Miracles

On Becoming a Mom: Juniper’s Birth Story

Juniper Evangeline Dunn was born on October 24, 2019, at 5:49 AM at United Christian Hospital in Hong Kong. Big thank you to everyone who has supported and encouraged us on this journey so far. We can’t believe she’s ours.

This is really long and a bit TMI, and I know not everyone will want to read this, but I also know some of you are really interested in birth stories. I decided to write it all out for my own memories and share it here for anyone who is interested. I will write a separate post that is specifically about my experience with the Hong Kong public hospital system.

10:45 PM – My Water Breaks at Home

On Wednesday, October 23rd, I had a normal day at work. I met some friends for dinner afterwards and got back home around 10 PM. Around 10:45 I was sitting at the table, texting with my little sister. She asked if I was about to pop, and I said yes. Little did we know how literally true that was. A few minutes later, I felt a warm gush of fluid as my water broke. I turned to Jonathan with wide eyes and said, “Either I just peed my pants or my water just broke.”

We were both a little in shock. Even though we knew from 37 weeks on that she could technically come at any time, everyone always says that first babies are usually late. I had mentally prepared myself to go over my due date. I was scheduled to keep working until 3 days before her due date. I was only at 38 Weeks, 1 Day.

We had been told in our birthing class that if my water broke at home I might need to go to the hospital sooner than normal, but that I should monitor to make sure the fluid was clear, and unless there was evidence that it was mixed with meconium, we didn’t need to rush to the hospital and could still labor at home for a few hours. 

Jonathan and I both showered and started charging all of the electronics. I was wandering around the apartment trying to text and talk to people and pack up any last things. The amniotic fluid continued to come out in gushes for the next few hours along with my mucous plug. I went through so many pairs of underwear trying to stay dry enough to move around the apartment. 

About 15 minutes after my water broke, I started having contractions. The first two were about 20 minutes apart. Then 12 minutes. Then very quickly down to about 5 minutes. We were trying to time them in the middle of everything else going on. At that point they felt like strong period cramps and I could talk through them. They were lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to over a minute, but not consistently. Around 1 AM, my contractions were consistently 2-5 minutes apart, but the length and the intensity were both inconsistent. Jonathan and I decided that since it had already been more than 2 hours since my water broke and the contractions were close together, we should go ahead and go to the hospital.

1:30 AM – We Arrive at the Hospital

We took an Uber to the hospital (about 15 minutes away) and arrived around 1:30 AM. They had me fill out some paperwork and then hooked me up to some machines to monitor my contractions and the baby’s heart rate. The nurse said the doctor would come to examine me in about 30 minutes. The nurse asked if I had a birth plan. I said no, but that I wanted to do whatever bloodwork was necessary so that I could have an epidural later if I wanted one. She told me there was no guarantee I could get an epidural. I told her I understood, but I wanted to do the bloodwork so I would have an option. She said to tell the nurses in the labor ward once I was admitted.

I laid in the bed with the monitors hooked up for 40 minutes and then the doctor came in to check me. During that time I continued to have contractions every 3-5 minutes. At this point they were stronger than period cramps, but I could breathe through them. The doctor came in to check me (so uncomfortable) and after digging around for what felt like ages, she said I was 2 cm dilated, but that the membrane was still thick and it would probably be awhile. They would move me to the antenatal ward to wait.

At this point I was a little disappointed thinking we had come a bit too early, but I was glad that I was at least dilated a few centimeters. Part of the reason we wanted to avoid coming too early was because in Hong Kong, if you are not in active labor, you go into an antenatal ward with a bunch of other women and your husband cannot come with you. They wheeled me out and we met up with Jonathan in the waiting room. He was able to walk up to the antenatal ward with us, but then they advised him to go back home and wait there since it was the middle of the night. “Get some sleep, it will probably be awhile,” they told him. I would have my phone and would call him when things progressed.

I could tell that Jonathan really didn’t want to leave, but since it was the middle of the night it wasn’t like there were any coffeeshops nearby or other places for him to wait, so I told him I was fine, and he reluctantly left. 

2:45 AM – The Antenatal Ward

They wheeled me into the antenatal ward where I was put into a room with 5 other women. All of the lights were off and everyone was in bed. By this time, I already felt like my contractions had ratcheted up a level. As they settled me in the bed, the midwife asked me, “How would you rate your pain level? 0 is no pain and 10 is you’re dying. So… like a 2?” she suggested. At this point I was thinking at least a 4, but I had no way to compare how bad it was going to get. She had she suggested 2 and I was only 2 centimeters dilated so I reluctantly said, “I guess a 2 or a 3.” Inwardly I was freaking out thinking, “Dear God, is it going to get 4-5 x worse than this?!” They settled me in the bed and said they would come check on me every 4 hours, but to come get them if I needed something before then. 

My contractions were about 2-3 minutes apart at this point and I could not understand how the other women in the ward were just laying there. I tried to lay down for a little while and “rest,” but during each contraction I had to fully focus on my breathing, and since they were so close together, there was very little “rest” time. I also felt like each one was stronger than the last. After about 45 minutes of this, I walked down the hall to the bathroom where I realized I had started bleeding quite a bit. I stayed there for awhile, just to be sitting in a different position, then went back to the bed.

I noticed several of the other women in the ward were sound asleep and actually SNORING. I was baffled. Were they feeling the amount of pain I was feeling? How were they sleeping through it? Was I just a wuss? Were we all feeling level 2 pain? I tried to lay back down, but the pain was steadily increasing with only 1-2 minutes break between each contraction. I writhed around for a bit, then stood up and leaned over the bed for awhile. Finally I decided to go back to the bathroom. Once there, I started to feel a strong urge to push. Like most people say, it felt like I needed to use the bathroom, only so much stronger it was almost impossible not to push. I remember sitting in the bathroom stall with my head leaning against the wall and starting to cry thinking, “I can’t do this for much longer.” 

Knowing they wouldn’t give me anything for pain until I was in active labor, I was a little afraid to ask and be told I hadn’t progressed at all, but I went to the desk told the midwife the contractions were much stronger, that I was bleeding. She asked if I felt an urge to push and I said YES! She said she would come to check me, but I could tell that she didn’t think it had been long enough, so we were both surprised when she finished the check and said I was 6 cm dilated. “Call your husband. We are taking you to a delivery room.”

I was in a lot of pain, but was also so relieved to hear I was all the way to 6 cm and felt somewhat justified that the level of pain I was feeling was definitely not a 2. 😉 

Poor Jonathan had been waiting at home for about 2 hours without hearing anything from me. He had expected me to be in touch once I was settled in the antenatal ward, but the combination of being in the room with all the lights off and dealing with near-constant contractions had made me forget entirely to get my phone out. I called him now and said, “Come now. It’s time.” He was a bit confused since it hadn’t been that long and I was not being a particularly good communicator, but I kept repeating. “It’s time. You need to come.” 

4:33 AM – The Delivery Room

My best guess is that I went into the antenatal ward at about 2:45 AM. According to Jonathan’s phone records, I called him at 4:33 AM. He got in an Uber at 4:38 AM and was at the hospital 10-15 minutes later. By that time, I had been moved into a delivery room. When I got there, the midwives asked about my pain level, “0 is no pain, 5 is ‘I want to cry,’ “ she said. “Six!” I shouted. 

They got me into the bed and asked if I wanted gas and air (standard offering for pain relief in HK). 

“Yes! I want something!” I yelled. They gave me a mask that I could self-administer by putting it over my nose and mouth and breathing in during each contraction, then taking it off when the contraction finished. The gas does little or nothing to dull the pain, but it does alter your perception of the pain in a way. 

 The gas was mostly effective because it gave me something to concentrate on during each contraction other than the pain itself. The best way I can describe it is that without the gas, during each contraction my mind was thinking, “I’m dying. I’m dying. Ow. Ow. I’m dying.” With the gas, my mind was thinking,” I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. I’m trying not to push. I’m pushing anyway. I’m shouting. I’m doing these things because I’m dying.” Lol. The effects of the gas wear off within 20 seconds after you stop breathing it, so I was constantly taking the mask on and off.

By this point, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from groan/shouting at the peak of each contraction. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be pushing yet, but it seemed impossible to stop myself.

Jonathan arrived and stood by my side. The next part is all a bit hazy for me, possibly just because of the pain and intensity and possibly a bit from the laughing gas, but I remember him coaching me to breath and not to push. I remember him asking me if I wanted to change positions, but at that point I was so in the zone and the contractions were right on top of each other and I couldn’t imagine being able to move myself into a different position. I also remember that I had reached a point of not caring at all who was in the room, what noises I was making, or whether or not I pooped on the table. 

Probably 20 minutes after I got into the delivery room, the doctor came to check me. She told me to go ahead and try to push with my next contraction, then said I wasn’t ready yet and to hold off pushing and everyone left. After this, my contractions started to feel slightly different. I couldn’t really explain it, but there was almost a burning feeling to them. I wondered if this was transition. About 20 minutes later, Jonathan buzzed the midwife to ask if I could get some water. When the midwife came in, she asked if I wanted to push and I said, “ YES!” (I’d been wanting to push the whole time). The team of midwives and the doctor came back in to check again and said, “Ok, you’re ready to push. Go.”

I pushed for about 15 minutes, which was honestly a relief because I’d been wanting to push so badly the whole time. The midwives were coaching me the whole time and Jonathan was telling me he could see her head. That final big push when her body was delivered along with a huge rush of fluid was the most relieving feeling in the world. 

5:49 AM – Junie is Born

Juniper Evangeline Dunn was born at 5:49 AM on October 24, 2019 weighing 3.22 kg (7 lbs 1.5 oz). Remember that I called Jonathan from the antenatal ward at 4:33 AM and was 6 cm dilated. Which means I dilated the remaining 4 centimeters AND pushed her out in about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

The midwives took Juniper to a station on my side for a minute to make sure she was breathing and to wipe her off a little. She didn’t cry at all. Then they brought her back and showed me her little bottom, “See! It’s a girl!” before they put her on my chest, Suddenly I was looking down at this perfect little creature who had impossibly just come from my body.

She laid on my chest for a while, but eventually they had to take her away because they were having difficulty delivering the placenta. After 3 doses of pitocin, it still wasn’t coming out and the doctor eventually had to reach up in there and dig it out. Reminder…I had had no pain meds. It was…unpleasant. 

Juniper and Jonathan left and I spent about an hour massaging my uterus, trying to get it to contract and to slow the bleeding. Finally, the bleeding had slowed enough for them to stitch me up where I had torn during the delivery. 

The worst part of the actual delivery was that I tore relatively badly while pushing her head out, and since I did not have an epidural or other pain meds, I felt each rip very distinctly. The doctor did not give me an episiotomy, though it may not have helped anyway as the tearing was more extensive than just the perineum. Thankfully, they did give me a local anaesthetic before stitching me up. I vaguely remember the doctor telling me she used one continuous stitch to sew up all three layers, which might be more sore, but would heal better in the long run.

After what seemed like ages, I was moved to the postnatal ward and they brought Juniper to me. I am the last person who ever thought I would someday go through natural childbirth, much less in a foreign country. It was almost exactly 7 hours from when my water broke to when she was born. I am so incredibly thankful that labor went so quickly and so smoothly and most of all that my sweet girl is here and is healthy. 

And now, the real adventure begins!

About Juniper’s Name 

We chose the name Juniper partly just because we like it. 🙂 But the more we researched it, the more reasons we found to love it. Juniper is a botanical name, like mine, and it has a similar sound and rhythm to Jonathan’s. It means “evergreen.” One of our favorite connections to Juniper is from the Bible when the prophet Elijah fled to Horeb and was saved by hiding himself under a Juniper tree. We love the image of an evergreen – full of life and hope – also being a place of safety.

Her middle name, Evangeline, means “good news.” We’ve been pretty open about how much of a surprise her existence was for us. In the beginning, we (I) didn’t honestly feel like it was such good news. We love thinking of Juniper as someone who will bring the Good News to others, but the name is also meaningful to us as a way to speak over her that SHE is good news. To us. And to the world.

Evangeline also has special meaning to me because of its ties to Louisiana and to Cajun culture. I am originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, the place the Acadians settled when they were forced out of Nova Scotia for their religious beliefs. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an epic poem called Evangeline telling the story of one of the Acadians, beautiful Evangeline and her lost love Gabriel. Evangeline became a cultural staple in my hometown and a symbol of Cajun heritage. The name is often used in the names of streets, businesses, schools, etc. So having Evangeline as part of her name is also a touchstone to where I came from.

 

Super Bowl Sunday: A Love Story

Do you remember the day that you and I became “us”? It was Super Bowl Sunday, 2007. You were in Indiana watching the Super Bowl at your best friend’s house, a tradition I wasn’t yet a part of. I was in Chicago with my parents who had spontaneously flown up after I’d called to tell them I wanted to date you.

I remember hanging up with my mom and thinking, “How can I possibly explain to this nice 19-year-old guy that my parents are flying all the way to Chicago because he wants to date me?” It was intense. I didn’t know how to tell you they were coming. I was certain it would freak you out and scare you away forever.

But you didn’t miss a beat. While I stammered apologies all over the place for how dramatic this was becoming, you smiled and said it was fine, that you weren’t changing your mind. (Though I do remember you asking, “They know I didn’t propose or anything, right? I just want to date you”).

I think I knew you’d be my one and only right then – because of the way you took some serious crazy in stride.

Super Bowl Sunday holds special significance for a lot of people – there are traditions, parties, special foods, and friends that come together for this event. For some it’s about the game itself and for others it’s about the social ritual – the shared experience, the sense of togetherness. As far as the football goes, I could take it or leave it. (Ok, to be honest, I could just leave it). But Super Bowl Sunday is heavy with memories for me.

On February 3, 2007 I said goodbye to my parents and as they drove away I called you in Indiana to say, “So…do you still want to date me? Because you totally can.” You told me later that when you hung up the phone and told our friends we were officially dating the whole room cheered.

We spent the next three Super Bowls in Indiana, surrounded by college friends who packed the Henderson’s living room to the max so that we had to have the game projected onto a sheet hung up across one wall so we could all see it.

The first year we were married we spent the Super Bowl at a party at a pastor we hardly knew’s house in Naperville with strangers who would become our friends.

We spent two Super Bowls in North Carolina – the one in Raleigh when we’d had a huge fight just before the game, and the one in Charlotte where we crashed a party for friends of our friends.

These past two years we’ve been in Korea and the Super Bowl hasn’t been a Sunday night event shared with friends, but something you had to stream on your computer Monday morning around your class schedule–something I was only aware of because of the date and the memory of that Super Bowl Sunday that changed the course of my life.

Eight Super Bowls later and you are still my favorite. You are still my one and only. Never once have I wished for a life apart from you. Never once have I wanted out.

People say that marriage is hard work. That love is a choice we make even when we don’t feel like it. I agree with those ideas. Marriage does take effort and commitment. Love is more than a feeling. But, Baby, you make loving you SO EASY.

Sometimes I look at you and wonder how? How did we grow a love so big and beautiful between two broken, imperfect people? And how did I get someone like you to love me in the first place? And the answer seems clear – we didn’t. I didn’t. We are living a miracle. Every good and precious bit of our marriage is a grace.

You and me, we’re nothing special. We’re just a Southern girl and a Plain-Toast Midwest boy. But somehow, we ended up with a miracle. On Super Bowl Sundays I like to remember those two 19-year-olds, giddy with infatuation, with no idea that this thing between them would grow into a love big enough to rattle the stars.

Image credits: Wedding picture by Taylor Rae Photography, “Twenty-Four” anniversary picture by Grain & Compass.

To Genevieve, On the Occasion of Your First Day on Earth

Dear Genevieve,

The day you were born seemed to stretch out forever, like the sky. You woke your mom up in the middle of the night, but then you took your time making your entrance. Your mom and your dad and your grandma (who came across the ocean just to meet you) and people clear across the world waited a full twenty-four hours for you to finally arrive. Your mom told me those last nine hours of labor were the hardest thing she’s ever done. But I know she would say that you were worth every minute of it and that if she had to, she would do it again if it meant holding you at the end.

Josh, Laura, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads

Daddy, Mommy, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads, born Tuesday, August 5th at 1:03 am . 8 lbs. 3 oz of perfection.

You won’t remember meeting us because you were only 14 hours old, but I will always remember your tiny, perfect body, your wide-open eyes and the impossible sweetness of your little mouth. The way your face is shaped distinctly like your dad’s and how you already have your mom’s long. tapered fingers. You lay in my arms so quietly  kicking your feet and sticking out your tongue, like you were still getting use to the feel and the taste of air.

As you grow you will hear the story of how your mom and your dad moved across the world, far away from their home, their friends, and their families because they held a precious seed of hope that would become you and they believed that this was the best way they could provide for you. Some days it was really hard for them to be so far away, and scary to be having you in a country where the language and culture still feels rough and strange. But they were brave and God gave them the strength and encouragement they needed to push through the hard days. One day, you will get to be the coolest kid in the first grade when you tell your friends you were born in South Korea. I hope when that day comes you remember your parents and everything they sacrificed to have you here.

Your mom and dad are some of our closest friends. From the day we found out you existed we have watched them preparing their hearts and their lives for you. We have hoped and prayed with them  for you. And today the waiting and the hoping is over. Now comes the part where we marvel together as your glorious life unfolds.

Jonathan and Genevieve...He looks good with a baby, doesn't he?

Jonathan and Genevieve…He looks good with a baby, doesn’t he?

The world is a miracle, darling, and you are part of that miracle. We can’t wait to know you – your favorite color, your talents, and what things make you laugh. But no matter who you become in the course of your life, you should always know that you are deeply wanted and greatly celebrated.

So Genevieve…Happy Birthday, and welcome to the world. We can’t wait to hear your story.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Kid president actually says this way better than me. This video makes me all weepy – in the good way.

Mysteries and Miracles

This post is a little behind because our anniversary was last week, but I didn’t want to let a couple of days keep me from saying it. Since I already posted a few months ago about how I suck at marriage, I’ll keep this one short and sweet.  PS – If you came over from Relevant and you are looking for my response to your responses to my article, you can read that here.

***

Do you remember our first Valentine’s Day, Love? When we’d been dating a grand total of 11 days? You met me in the lobby of my dorm and we walked together through the snow to the Starbucks in downtown Wheaton. You gave me a single red rose because you couldn’t afford the whole dozen. I gave you a card, simple and sweet, something about how much I liked being around you. You drank hot chocolate (because you hadn’t learned to like coffee yet) and I had some festive holiday drink (probably a peppermint mocha) and we sat by the window and talked about how happy we were to just be together. Somewhere on the way home, my phone fell out of my pocket and was swallowed by a snowdrift, never to be seen again. You walked me back to my dorm and awkwardly hugged me good-bye because you hadn’t even kissed me yet.

And here we are seven years, three major moves, six jobs and two cats later – on the other side of the world from where we began. Loving more fiercely, more deeply, more deliberately than we could have imagined.

Last night I dreamed we had a baby. A baby girl with a soft peach-fuzz head made just for kissing. I can remember her weight in my arms and the smell of her skin like honey and cream. I woke up sad because she wasn’t real. But she reminded me of something. She reminded me that there are mysteries and miracles still ahead for us, Love. That the honeymoon may officially be over, but ordinary life is still heavy with wonder.

In the heat of these summer evenings, we lay on our backs across our bed, fan churning full-blast, carefully arranging ourselves so that our sticky limbs don’t touch. We look up at the ceiling and whisper out loud the names of the places we hope to see and of the children we hope to love. We map out a dozen possible futures and describe the kind of people we hope to be and the dreams we hope to accomplish. We exhale prayers and breathe in hope. And with these words we build a life.

I Suck at Marriage, but My Marriage Doesn’t Suck

I’ll be the first to tell you that I suck at marriage. Let me give you an example.

A few weeks ago we were sitting on a bench outside a perfect little neighborhood boulangerie in Australia, eating pain au chocolat in the sunshine when Jonathan told me he was thinking of applying to grad school so that he could potentially start a program when we return from Korea. “What do you think?” he asked me.

Do you know what the first thing out of my mouth was? I’ll give you a hint – it wasnt “I think that’s great and I support you in your dreams of getting your Masters,” and it wasnt “Where do you want to apply? Let’s start thinking about how we could make that work.” It was (imagine this with an extremely whiny voice), “But if you start grad school right away we won’t have time to do any traveling after our contract is over because you will have to go back right away for school, and traveling is basically the entire reason I came to Korea!” I actually said that. While we were sitting on a sunny bench on an idyllic tree-lined street in the trendy part of SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.

Of course, when I came to my senses later I apologized sincerely for how selfish and spoiled and inconsiderate I’d been. But the point is…that’s still the stupid first thing that came out of my mouth. Everyone knows that one of the first rules of relationships is to show support of the other person’s dreams and goals. But seven years into this relationship and I still can’t seem to manage that simple task. I think we can all agree that this was a fail.

*****

Sometimes I really suck at marriage. I have unrealistic expectations. I am moody and unpredictable. I am unsupportive. I am bossy. I am lazy. I am inconsiderate. I am whiny. I am demanding. I am terribly selfish. Jonathan is mostly perfect, but every once in a blue moon he loses patience with me too. He hurts my feelings. He pulls away because I’ve become too prickly to handle. We are broken people and we fail to love each other well in so many ways.

 And yet, we have an extraordinary, impossibly beautiful marriage.

*****

We aren’t the oldest and most experienced of married couples. We don’t have a perfect marriage. But we’ve learned some things along the way. We’ve learned we don’t believe in molding our marriage to meet anyone else’s expectations. Everyone seems to have an opinion – that we got married too young, that we should have kids by now, how our home should be run, who should be “in charge.” And we shake our heads and laugh. Because we aren’t interested in what anyone else thinks our marriage should look like. We aren’t interested divvying up our roles according to some chart or in having children based on someone else’s timeline, and we couldn’t care less about who is “in charge.” People say, “You’ve been together since you were nineteen? Aren’t you afraid that you’ve lost who you are?!” And we laugh again. Because we haven’t lost who we are. Together we are becoming the people we are meant to be.

Because our marriage isn’t about keeping score. It’s not about who’s pulling their weight or who’s in charge or who’s loving the best. It’s about heaping grace on one another until our marriage is dripping with it. It’s about soaking in that grace, from God and from each other, becoming so heavy with it that it overwhelms our disappointments, our failures, our hidden ugliness. It’s the kind of grace that changes us.

Our marriage is about understanding that every day of our lives together we are living out a miracle. It’s the miracle we wrote in our wedding vows, “I choose you, today and every day…” The miracle is not just that we fell in love when we were nineteen. And it isn’t just that we made these vows four Junes ago. The miracle is that when I come home from work each night Jonathan wraps his arms around me in a hug so big it lifts me up off of the floor. It’s that I chose him on my wedding day and I chose him again when I woke up this morning. That I will choose him tomorrow and that I will choose him on the day I die. The miracle is God giving two broken, unfaithful people the measure of grace necessary to choose this kind of love on a daily basis. The miracle is that after being together for seven years, I am still in awe that I get to choose him.

Sometimes I suck at marriage. But my marriage doesn’t suck.

place cards

wedding

Image credits: Rings and place card image by Taylor Rae PhotographyWedding image by Asharae Marie, now co-owner of Grain & Compass

Awake My Soul or Why I Run

I am less than a month away from running my first (and likely only) full marathon. So much of my life this fall has revolved around my running schedule or trying to fix the injury du jour (so far, patellar displacement, tendonitis in my foot, pulled hamstring, shin splints, and most recently, my knee giving out entirely when I put my full weight on it.) At the beginning of November Christina and Jonathan and I all ran the City of Oaks Half Marathon here in Raleigh. For those of you who have never been here, Raleigh is fairly hilly. I mean, it isn’t like running up mountains, but this entire race was pretty consistently either going uphill or downhill. When I crossed the finish line my first thought was, “I am so glad I can quit running now” which was quickly followed by, “There is no way I am ever running twice that distance.”

In spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, I really don’t see myself as a serious runner.  For one thing, I’ve only been running these distances for a year and a half. For another, I never run faster than 10 minute miles, which is SLOOOOOW compared to even the slowest of competitive runners.

Friends and family members often ask me why I run. (In fact, after this most recent half marathon I texted my big brother to report my time and his response was, “What made you start running? That’s like the last thing you and I were built for.”)

It’s hard for me to explain why I do it. Especially since, based on all of the injuries I’ve already sustained, it’s clear that this is not something I will be able to keep up for any length of time without sacrificing my knees or feet or some other integral part of my anatomy.

I would love to say that it is sheer love of the sport. That running in and of itself brings me joy. But frankly, that isn’t true. There are days when the last thing I feel like doing is tying on those electric-blue custom-fitted horribly expensive shoes and running. In fact, there are days when I hate it so much I come up with award-worthy excuses for not doing it. There are days when I have to use a walking cast because I strained a tendon and days when climbing stairs or getting in and out of my car is pure torture. There are days I feel exhausted and days when I resent running because it takes up most of my Saturday. I’m not actually a masochist. I don’t just love to run.

I usually tell people that it’s the sense of accomplishment I feel from doing something I never thought I was capable of doing. Before I started training last fall, I had never run more than about 5 miles in my life. It is encouraging to see myself making progress – setting goals that seem impossible and then achieving them. This is partly true, but it is also partly a lie. Personal satisfaction isn’t a big enough motivator for me when compared with the pain and the work and the sacrifice of both time and energy involved in training. I don’t mean to lie, but I’ve never been able to fully articulate an explanation and I know I will only brush the surface when I try.

There is a moment (for me it usually comes anywhere between miles 10 and 15 depending on the day) when my body has started to hurt and I am tired and all I can think about is when I will be finished or at least when my next water break will be. I will think, “Just one more mile and then I will stop for water,” and I press on just a little further, pushing myself just a little past where I want to go and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I am floating. Call it a runner’s high if you want to, but for me it is so much more than that. It is a fleeting, jarring moment when everything is stripped away and I know I am in the presence of my Maker.

And I am the shepherds on that hillside near Bethlehem, in the company of angels, with the glory of the Lord shining round about me. And for just a few dazzling minutes every burning inhale is glory and every exhale is grace and my aching feet striking the trail again and again are a drum beating through my whole body and I am invincible. I think, in heaven I will run like this forever, never getting tired.

And I see myself, almost like I’m watching from outside my own body: My bright running clothes. My tight, salty skin. My phone, blaring Mumford and Sons through my ear buds until my whole head throbs with the sound. My arms pumping upwards and ending in hands balled into fists around imaginary drumsticks I am using to tap the rhythm out in the air in front of me. And, if I’m all alone, my mouth, using whatever breath is left in my lungs to sing out loud to the tops of the trees:

Awake my soul

Awake my soul

Awake my soul

For you were made to meet your Maker

You were made to meet your Maker

I run for those moments of rare and startling beauty. I run to awaken my soul. To feel fully alive.

My Resolutionless New Year

For as long as I can remember I have been that nerd kid who absolutely loved getting new school supplies. I would burst with excitement over the sharp wood-scent of new pencils and the crisp bindings on composition notebooks (and later in college, slender, trendy moleskins) with all of their empty pages which seemed to me to hold whole worlds of possibility. I have always been a lover of the written word and even though most of my notebooks would soon be filled with notes on lectures and computations and random doodles in the corners when I got bored, each blank book seemed to me to hold secrets that I had the power to unlock by simply setting my pen to the paper. The beginning of a new school year was full of opportunity.

Cool thrift-store notebooks

 Even in college, I loved the first day of classes when we’d get our syllabi and I would carefully copy due dates and assignments into my planner as though they were treasures just waiting for the right moment to be revealed. I loved the first lecture where I would use a new pen and have dramatic internal struggles about what the first worthy thoughts were to put on the page. (I was always a little anxious about marring the page with something silly or insignificant.) The first day or even first week of lectures would be preserved in careful notes written in my most precise handwriting and a mistake was like a horrible blemish on that perfect clean slate. I’ve even been known to tear a page out completely and recopy the whole thing rather than leave the ugly stitches of a crossed-out word on one of those first sacred pages. Of course after a couple of weeks my handwriting grew sloppier, my carefully printed words slipping into a crazy mixture of print and cursive, my full sentence outlines turning into bits of words and phrases scattered haphazardly across the page, my syllabus a portent of doom rather than the exciting excursion into knowledge it had once seemed.

My romanticized view of school supplies

 In many ways, I have a habit of looking at a new year in the same way. There is the initial excitement of the fresh start, as sweet and clean as the crisp pages in a brand new notebook.  There is the anticipation of the beautiful things that might be discovered in the coming days and weeks of this year. There is the hesitation over how to begin. How to place that first mark on something so pure. So altogether holy. Unblemished. But inevitably, it does begin. Usually with a dozen promises to myself, to God, to the world, of all the projects I will begin, the habits I will form or break, the ways I will be better, more, different. Things I want to accomplish. Things I want to change. The parts of me I want to discard like yesterday’s newspaper. The parts I want to sink more deeply into, attributes I desire to weave more deeply into the fabric of my being. The parts I want to take up and try on for the first time and see if they fit. As if any of these things could happen simply because one day rolled into another and we called it 2012.

I find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions too simplistic to be helpful. The idea that I, by sheer force of will and determination, could decide in one day to change the patterns and habits that I’ve been developing for years simply by resolving to do so. I mean, think about it. It isn’t as though I had a magical revelation on December 31 of all the things I wish were different and am now making my first genuine effort at changing them. I am constantly aware of things I want to change, from practical things like being more organized to heart issues like being less selfish. In most cases, they are things I have already tried (many times) and failed (many times) to change. Like my careful notes in my notebook during the first few weeks of a new school semester, I manage to keep some of my resolutions for a few weeks. But slowly and surely (or more often honestly, pretty quickly) I slip back into my old routine, my selfish habits, my less healthy choices, my overly busy lifestyle.

For me, New Year’s resolutions quickly become a reminder of new ways that I have failed. Failed to do what I said I would do. Failed to change things that need to be changed. Failed to keep that clean page of the new year free of angry ink-scarred blemishes. Over the past few years I have stopped resolving altogether, at least officially. But this year I am thinking something new. I am thinking that my failure doesn’t have to be such a negative thing. I’m reminded of another post I wrote many months ago about how ultimately, there is no such thing as ultimate failure, there is only feedback. And looking at it from that perspective I can see that my string of failures are valuable in several ways. At the most basic level, they help me eliminate something that does not work. A “solution” that did not have the intended result. But on a spiritual level failure is a stern teacher, a reminder of my brokenness, of my inability to fix myself, even when I can see what needs to be done. Failure gives witness to my sinfulness. To my need for salvation. And then I remember the great news. The news we celebrated just last week. Salvation is here. God with us. Hope is here.

So instead of making resolutions this year of things I will do or won’t do, I’ve decided to frame it in terms of hopes for this year. The greatest of which is that God would make himself known. That in my weakness, my utter inability to fulfill any of these hopes, I would see any progress as the work of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. That I would see any small successes as an outpouring of grace. That I would understand that in my weakness, I am utterly incapable of making the changes I want to see in my life. But my weakness is the perfect avenue for God’s strength. With that in mind, these are the things I am hopeful for in this year. These are not things I think I can accomplish and they are not items to check off like a grocery list. These are ways I hope to see God work in my life, but hopes I hold with open hands knowing that God’s desires for me may be different than my own.

My hopes in this year:

1. Develop a greater dependence on God and a greater desire to hear his voice and to obey it, both individually, and as a couple

Lily and Jonathan Swing. Courtesy of Asharae Marie.

2. Cherish and invest in the friendships God has given me

Scott and Sarah, some of our new friends. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with these guys?! (This was at the state fair, by the way. There aren’t giant hotdogs just sitting around NC.)

3. Practice being a better listener. Be slower to speak.

Me listening. Also courtesy of the lovely Asharae Marie

4. Give more than I take. Especially with my husband.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle- eating well and continuing to run even after my half marathon is over

In case you never got to see this picture. So true.

 

6. Take time to write. Hopefully finish something I’ve started. It’s been years since I’ve completed something besides a blog post.

7. By this time next year I would like to be in a job or school situation that is more fulfilling, even if it isn’t my ultimate “dream job.” Take a step closer to understanding what God made me for.

I would like a path to follow. Any direction will do. 🙂

8. Bake more! : ) And practice the gift of hospitality that goes along with that.

Confession: I made these cookies like 5 years ago. But it was the only baking picture I could find today. So there.

9. Live an adventurous life, less hindered by fears that disguise themselves as “practicality.” Take opportunities to travel, to love strangers, to try new things, to learn from unexpected teachers.

Tintagel, England. Near Merlin's Cave. Photo by the lovely Jenny Hansma.

10. Find ways to spend time playing with little children (in the non-creepy way!)

Little guy I used to watch. Obvious why playing with kids is on my list. I have to get my baby fix or I'll start wanting one of my own.