about her day.  Sometimes I love the idea of clearing my mind so much during a run that I isolate myself from running with people, which causes me to miss out on some really uplifting community.

"Exercise is not a punishment for what your body is, but a celebration of what it can do."  I heard this quote within the last week, and I wish I could remember where.  Isn't is amazing to have legs that obey your mind?  When you really step back for a second and think about how much blood your heart has to pump and how many times your lungs have to breathe in order to move even a few feet, aren't you stunned?  Watching my daughter complete this marathon as a three-year-old with short legs reminded me that the body can do truly incredible things.  I don't have a "perfect" body, but God has given me the ability to use it in a variety of awesome ways.  I should celebrate that instead of beating myself up over the insignificant imperfections I see in the mirror.

Piper is already talking about running the kids' marathon again next year, and about recruiting some of her friends to participate with her.  I hope she does, and I hope they do, because so many people would benefit from a three-year-old marathoner's mindset.  Thank you, sweet girl, for letting me be one of them.