Monday Runday: "Retuning" to Running

Returning to Running following an Injury Last Wednesday morning, I got up veeeeeeeeeery early to drive down to Springfield to run with a bunch of my 5 a.m. mama runners. I knew I wanted to be with them for my first run back. They've been such treasured friends over the past year, I knew I wanted to celebrate my return from injury with them.

And if it didn't go well--if the stress fracture site flared up--well, I'd need them there for Mental Health Watch.

It's been a long 12 weeks.

Thankfully, everything went fine and I've run twice since then. Half a mile each time, plus about a mile of walking, with a day of rest in between each workout.

I've got all this pent-up energy (and I'm soooo sick of the pool and the bike) that I want to go full-out. I'm eager to get back to my previous fitness level. It's humbling to go from 120 miles a month to maybe 10.

Plus the fall has been gorgeous.

Returning to Running Following Injury


Returning to Running Following Injury

When I was researching how to train safely following a stress fracture, I ran across an article with a typo in the title. It should have said "returning to running" but it said "retuning." That seemed right though. Like a musical instrument that's fallen out of tune, or a car in need of some TLC.

In theory, the body mends a stress fracture stronger than before. Assuming you're healed, you shouldn't get re-injured in the same spot. But the rest of the body compensates for the hurt place, and that can cause its own problems. Whatever precipitated your injury in the first place needs to be tended to as well.

So I'm returning, and retuning. For me that means continuing to cross train, incorporating more strength work, and at least for now, not running more than three days a week.

What are you retuning these days?

Holy As a Weekend Is Spent

Meet Jacob, a special friend and member of my church whom I visited this past weekend in Minnesota. Jacob, age 7, had a bone marrow transplant 180 days ago. That's a milestone, but the celebration was rather low-key---we played some Wii (he kicked my butt) and I took his mom out for beers and pub food.

At this point, it appears that the BMT has halted the spread of the ALD, which is cause for rejoicing in heaven and earth. I am so thankful to the as-yet-unnamed guy in his mid-40s who was a perfect match, who gave Jacob a second chance. We will be having a bone marrow registry drive at Tiny Church in November, near the one-year anniversary of Jake's transplant.

Unfortunately, Jacob has been in the hospital since day 60 or so. He's had a whole host of issues to deal with since transplant, including graft v. host disease and all kinds of other stuff. You know those drug commercials where they list all the weird, random side effects? And when you ask the doctor she says, "Eh, I have never seen that happen." Jake seems to have a talent for being the one who gets the weird complication or side effect. He is, to borrow a phrase, the 1%.

You can read his incredible story here, although the latest entry is about me and how I came to be called to Tiny. So let me return the favor by telling you a little of what I saw this weekend.

I saw a kid who was clearly feeling crummy but who complained exactly twice. Who doesn't like physical therapy but who does it. (Sadly, I missed his 2 laps around the floor on the bike on Sunday.) Who speaks up for himself, who's assertive to say what he needs or wants. Who swallows handfuls of pills each day, and pillcams the width of a Sharpie.

Who was stronger on Sunday than he was on Saturday.

I also saw a mother whose frustration and fatigue with the situation has gotta be out of this world but who responded with patience, love and attentiveness to her son. Who spends every day and night with him but who takes time away each day because that's the healthy, faithful thing to do. Who is very plugged into what's happening with her daughter back home in Virginia and who can't wait until she comes out for the summer, even though that means an increase in logistics.

Who went shopping for a wedding shower gift, for heaven's sake.

It's a cliche to call people like this brave. I'm not even sure that's the right word. Because they would answer, What choice do we have?

They do have a choice, though. They can become bitter and defeated and curved into themselves---and who would blame them?---or they can write a journal entry that says, "Enough about us---another family here needs our prayers and thoughts right now."

One of my articles of faith is that people going through hard times are under no obligation to be inspiring to the rest of us. They have every right to be cranky and imperfect, to shake their fist at the heavens.

And when the opposite happens---when grace happens---well, there's nothing for a pastor, or a person, to do but to notice it and name it. To breathe, bask and behold.


Title is a riff on a Carrie Newcomer song (video). "Redemption everywhere I look."

UPDATE: Fixed the link to the family's CaringBridge site.

"We Fight Back with Beauty": Prayers on 9/11 at Tiny Church

The Man Who Walked between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein Tiny Church is a traditional Presbyterian church. Until only a few years ago, they recited the Apostles' Creed every week, so for some of our folks, reciting a different creed or confession every week is bleeding edge. They like printed prayers, organ music, and sitting quietly for a sermon.

But slowly over time, we have mixed things up. We have guest musicians who come in every third Sunday and provide an interesting variety. We've had a clarinet/piano duo, an a capella gospel group, and a variety of singer-songwriters. We're using the piano more---at least once a service. We played "stump the pastor" in May, with written questions from the congregation. And people have started talking back during sermons a little. On Sunday I was telling a story about a family in our congregation (with their permission) and the husband chimed in with some additional tidbits.

Either they are humoring their new pastor, or the genuinely like what's happening---hard to tell, but I haven't seen a single folded arm or glare of disapproval yet.

My goal is not all that profound, and it's based on something that most of us know---people learn in a variety of ways and have lots of different intelligences they bring to worship. Sitting quietly and absorbing the lesson, sitting quietly while the pastor prays, sitting quietly, period, is not the only way to do things, nor is it the best way in a visual, experiential culture.

Sunday night we had our quarterly service for wholeness and healing. At these services we always have prayer stations where people can share a concern with an elder, receive prayer, and be anointed with oil. But I decided to add a few more stations as we commemorated 9/11:


Lighting of candles. We had votive candles in holders on the communion table that people could light in honor or memory of someone. Many people brought their candles back to their seats to keep the light close by. I found this touching and was glad they felt the freedom to do this. Our group was small so we gathered around the table for communion. It was a full sensory experience to have the candles radiating warmth as we shared the supper.


Prayer wall/book of beauty. During my short "talk" I told the story of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, the Caldecott book about Philippe Petit, who walked between the Twin Towers on a 3/4 inch tightrope in 1974. The last page of the book talks about how the towers are gone, but they live on in memory, and part of that memory is the beautiful day on which Petit shared his crazy gift with the city of New York. I also talked about this article by Sally Schneider. She describes the experience of being fed at Mario Batali's restaurant, which was open for business in the days following 9/11. The sumptuous meal felt like "an act of defiance to the repressive violence we had experienced." A friend of hers later said, "We fight back with beauty," and that was the theme I riffed on. I don't often use "fighting" language, but on this day, it felt appropriate, especially with beauty as our weapon. Whatever challenges we might face---illness, a broken relationship, a national tragedy---we fight back with beauty. I think that's what Jesus did too.

I created a prayer station where people could thumb through the book and write a prayer, or describe an act of beauty they are called to enact, and put it on the wall.


"We Will Rebuild." Recently in worship I had a big pile of Duplo blocks on which people wrote their name in Sharpie and joined their piece together with other people's blocks. The theme that day was "city" and the New Jerusalem, so we were considering how we are part of building the kingdom/beloved community. People had fun with that, so I brought out the structure and the extra blocks and had people add to what was there. The instructions talked about how people often say "we will rebuild" after a tragedy, and I asked people to consider what that really means.

It was a lovely service, with a small willing crowd. As I think about these stations, I think that as people get more comfortable moving around and interacting with materials and ideas, I think the prompts will deepen as well. Right now we are in the beginning stages. It's fun to read about what other churches are doing as well.

Reverb #9: Party

Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. Last year a friend referred to the church as the island of misfit toys. I laughed at the reference but it also touched me deeply. That is exactly what a church should be---a place for authenticity, where nobody is perfect, shiny and flawless. A place where the quirks are accepted and even celebrated. (As I remarked to the family when we watched Rudolph earlier this week, "I would love any of those toys. OK maybe not the squirt gun that shoots jelly, but the cowboy that rides an ostrich? The bird that swims? Charlie in the box?")

Sadly, too many of our congregations look more like FAO Schwartz.

I've been to some great gatherings this year, but when I considered this prompt, I thought about a special service our congregation hosted last month, a Service for Wholeness and Healing. In most ways it bears little resemblance to a party. But it "rocked my socks off," in the words of the prompt.

This was a new thing for Tiny Church. I wasn't sure what the response would be, but I knew there was a need. We've got a lot of people who are hurting, concerned for loved ones, caring for aging spouses, and so forth. Presbyterians aren't of the fall-on-the-floor-be-HEALED ilk, but we do believe that there is great comfort and renewal in coming together, sharing concerns and places of brokenness, and being prayed for by the community. And we believe that healing and wholeness can come in mysterious ways, whether a person is cured or not.

When you throw a party, you have no idea who will come. There's that moment, 20 or so minutes before it starts, when the high-school insecurity kicks in and you think "Nobody's going to show. I've made all these preparations, and this thing's gonna bomb and it's gonna be me in this big empty room by myself."

But people showed. It was one of the best-attended evening services we've had over the past year, including Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Only Christmas Eve was better attended.

People brought a little something---offerings of themselves to share with the group. A woman sang a solo that flowed over us like the Balm of Gilead---all the more remarkable given that she had buried a parent just a few weeks prior. The song she chose was a piece that a member of the church had requested that we sing in worship, but it just hadn't fit. It wasn't going to work.

That member happened to be there to hear it.

I had enlisted a few folks to help me get ready. I did this mainly so I'd know that at least some people would be there. One elder wanted to be one of the pray-ers. He'd never done anything like it, but he was drawn to the idea. We took turns, so I was able to watch him receive people as they came forward, sharing whatever it was they wanted to share.

He had written some prayers and scripture verses on small slips of paper, I think because the idea of praying extemporaneously worried him. But as people came forward, the cards stayed in his pocket, and he went with the flow. It was lovely. I was reminded of all the times I have overprepared for a party, then realized that I didn't need that extra stuff. I just needed to be present to the guests.

One person had written down concerns on index cards because there were so many. Another person, a very practical, no-nonsense type, reported afterward that she'd heard the voice of the Spirit whispering to her, a simple message that has sustained her.

I love a good party. And I've been to a few this year, although parties aren't as big a part of the social repertoire as they were before children. And our little service was nothing like a party, in a way.

There were no belly laughs. But I felt lighter when I left.

There was no lavish spread of food, unless you count a chalice and a loaf of bread as lavish. And I do.

And yes, there were some shenanigans there. They just took place on a level beyond seeing.