Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Processing My Boston Experience

When I was in high school, my family went snow skiing in Colorado.  At the top of the snow covered mountains, the view was breathtaking!  We took rolls of film (this was when cameras had film) so that we could share the experience with friends.  When we got home and got our pictures developed, the pictures were pretty, but it was sort of a letdown... the pictures did not come close to conveying the beauty and magnitude of the mountains.  

In many ways, the Boston Marathon is like those mountain top pictures.  It is one of those experiences that is hard to adequately convey, but I am going to try!  

First, I want to give you just a little general information about Boston and why it is such a big deal to runners.  Most of the follwing bullet points are taken from Bill Rogers' new book, Marathon Man.  We actually got to hear him speak about some of his Boston experiences the night before the marathon!  

  • The race has been held every Patriots day in April since 1897, in part to commemorate the anniversary of the most famous run of all, Paul Revere’s midnight ride on April 18, 1775, to warn the patriots in Lexington and Concord that the British were coming.  
  • 15 runners participated in that first race in 1897; 10 finished.
  • Boston oozes prestige and tradition.  It’s the oldest continuously run marathon in the world, held on almost the exact same course for over a century- a course that was patterned after the ancient route from Marathon to Athens. 
  • It is a point to point course which goes through several suburbs of Boston and then into town, finishing in the downtown area.  Early race day morning, thousands of thousands of runners line up in Boston Common to board school buses.  The “yellow dogs” drive everyone out to Hopkinton High school, where the race starts.  This is about a 45 minute ride, and I remember a girl and I laughing when she said, “We have been on this bus a long time... you mean to tell me we have to go back the whole way... on foot?!”  
  • Once the race starts, there is very little flat ground (which was a bit of a surprise to my legs).  Heartbreak hill, the most significant and widely known hill in all of road racing, is the last and culminating hill in a chain of hills called the Killer Chain.  Not because of their severity, but because of where they begin- at mile 16, ending at mile 21, when legs start tightening and spirits begin to break.
  • Boston is also famous for being the only marathon in the world in which runners have to qualify.  There are standards in place according to age and gender, and runners have to meet the times in order to register for the race.  For example, a woman between the ages of 35-39 has to have run a previous marathon faster than 3:40, which is an 8:23 per mile average pace. 
  • To this day, runners from all over the world, from remote pars of the Ukraine to mud-hutted villages of Kenya, grow up dreaming of running just one race- The Boston Marathon.  Given all the lore, the one of-a-kind personality of the course, the city where it takes place, and the people who make up the huge crowds along the way, it’s no wonder many consider this the Holy Grail of marathon running in America and the world over.  

       In 1967, a person with the last name of Switzer registered for the marathon.  This K. Switzer didn’t give a full name, but the officials assumed it was Kevin or Kenneth or something.  Little did they know, it was K. for Katherine... who would end up being the first woman to officially finish a marathon (much to the chagrin of the race directors) and break down a major barrier for all female athletes.  

Katherine Switzer is also famous for her quote, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go watch a marathon.”  

This leads into another very important aspect of the Boston Marathon, and marathons in general:  The spectators.  

Running is one of the only sports with which I am familiar where the spectators cheer for everyone.  Even at highly competitive cross country meets, everyone cheers for everyone.  At marathons, you see people spending hours of their day cheering and encouraging complete strangers.  At Boston, the crowds are a big part of why the race is considered the Holy Grail of running.  

Spectators were lined up along the course for almost the full 26.2 miles.  As I ran through the small towns on the way back to Boston, Neighborhoods were having block parties centered around the race with jump houses for the kids, grills, and upbeat music playing.    
Although the race offers gatorade and water each mile, there were countless children standing on the curb with orange slices and water bottles.  

People were waving crazy signs like “If this was easy, I would do it”  or “Hurry up, my arms are getting tired!”  and they were screaming and waving their signs and singling runners out with praise.  

A lot of runners write their name down their arm in permanent marker, and fans were cheering for these runners by name.  For those of us who didn’t do that, spectators were yelling things like, "Come on pink shirt, stay strong!"  

Upon entering the area of Wellesly, there was about half a mile with crowds of screaming girls packed against the railing with signs like “Kiss me, I’m from Tupelo” or “Kiss me, I like onions”  and other silly things.  

At one point about halfway through the race, I remember thinking that if I didn’t run a good race, I would be letting down the entire city of Boston... 

For about the last 5 miles the crowds got even thicker, packing both sides of the streets all the way in to the finish.  If a runner had anything left, the crowds would have helped him run a personal record time.  

Unfortunately, Heartbreak Hill broke my heart, and I did NOT have anything left... but during these last 5 miles the crowds kept me from quitting and helped me to at least run another Boston Qualifying time.  In fact, I remember slowing to a walk at one point, just about in tears, lip quivering, wishing I could just magically appear at the finish line.  A man caught my eye and started yelling at me, "Come on... don’t stop NOW, you can Do this!"

  I gave him a teary-eyed grin/grimace and started plodding on toward the finish line.  I remember thinking, "OK, this guy says I can do it, so I guess I better run!"  

In the last mile the crowd noise was almost overwhelming.  I have never seen or heard anything like it.   It was probably the one and only time in my life I felt like a rock star, a disheveled, underpaid rockstar,  and the energy of the crowd was about the only thing that propelled me to the finish... I know it was certainly NOT the muscles in my legs!  

I finished the race and was grabbed by a medical volunteer who asked if I was ok.  I can’t explain the emotions that I was feeling at this point- pure, raw exhaustion, both physically and emotionally.  I knew I had just finished the greatest race ever, even if it was much slower than I had hoped for... so when he asked if I was ok, I burst into sobs.  Alarmed, he asked what was wrong, and I replied, “I’m ok, it’s just mental issues!” 
To this he said, “Well, that’s all you runners, if you ask me!”  This made me smile, and I continued being herded forward through the lines to get heat blankets (it was freezing!), finisher medals, and around to the meeting area.  As I walked, my legs were not thanking me for the previous 26 miles of punishment.  

Not long after my finish, I met my mother and my sister in the family meeting area about 1 block from the finish line.  My mom gave me a hug, and I burst into tears again... but this time my sides started cramping, and my sobs turned into laughs at my pitiful physical state.  We stayed to wait on my two close friends from Saltillo.  As we waited, they told me how excited they were to have gotten to see me finish the race.  In fact, they were able to get right up to the front of the barricades just between the 26 mile mark and the finish line.  

That’s when we heard it.  

My first thought was that there had been a construction accident somewhere, because the noise sounded sort of like when giant plates of steel are being moved around at my dad’s shop.  

Then we heard the second one.  Everyone stopped, and you could hear the crowd asking each other what had happened and speculating about cannons or fireworks.  A man near me told us that he had never heard anything like that in the area before.  

A few minutes later police started running down the street, urging the crowds onto the sidewalks.  Golf carts with medical personnel started flying down the road, and then ambulances started to arrive, driving at an incredibly fast speed for the crowds and narrow streets.  

We still didn’t know what was going on, and we still did not know where our friends were.  Cell phones were not sending messages.  Plan B had been to meet back at the hotel room in case something happened and we didn’t get to the family meeting area, so we decided we should start moving toward the hotel.  

We hobbled along, SLOWLY... that is the slowest 1/2 mile I have ever walked in my life!  I was so thankful for my mother and sister being there to assist me.  Traffic was at a standstill, because police and ambulances were pouring in.  We stopped in a convenience store to get a drink, and we saw the news.  

I remember just leaning over the checkout counter and praying.  Praying for the crowds, praying for the runners, and praying that my friend Roan had not finished yet.  Nobody knew what had happened or any details, but it was obviously bad. 

As we continued to make our way to our hotel, rumors were kind of floating through the crowds, being passsed from person to person... some people were saying there was also a shooter in the mall when we saw police men taping off the entrances to the Prudential center.  Others were saying stay away from trash cans.  There was kind of a swelling of worry and panic rising in the group... the tall buildings all around us, not knowing what had happened or if more was coming, and the RAPID influx of emergency personnel created a constant background noise of sirens.  

By the time we reached our hotel, the streets were blocked off and officers were only letting armored vehicles, ambulances, and other police cars through.  An officer with a megaphone stood on the corner repeating a phrase commanding people to turn around and evacuate.  In order to get to our room, we were asked to show room keys or ID, and then we were later asked to remain in our room.  

We spent the next several hours watching the events unfold on the news, just like you all probably did, but the sirens we heard were both on television and right below our hotel room window.  

As the sun went down we were told that we could come out of our rooms to eat in the lobby restaurant.  When we came into the lobby, we were greeted by the sight of SWAT officers right outside the window and the continued flashing of sirens.  

I don’t know anyone who slept well that night.  The next morning we left our hotel at 4:30am.  As we entered the lobby, half awake, I think I half expected everything to be back to normal.   Instead, the SWAT officer was propped up against the wall of the lobby, and another heavily armed police officer was asking the concierge where he could find some coffee.  As we went through the security line at the airport, officers were asking everyone if they had any photos or videos of the finish of the race.  Because my mom and sister had been right across the street from the second blast location, I emailed him my video, and we continued on.   

When we arrived in Atlanta, it was strange to see the rest of the world going about normal life.  It didn’t seem right and it didn’t seem real and life certainly did not feel normal.  

I know that what happened at the finish line of the marathon was not a personal attack on runners.  I know it was the work of a terrorist who was capitalizing on a large crowd.   

But it felt personal.  Even though those killed and the majority of the injured were spectators, it felt like a very personal attack on runners.  You see, the spectators are like family to runners.  They are our support system, even the total strangers.  These are the people who have been standing for hours to cheer us on, passing out oranges to wilting runners, going hoarse while motivating athletes up hills, spotting tearful and exhausted runners and telling them that they CAN make it to the finish... 

The spectators are the selfless ones who make the race experience so special.  

From the time I left Boston until now, I have had a whole spectrum of emotions.  At first I thought, “I am never coming back to this city, and I am never running another marathon.”  

By the time I arrived in Memphis, I knew that I was going back next year.  

I wasn’t going to let someone attack my sport and win.  Completely illogical; I know.  As I said, I know it was not personal, but I will show support for Boston and go back to show that city full of fans how thankful I am for them.  

People ask how I am, and I smile and say, "Fine"... and truly, I am fine, because I am trusting in God’s sufficiency and sovereignty in all of this.  

At the same time, however, I feel like I am only just now coming out of a disconnected, emotional fog of sleepless nights and dreams of crowds and the images of the finish line.  

I am thankful to be back in Mississippi with my immediate family and with our local family of runners.  I am so thankful for the outpouring of support for the running community and the increased interest in the sport of running.  

Last night I attended a tribute run for Boston in Corinth.  There were about 300 people there, and $2,000 was raised for the One Fund of Boston.  My mom and sister came for the evening, and it was a terrific event.  

As I hugged fellow runners and chatted about training plans and race schedules, I realized how much our area running community is like a family, even if we are all different paces and don't know each other very well outside group runs and races.  

Somehow, being with that group last night was cathartic and some healing took place.  I can only imagine what the victims and their families continue to experience... 

In closing, I encourage you to do two things over the next months and year:
1.  Remember to pray for those surviving victims and their families.
2.  Go watch a marathon!  Cheer for the runners.  Call them by name.  Offer them water.  Wear a banana costume.  And just know that you might only get a few thank you's, but every runner appreciates you being there!  (and the banana costume is optional!)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This Weekend

I am not ready to write a complete post about my Boston experience this weekend.  As I was sightseeing and running the race, I was already thinking of things to include in my post-run blog.

Even after I crashed in the last 8 miles and lost sight of my race goal, I was still positive... After all, it was the Boston Marathon, and the entire city of Boston was cheering me on!  At about mile 24 I slowed to a walk, and I was about ready to burst into tears.  One particular man in the sideline crowd made eye contact with me and shouted, "Come on, don't stop... you can DO THIS!"  I started running again... ok it FELT like running, but I know it was a slight jog... and I didn't stop until I crossed the finish line.

I crossed the finish and was flooded with emotion.  As I struggled to catch my breath, a medic grabbed my arm, began walking me through the chute, and kindly asked if I was ok.  I burst into tears.  Alarmed, he again asked if I was ok.  As I was I sobbed that I was ok physically, I told him that I was just mental.  He laughed and said, "Well that's all of you runners, if you ask me," and sent me on my way.  I creeped through the line, getting my blanket (I was freezing!), medal, and snack, and made my way to the finish area.

Just after meeting my mom and sister in the family meeting area, everything changed.  Two explosions rocked the area, and the events of the Boston Marathon took an unthinkable course.

I just haven't fully processed the event yet.  I was/ am worn out from the race- physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted, and then the rest was an event of such magnitude right on top of it all.  It was all so surreal and bizarre, and it somehow seems disrespectful to talk about about the weekend's prior events in a positive way or talk about the weekend's tragic events at all.

I feel like I am mourning for the sport in some strange way; part of me just wants to block it all out and pretend like nothing happened; part of me can't stop reading news reports and looking at the pictures; part of me is incredibly angry that I went back to my hotel room with all of the other sheep instead of going toward the noise to see if I could help; part of me is angry at my selfishness for even being upset about failing to meet my time goal; part of me wants to keep my word (from before the race) to never run a marathon again; and part of me wants to run Boston again next year just to support Boston and show those terrorists that they did not win....

I will try to get my thoughts together and post again in the next few days.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Talk from Sydney's Wedding Shower

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at a wedding shower for someone very special.  We moved to New Albany when Sydney Morris was 11 or 12, and I had 3 small children at the time.  Hannah was 3, Sarah 2, and Will was a baby.  Sydney spent many afternoons coming over to help with kids while I sewed, cleaned, cooked, or did projects, and everyone loved it when SSSSS-Ninny came over.  As she got older, she continued to be our babysitter, and we were very sad when she left for college.

I can NOT believe that now my girls are older than she was and that she is getting married!  Time goes by so fast!  Although she has been gone from New Albany for quite a while and has been with Jerry for some time, she is about to enter the completely new experience of marriage.

There are many passages about marriage and being a wife in the Scripture, and many of these passages are very familiar.  The temptation when we read or hear familiar passages is to gloss over them without truly thinking about them and failing to apply them to our own hearts.

Therefore, I ask you to pay particular attention to the instructions and examples in the following passages.  As you read, please consider what the Lord might be saying to you for how you relate in your marriage... or for what type of wife the Lord wants you to be in the future!

The first passage is from Proverbs 31:

An excellent wife, who can find?

For her worth is far above jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.
She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
“Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.

Next is Titus 2:3-5:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

Finally, Ephesians 5:22-24:
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

When women within Christian circles... to clarify, I am talking about ladies who choose to be in church and claim the name of Christ... When women hear passages like this, it seems there are three general types of reactions.  As we discuss this, think about your personal reaction to the above passages and which category describes you.  

1.  The first woman we are going to describe is Mrs. Worker.  

Mrs. Worker hears the individual bits and pieces described in these passages and takes it to heart and thinks, “That’s who I want to be; I can do that," and she strives to imitate those biblical qualities.  

I once read a book that described a godly wife’s characteristics like petals on a flower.  It seemed to intimate that if a person could amass all of the petals of kindness, submissiveness, hard work, and so on... she would become the beautiful flower of a godly wife.  Mrs. Worker loves books like this.

Mrs. Worker often genuinely wants to please God and have a biblical marraige, and she very much wants to be that godly woman with the Proverbs 31 flower petals.  

2.  The next woman is Mrs. Careless.  She hears these passages and writes them off, not even really considering becoming this kind of woman.  She might give it a passing thought, and then think that the proverbs 31 woman is a cultural myth from 2,000 years ago.  

OR when Mrs. Careless hears phrases from Titus 2 like,  “women are to love their husbands, be workers at home, and being subject to their own husbands," she gets a little angry.  

When the passage from Ephesians, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife..., so also the wives ought to be [submissive] to their husbands in everything" is read, Mrs. Careless thinks that surely it does not apply to her; men and women are all equal now.  

3.  The third woman is Mrs. Faithful.  Mrs. Faithful hears these passages and possibly thinks about how far short she falls of the standard, and maybe she thinks about what a humanly impossible task it is to fulfill.  But at the same time, Mrs. Faithful knows that she has been forgiven so much by Christ.    Out of love for her Savior, she wants above all to honor the Lord in her marriage. 

She doesn’t start from the outside working in... instead, Mrs. Faithful knows that a daily depending on the Lord is the ONLY way that she will be the kind of wife that will honor God.  

So, here is the question.  Those are the three women.  Which one are you?  Where do you think you fall in this?  

Mrs. Worker, the first woman, makes the mistake of relying on SELF.  She falls into the trap of thinking she can figure it all out and make everything perfect if she just works hard enough.

Mrs. Careless is also thinking about SELF, but in a different way.  The thought of being a servant and putting her husband first in all things completely rubs her the wrong way.  Even if it is a picture of Christ and the church, it just somehow doesn’t seem fair.  

Mrs. Faithful is walking that tightrope in the middle.  She is not perfect, but she knows that a close walk with the Lord is the only way that her marriage will survive.  As she walks with the Lord and chooses her husband before herself, those “Proverbs 31 petals” come, but walking with Christ comes before the petals.  

In my marriage, even after becoming a Christian, I can say that I have been all three of these women at different times.  

We are sinful women married to sinful men.  I hope Jerry is your best friend, and I hope that you have chosen a man who you respect and are happy to place yourself under, because marriage is not easy for anyone.   Dying to self daily is difficult, but it is key to having a successful marriage.  

It is easy to fall into the trap of being Mrs. Careless or Mrs. Worker, but the example of Mrs. Faithful is the one who is the example of a truly godly wife.  

When we were in Kentucky, Scott preached through the book of Galatians.  He talked a lot about the temptations of the Christian to fall into the trap of Legalism (Thinking that you need Christ plus obedience, works, etc. for justification or sanctification) or the trap of Licentiousness (Thinking that Christian freedom means we have teh freedom to live however we want to) as opposed to walking in the narrow path of love to Christ.  

A lady in our church drew a picture of a path across a canyon.  The path is labeled walk by the spirit., and on one side is the pit of loose living, while on the other side is the pit of practical legalism.   

I think this is a great illustration for the Christian walk that can be specifically applied to success in marriage.  In marriage, it is so important to walk with Christ.  I promise you that Mrs. Worker and Mrs. Careless are not truly satisfied, happy, or at peace... even though it may appear that way from the outside.  

This verse from Galatians sums it all up and is a wonderful thing to set your mind on, whether you are a new bride, a future bride, or walking in the midst of marriage:

Galatians 2:20:  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.  

All of us, as we go about our days and lives must remember the importance of denying self, walking by the Spirit, hoping always in Christ for our righteousness AND sanctification, and looking to Him as our pattern.

The shower was beautiful, with fresh flowers and glass dishes- the ladies in our church really know how to put something together!  Sydney spent a year in Italy, so the the food consisted of a crepe bar and gelatto for dessert- It was beautiful AND delicious!