I had one big project on my list this week: figure [this thing] out. In fact, after a brutal end- and beginning-of-year travel season, I had planned to take the week off, but then realized I had a whole week with no meetings scheduled and thought it would be better and I would be happier if I could get to the bottom of [this thing] once and for all (or, at least, for the time being).
I limited my meetings and tried to keep a clear head and get decent sleep, so that I could crack the puzzle of [this thing]. I found a pencil and made little charts. All week, I’ve been writing and erasing and heaving great sighs and making notes to myself and clearing my desk of eraser shavings and generally feeling like I haven’t gotten anywhere and would never be able to solve [this thing].
I should probably note that I’m a bit of a stickler about glueing myself to my desk to solve problems, since wandering leads to distraction leads to moral decay and a life of laziness (obviously).
This morning, in the midst of this mental turmoil, I thought I should make tonight’s dinner. I’m going to the gym this afternoon and rehearsal after that, and so it was a right and productive thing to do to make soup now, to avoid buying pizza later. So, I stepped away from my desk and my eraser shavings, and stood in front of the stove for a few minutes.
And somewhere between “saute the vegetables” and “add the wine,” I knew what I needed to do about [this thing]. I knew how to word it, I knew where to look for a similar example, I knew how to frame it, and I knew that I would be able to work with it.
I got the sense that everything was going to be okay. That I wasn’t an imposter, after all, that [this thing] was manageable, that I was capable, and that smart people would help make sure [this thing] was the best it could be.
Today was my last workout of 2018 with my Eugene CrossFit family. I’ll be so sad to miss the next couple weeks of workouts, but will try to keep up some semblance of a routine while I’m on the road. I’m really bad at burpees. I might do a lot of them, to try to get better. We’ll see.
It’s been a very hard year in many ways.
But for my mental and physical fitness, for my feeling of accomplishment, for the realization that I can do very hard things in the very hard years, this has been the best year ever.
So many friends have encouraged me over the years, and I appreciate them softening the ground for this year of incredible discovery. Running Roxborough hills with Kasey, tabata at the YMCA with Beth, lightpole runs with Dorrie and Deirdre, trail running in the Wissahickon…all of these experiences showed me that I could decide to do something a little out of reach, work for it, and do it.
I never expected to love Eugene CrossFit. I never expected going there to be the highlight of my day. And yet, that’s what it’s become: home, a place where I surprise myself, a place I always leave feeling better than when I arrived. It’s only December and there’s a lot of winter left to go, but I’ve found a thing that helps keep the hound of depression at bay. I love the calluses on my hands, the ache in my shoulders, the salt on my skin. I love that I can run faster than I could earlier this year (a little), that I can jump higher (a little), and that the assault bike doesn’t scare me anymore (at all). I can pick up heavy things, and carry them. I can scale a workout, but I won’t cut corners, and my brain will always always always be clearer when the clock stops.
This has been a hard year, next year may be harder, and I’m so grateful for this little haven where I don’t have to be in charge, strategize, or worry about much, where I can just show up, do my best, and have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.
I don’t particularly remember the year I turned 10, though if I were slightly less lazy, I’d go out to the garage, pull out my childhood diaries, and reflect on the similarities and differences of adult and child Sarah.
The year I turned 20, I was deeply depressed. The year I turned 30, I had a newborn. So this is the first “0” birthday in a while in which I have felt clear-headed and capable of reflection.
Turning 40 was supposed to be a really big deal. This was the last-stop year my high-school friend Matt and I picked as the one we’d get married if neither of us had done that by now (we both have). I thought I should mark the occasion with a 40 day trip, or 4 ten-day trips, maybe to Europe and South America, to cities and countries I’ve longed to visit but have never quite been able to get to.
But this was the year my kid needed braces. And the year I started spending more money taking care of myself on a regular basis. And the year I realized two of our animals are getting pretty old. So, an extravagant trip was out of the question.
This was also the year I took a real break from work, a five-week vacation, after decades of never taking more than a week or two off at a time (and those not being exactly restorative). It’s been the year of re-discovering how much I like my nuclear family, after fifteen years of living across a continent from them. It’s been the year of watching my kid start to develop into the kind of human who will love God and others, set and meet goals, and take brave risks. It’s been the year of seeing my husband build a business and a livelihood on his own terms. And it’s been the year that three people, three peers, who we were close to at different times of our lives, have died…far too early.
We grew food this year. We met with an accountant and our financial advisor. We kept up with laundry and dishes and meal planning and appointments. We had family dinners, morning coffee and chats with my dad; took a road trip to see my grandmother, uncle, and sister in Boise; showed Giehl’s parents the coast and mountains of Oregon. Went on hikes and bike rides and for swims. It’s been a year of pretty ordinary things, which I am finally starting to see as extraordinary.
I’ll mark the actual day of my fortieth birthday (today) by drinking coffee, doing the Sunday crossword (it’s a board game theme! so fun!), going to the gym, and playing piano at tonight’s worship service. This would have been my Grandpa Clyde’s 99th birthday, had he not also died way too young. So, I’ll also spend some time feeling grateful for the family who made me. It’ll be a pretty mundane day without much by way of orchestrated pomp. No breakfast-in-bed or fancy dinners or elaborate surprises.
But that’s okay. Everyday is okay. Mundane is hard and extraordinary and beautiful, if we let it be.
For a long time, I think I carried a lot of anxiety about my life, about its impact. I wanted to do good in the world, to make the world a better place, to make a difference. I’ve written books and am helping to start a nonprofit that may fundamentally change the way the church thinks about animal creatures. I think I was afraid that me, just being me, wasn’t enough, wasn’t good enough. And truthfully, this is still a daily struggle. But it’s changing. Easing. Being replaced with a (slightly…ohsoslightly) increased ability to breathe.
I don’t know what the next decade will hold. I’m still determined to backpack around the world for months on end. And I’m still determined to do what I can to foster a world “on earth, as it is in heaven.” But I’m starting to realize that one of the most powerful ways I can do that, and one of the most rewarding, is to simply try to love the people and other creatures around me well, to do what OA tried to teach me so long ago: “what I can, when I can.”
I’m going to fail a lot at that, so apologies in advance for the days and weeks I anxiously steamroll over whatever obstacle is in my path.
Here’s some good advice for this decade from Walt (Whitman, not Disney), courtesy of the wise and wonderful abby:
“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”
“It’s different there,” they always said. They placed their faith in difference, which is to say they placed their faith in the idea that there had to be at least one place in this world where life could be lived in accordance with the plans and dreams they had concocted for themselves.
I was going to wait for my one-year anniversary to write this little confessional, but something happened that made me want to get it out earlier.
Late last September, I started CrossFit.
[I now grant you three minutes to make all the evangelical vegan CrossFitter combination jokes you can make, I realize the temptation to resist will be too great].
I’ve got a lifelong history of starting ambitious workout programs and quitting within a few weeks. I donated to Planet Fitness for two years and only darkened the gym door four times (once to sign up, twice to work out, once to cancel my membership). That is just the latest of a long list of examples. Signing up for races and training to run them kept me active when I lived near the amazing Wissahickon park in Philadelphia, but moving to Eugene put me too far from the nearest trails for a daily routine.
I’d heard people talk about “drinking the CrossFit kool-aid,” but knew nothing about it. As I researched gyms in Eugene, I was increasingly drawn to the website of Eugene CrossFit. The video and photos on the website showed people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. The workouts looked varied. And I liked the idea of trying something new.
So I went for an introductory workout with the owner, this super peppy dude named Jeremy. A women named Becky was there for the intro, too. She was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Be kind to animals or I’ll kill you,” so we were destined to be pals. Also, she’s the best vegan baker on the planet. It was one of many signs that this was the place for me.
The workout was fun and I was a little sore the next day. OK. A lot sore. It felt good. Despite feeling nervous about making an 18-month commitment after one date, I signed up for a two-class-a-week membership. When I was a kid and wanted piano lessons, my parents made me practice for months on my own before they agreed to pay a teacher. Turns out, they know me pretty well. I took the same approach here. For the first month, I took two classes a week. The next month or so, I bumped it up to three. And then, unlimited.
In first five months of 2018, I worked out 121 times. 121. Most weekday afternoons, I shut my laptop lid, change my clothes, and go spend the best hour or two of my day at Eugene CrossFit.
Let me now enumerate a few of the things I love deeply about this place:
I show up and do what I’m told and it’s always something a little new. Even if I’ve done the moves before, I’m working toward a higher jump, a heavier weight, a faster time. I’m competing against myself, my brain, my doubts and I’m kicking my own ass.
The people. Being anonymous doesn’t work for me. When I don’t show up to Eugene CrossFit, someone notices. My neighbors go to different classes and it’s fun to stand out on the street and commiserate about whatever crazy hard thing happened that day. The people in my classes are kind, supportive, funny, strong, inspiring, and so much more. I love the people.
The coaches. Oh my gosh, the coaches. They see us as individuals, and they respond to our particularities. Workouts can be scaled or modified, no problem. If my form is off, they take the time to help me figure out what’s wrong and fix it. They push and encourage me without shaming, and they are as happy about my accomplishments as I am.
Speaking of my form…I am so bad at so many things. Like, really bad. My shoulders are all locked up from years at a laptop. My knees are old and rickety. My burpees are slow. I’m usually good at things I try, perhaps because it has been my MO to try things within a limited range. But in this case, there are a lot of things that I simply can’t do.
AND THAT’S OKAY.
I am bad at these things now, but I am getting better. In the meantime, don’t hate myself for not being able to do what other people can do, or what I want to be able to do. I actually understand and accept that it will take time to improve, and that improvement won’t come magically, but through consistency and hard work. It’s incredibly satisfying.
And it’s not just physical. I mean, it’s physically taxing and I kind of want to die sometimes, but I’ve been surprised at how much of the experience is mental discipline. Almost every time I lift more weight than I’ve ever lifted before, it’s because I look at the bar and tell myself, “Pick it up, don’t stop lifting, you can do this.” Sometimes I get halfway through a workout and think there’s no way I can continue, but then, you know, I do. I finish. I get stronger. My form gets better. I get a tiny bit faster.
And I come back the next day.
Fair warning: I’ll be writing more about my newfound passion. I can’t help it. It’s too amazing to keep to myself anymore.
I remember the first time I realized I’d never be able to read all the books ever published. Actually, the first lesson was that I wouldn’t be alive long enough to even read a list of all the titles of the books ever published. It was a sad day and I was reminded of it recently as I perused the shelves of a local used book store. It’s overwhelming for me, that volume of choice. My brain spins and heart yearns to read every word on every musty page, but the reality is so very different: my eyes glaze over as I wander through the stacks, barely taking in every twentieth title…stopping not when I see something new, but when the stream of letters form a name or title with which I am already familiar.
I was reminded of this decades-old pattern yesterday when I re-enacted another little dance of mine: career roulette. This time, I was skimming my gym’s copy of Becoming a Supple Leopard (which is the real name of a real book, I swear). Fascinated by the mechanics of the body, still high on the endorphins from a good workout, I started to daydream about going back to school and getting a degree in exercise science. How interesting it would be to learn more about bodies and how to care for them. My daydream continued and, on the ride home, morphed into the idea that I could perhaps study the psychology of exercise. Why are some humans motivated to move and others not? What is it that tells some people they aren’t cut out to be athletes and should stick to the books? How do people who want to move develop the habit, even when their brains fight them?
You might not be surprised to learn that I only finally ruled out law school as an option a few months ago. Or that I looked at requirements for PA (that’s physician assistant) school as recently as last summer. Or that a PhD in comparative literature or theological ethics is still on the table (the latter being a far more realistic option, which is, in itself, pretty funny). And hey, turns out my third-grade dream of being the first female President of the United States is still in reach.
But I think I’m living into my calling now, working to raise awareness of farmed animal welfare issues among Jesus followers. I know that’s a good purpose, and that I’m uniquely suited for it.
Choices. Roads taken and not taken. How can I, who feel like I have a million choices, spread some of that opportunity around to people who have none? Is it reasonable to feel restless so often? How does a person honor that restlessness and maintain some semblance of stability?
thank you for Bradley and Friendly, who joined our family in Philadelphia and thank you for Max and Emma, who left us during our time here (please tell them we love them and miss them still)
thank you for the friends we made in Philadelphia. thank you especially for that one special family who stopped in Fernhill Park one of our first weeks in town to chat with us. out of that one act of kindness and warmth, a deep love grew
thank you for our church community, for running and hiking friends, for friends at the shop and amazing colleagues at ESA, for vegan friends, and for neighbors who know our names, love our family through their generous actions, and always say hello
thank you for the beautiful wissahickon, where we were able to breathe deeply, sweat profusely, and sometimes just sit in awe
thank you for the opportunity to be closer to some of our family and old friends in Eugene and help us honor that new possibility by prioritizing relationship over productivity
god, we feel sad. we also feel joy and possibility
god, please help us to feel our sad feelings well, to not push them away but to embrace and work through them; to not dwell on them but to remember that you are preparing friends and community for us in Eugene even while we grieve the pain of uprooting from Philadelphia.
help us to see these new friends the way that you do. help us find our place there, and help us know if it’s ever time for us to leave again
help us to remember that you love us dearly
help us to remember that we love one another
help us to live the reality of both of those truths, and this one, too: grief and praise are sisters
and remind us in this huge and scary and welcomed and fortunate transition, god, that some things will be better, some things will be worse, some things may just be different, but that everything will be okay
we love you, we praise you, please help us hear you
In November of 2002, at my parent’s house on Corona Street in Eugene, Oregon, I packed two big U-Haul boxes. One contained my clothes and some bedding, the other contained supplies for my cat, Max. My dad drove Max and me and my boxes to the Portland airport, where I walked through security with her in my arms and tears in my eyes. Vicki picked us up in Norfolk, Virginia later that same night and thus began my life on the east coast.
Fifteen years later, I’m headed home. Back to Eugene, to that same street on which I packed my boxes all those years ago, albeit a different house. This time, I’ll make the journey with my husband, son, our two dogs, two cats, and a truck full of what-remains-after-the-necessary-downsizing.
It’s incredibly bittersweet. We’re going to be much closer to my family (most of them) and much farther from Giehl’s. Isaiah doesn’t remember living anywhere except Philadelphia, and is pretty crushed to be leaving his friends. I’ve assured him that with relative frequency, he’ll be able to accompany me on work trips back east, and FaceTime was made for situations just like this. We’re leaving behind a church community that felt like home from the first day. I’ll miss hiking and running in the Wissahickon with amazingly supportive neighborhood friends, carpooling with Kristyn, book club, being ladies-who-lunch with Beth, and much, much more (not necessarily in that order).
I’m grateful that I’ll be able to keep my job after the move, that I’ll continue to be able to do work that I love and that is much needed. I’m grateful that the friends I’ve been able to tell in person have been supportive and are making plans to visit. I’m excited to see what new connections I’ll make on the west coast, what people I’ll be able to meet and partner with who might have otherwise flown under my east-coast-focused radar. I’m filled with joy and anticipation knowing I’ll be just an hour away from the Oregon coast, the place at which my heart feels totally at rest. And I’m so, so happy that we’ll be able to share day-to-day life with my mother and brother.
But the joy and gratitude and overwhelm is tempered by a palpable, sharp grief, at least for now.
If we are east coast friends, I hope we can stay connected in a meaningful way. I hope we can have a meal together when I’m in town and that you will text me West Wing gifs in the middle of the day just because. And I hope you know you’ll always have a place to stay on Corona Street.
In May, I managed to haul myself across the finish line of a ten mile race. I placed around 41,886 out of 42,000 runners and walked the last three miles of the race, which took place on the surface of the sun. My chip time was far over the stated course limit, but a kindly volunteer still managed to hand me two ice-cold bottles of water, another shoved a bag of junk food in my hands, and a handsome member of the armed forces gave me a medal. Then I sat alone under a tree for half an hour before I came up with the mental and physical energy to figure out how to get myself home (I hadn’t come up with a plan for that because deep down, I kinda’ thought I’d never make it). Some weeks later, when I realized I wouldn’t run unless I had some specific and seemingly impossible goal to work towards, I signed up for a half marathon. I imagine when the November morning arrives, I’ll stake myself firmly in the back of the pack and hold on for dear life.
So, I don’t really understand how I find myself leading an effort to start a running club in my neighborhood. It’s really baffling. Like, monumentally confounding. Running clubs are led by people who own short shorts and who can make themselves go at least the pace of one of the slower mammals. I’m in turtle land. I take WALK breaks to recharge.
It makes no sense on paper, but I feel kinda’ called and mostly at peace with the idea that I don’t fit the common idea of a runner and people* might think I don’t have any business trying to fearlessly lead even the most ragtag group of runners.
Moses keeps coming to mind. “I am nobody,” he said to God. “How can I…?” Now, I’m not trying to equate starting a running club in my neighborhood with leading the Israelites out of slavery and into the promised land. But maybe, just maybe, this little venture will give someone the courage to go for their first run or the accountability to go for their second. Maybe seeing a group of neighbors get together will encourage someone lonely to come on out and meet a new friend. Maybe this most basic of exercises, something you can do without special equipment or a membership to an expensive gym, will strengthen the bridges already under construction. Or maybe it’ll just ensure that once or twice a week, I can’t come up with some lame excuse not to run.
In answer to Moses’ reluctance, God said, “I will be with you.” Talk about an awesome running buddy.