Intentionality

Posted on February 27, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“A speck of glitter is an accident,” said the woman across the conference table. “A blotch of it is intentional.”

I thought of the splotch of glitter glue stuck to my home office floor, a reminder of the previous owners, and the fruitless hours spent attempting to pry it off.  The box our first Girls on the Run team decorated as a collection bin for used shoes and running clothes, the finger paint and feathers, sparkly ink and glue, and the stretch of glitter it left behind in the back seat of my car. How for months anything unlucky enough to sit there emerged shimmering. My briefcase, papers, and books. My dogs. The seats of passengers’ pants.

There was nothing intentional in that.

This word keeps cropping up, intentional.  Particularly there, at the Girls on the Run annual conference in San Diego this January, where conversation ranged from strategic planning to tutus, from volunteer management and retention to glitter. All of it important, deliberate. Every moment weighted with an unusual mixture of gravity and joy.  orange glitter

Girls on the Run is our business. Our passion. Our vision for the way we would like the world to be, the value we place on ourselves and in each other.

We strive to be intentional in our decision-making.  The core value I notice the most throughout the conference. One I will repeat seven times during trainings back in San Antonio over the two weeks that follow.

Intentional. The word materializes in the books I read, the radio programs I listen to while driving from sites to meetings to my office.  It’s punctuated in conversations with the people I meet, and even in the sermons I hear.

Do I live an intentional life? Do my decisions, actions, words reflect a thoughtfulness and care?  So many hours and days that feel like the splotch of glitter glue dripped randomly, accidentally on my office floor when my plan called for a more measured and permanent line, situated elsewhere.

I’ve never been one for glitter. Avoid it at all costs. Although I’ve always liked to look at sparkly things. The sun ricocheting off the tips of waves like diamonds scattering across glass. Stars like rhinestones piercing the blackest sky. The shimmer of raindrops tumbling down my windows.

If the sea could be my skirt and the sky my mantle, if I could wear raindrops like jewels dangling from my ears, I wouldn’t mind the shimmer at all. But a patch of glitter smeared on a cheek, stretched across the back of my pants, stuck eternally to my office floor, these are the kinds of things I’ve railed against.

Yesterday I stood under a tree on the playground at one of our new sites, shifting my weight from foot to foot attempting to keep warm. Trying to quiet the stretch of thoughts in my head—phone calls to make, emails to send, reports due and plans undone—and focus instead on the girls as they ran around the field behind the school.  They shouted out answers to the lesson about what it means to be healthy, their hair flying behind them, ponytails whipping in the wind.

I watched their feet and bodies at first. Was the ground too uneven? Would they fall? Was it too cold to be out here running under a sky all windswept and gray? But I trust the coaches and their judgment. They’ve been doing this for three weeks, more. They know their school, their girls. Their abilities.

So I watched the girls’ faces instead.  Eyes sparkling with the thrill of movement, lips curling in joy as they rounded the bright orange cones stuck haphazardly in the grass, their voices carried away with the wind and their forms a dazzling light against the gray and windswept sky.

Surely there is something intentional in that.

 

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The Light of the World

Posted on January 1, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

On the lawn of my neighbor four doors down stands a panoply of lighted yard animals. A couple of moose and two varieties of reindeer, what appears to be a bear, a snowman, and a Snoopy-like dog sporting a hat and a red and white sweater imprinted with “CANADA.”

I notice my neighbor’s lawn art on the nights I drive by, one of many ornamented yards. Most houses sport tidy rows of single colored lights strung from eaves, wrapped tightly around trees, draped symmetrically over bushes. Not my neighbor four doors down. Their gathering of lighted yard animals stand united under a canopy of multicolored lights, some strands blinking red, some dripping green, all run through with a shock of white light.

As conspicuous as my neighbor’s lawn art sounds, it wasn’t until I ran by in the mornings that I saw it clearly. My favorite time to run, holiday-season mornings. The world at peace, darkness punctuated by lights that herald the joy of the season, making my heart swell with excited expectation as I run.

You can tell something about a person, I think as I wind my way through the streets, by the way they string their lights. Are the lights single-colored or multi-?  Are they strewn carefully along some predetermined line or draped haphazardly among the shrubs? What it is you can tell, I’m not yet sure, but I feel I know my neighbors a little bit better by virtue of their lights.  Chritstmas Tree

I often wonder about my neighbors as I run by, what their lives are like behind those walls, their lighted lawns or darkened windows. Are they happy? Lonely? Do the holidays fill them with joy or with sadness or with something else entirely? With nothing at all?

The trunk of the live oak that shelters my front lawn is wound with strands of colored lights. They burn incessantly, although I know you cannot always see them. No timer, no unplugging, just an unceasing rainbow sparkle.

Some days when I come home, I flinch in anguish and squint toward the tree, looking for the light I know must be there, overpowered by the light of the day. It’s not until I see a flicker of blue or orange that I am at ease, to know that my lights still burn.

I sometimes wonder if my neighbors wonder about me and my ever-lit, multicolored tree.

But what would I do, I think on those mornings I run by lighted yards and the smell of bacon frying, bread baking, laundry drying, fires burning, if there were sadness or loneliness or emptiness inside when I do not know the names or the faces of the people behind those lights?

But we are all our brothers’ keepers, I think as I run by. There is always something to do.

I ran again this morning by the panoply of lighted yard animals spread across the neighbor’s lawn four doors down.  One of the moose lie on his side beneath the ribs of a reindeer, blown over by the wind. I stopped at the yard’s periphery, a little anxious at trespassing, but I stepped in anyway, stood him up, and leaned him against the snowman. He may fall over again, but that’s ok. I’ll be running by tomorrow.

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Breaking Eggs

Posted on December 12, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

You can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs.

I was scrambling eggs to make an omelet when the proverb came to mind.  I had run the Shiner half marathon the day before, and I woke up feeling good. The race was challenging—intermittent rain and wind, unexpected steep grades (who was the genius that decided to put a hill at mile 11?), two miles of mud—but I met one of my two goals, finishing in the top 10 of my age group.

A great race ended, another goal met, and I tried hard to be in the moment to enjoy the accomplishment that comes from hard work, a job done to the best of my ability.

Nevertheless, post-race blues were sinking in and about to be compounded by holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four months of my work year, and a sick dog.

Maybe you don’t get post-race blues. It took me a few races to recognize them for what they are. When the thing I’ve focused on for 8, 12, 16 weeks or more is over and I look at the side of my fridge where my training plan hangs only to see a blank slate waiting to be filled, to start all over again. The promise of a new beginning, which is, and should be, exciting.

lemonmeringuepie_86114_16x9Yet any beginning emerges from an end. Creation is preceded by destruction. (Or as Wallace Stevens would say, “Death is the mother of beauty.”)

Before I let my emptiness cave in on itself—before Thanksgiving Day—I selected a new race, registered, and created a new training plan, ready to start December 1. But the long days of holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four work months of the year, and a sick dog cut into my plan. I am not off to the best start. (Although, thank God, my dog is getting better.)

This week I stood in the kitchen beating eggs again, remembering when my mom taught us to bake. For a time my favorite was lemon meringue pie. It wasn’t the taste I so much enjoyed as the making of the pie, or, at least, the end result. So many eggs broken, vigorously whisked into tall, stiff peaks strong enough to stand on their own.

It was the beating that gave me qualms. Before they can peak, the eggs fold in on themselves, all mush and formlessness, unable to hold anything together, much less themselves.

Me, the past couple of weeks.

But you can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs. Maybe it’s time to rise again.

 

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Why I Don’t Love Tapering

Posted on November 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s only four miles.

A dangerous thought. As if completing each quarter mile isn’t a miracle in itself. As if four miles is an easy run.

In the big scheme of my training plan, it is. My half marathon is this weekend, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in the past three-plus months.

But in the big scheme of my running history, there have been times when four miles may as well have been an ultramarathon.

As I’ve watched my mileage decrease over the last two weeks—8 miles, then 5, 5, 7, 4, 2—I’ve noticed a tendency toward carelessness creep into my thinking.

Sure, I can sleep just a little longer and wait to start my run. It’s only four miles.

But training is training, and routine is established for a reason. Throw one car off and the whole train threatens to derail.

Sure, I’ll have an extra cookie the night before my run. It’s only four miles.

But fuel is fuel and is important always. Extra cookies often turn into an entire bag, at least for me, an all-or-nothing snacker. Self-discipline in habit takes a long time to establish but can take me less than a week to destroy.

Sure, start the coffee, I’ll be right with you. I can get this run over with fast—it’s only four miles.

But every step, every quarter of a mile is consequential.

smart thoughtsI think hard about this new stealthy lackadaisical attitude during my four-mile run. It’s 9am, a good three hours later than I normally run, and the sun beats down on my back. A cold front has descended on Texas, and even at this hour it’s only in the mid-30s.

Noting before today’s run how my self-discipline has been slipping, I awoke early and worked for a couple of hours before stepping out for my run. I’m mindful, now, of my routine and how losing time, if only an hour, fills me with anxiety.

One mile in and I’m still not there, not yet in that comfortable space where my body is happy we are here. It takes a good mile or two until I settle into a run, three or four until it feels good.

This is why I don’t run many 5ks, I think as I chug up a hill. The race is over before I even know I’m running, before my mind connects with my body and we’re moving in synch.

Just after mile three I start to feel it, the ease with which my body falls into pace, into the right cadence. The corresponding peace. I smile with relief.

This is why I run.

And this is why I don’t love tapering–

There are twenty-four hours in a day. Only during one do I get to run, and then only three times a week. The other twenty-three hours, the remaining four days require extra vigilance to guard against the mental carelessness that would let me believe that four miles is a breeze.

I can feel every step.

 

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Ginger

Posted on October 31, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“God,” I say staring up at the ceiling in my shower, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I think I quit.”

I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “this.”

My job? Long days, into evenings and nights. Saturdays. As much as I swear to myself I will not work on Sundays, there is inevitably a phone call. An email. Something.

My living situation? Seven weeks now with my sister, who temporarily moved in when she sold her house unexpectedly fast. With her three dogs. Added to my two. In a home office.

All of it. None of it. I don’t really know. Sometimes, as much as I am grateful for all I do, all I have, “this” can seem so weighty.

I wash my hair and wait for God’s reply.

dog listening

I used to think God’s distinct voice would sound something like a cross between John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Gandolf, but I’ve never actually heard it, distinctly. It comes across, rather, in the words, actions, and eyes of people I know, and many people I don’t know. More often, it comes across as an unclenching of my gut. A certainty that something is or isn’t so.

By the time my hair is conditioned, I get my answer:  “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” like my favorite Far Side cartoon. I imagine God rolled His eyes when He heard me, said here we go again, and I sounded something like that.

I translate His answer to mean, “You’re not done yet.”

“OK,” I sigh as my gut relaxes just a touch. It really doesn’t matter what I want or don’t want to do, or what I think I can or can’t do. What needs to get done will get done, regardless of me. Despite me. Sometimes, if I am listening, because of me.

Out of the shower and dressed, I survey my training log tacked to the side of my fridge and my gut unclenches completely. At least tomorrow I get to run. This is something I can do.

 

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Running Buddies, Part II

Posted on October 24, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“Can we walk up this hill?” she asks, slightly out of breath, motioning with her chin to the incline ahead. “No wait,” she says before I can reply, “I’ll walk. You go on ahead.”

“OK,” I say, knowing I won’t. I’ll walk when she walks, stop when she stops. Run when she runs.

Not so long ago, I would have gone on ahead. Or, more likely, would have been out here alone instead of with a friend.

“No,” she says before we reach the hill, “I’m not going to walk. I can make it. I can push myself.”

LeonCreekSouthPearsall

“OK,” I say as we run up the hill.

We’ve been pushing already, closer now to the end of this road, closer as well to the half marathon we’re training for, the Shiner.

We stop at the top of the hill for water, nearly done with our twelve-mile run, less than two miles to go. The sun is up and the heat settling in, even though it’s nearing the end of October. But this is Texas. Fall won’t feel like it’s here for awhile.

We’re both tired, elated, spent, happy to be out here running, getting stronger, faster with each passing week, following a training plan that started nearly three months ago. I can’t imagine, now, having had to run all the long runs alone.

This is what long runs are for. Endurance.

I think about the girls I observed just a couple weeks ago, preparing to run in circles around the playground, who threw their arms around each other at the thought of running with a buddy.

They instinctively knew what we so easily forget. The road is easier to endure when you’re on it with a friend.

 

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Planting Seeds

Posted on October 17, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

THOREAU-EXPECT-WONDERSHard choices. The theme for the day’s lunch. Discuss our hard choices and what we’ve learned from them, how they’ve shaped us.

Was the choice hard from the beginning, or did hardship arise only in the middle, when we were knee-deep in, no going back? Or was it the end of the choice and the bearing of its consequences that brought hardship on?

I immediately thought of all the times I’ve moved, over twenty when I stopped counting several years ago. Some easy–a few blocks away, in college, to the other side of town, same city. Some decidedly hard, requiring the shedding of material, intellectual, philosophical things, like a snake sheds its skin, leaving me feeling naked, exposed. Another state, another country. Back again, and always the question, now what?

I’d taken to thinking of my life as if I was a dandelion spore, blown about by the breeze, landing here or there by chance. Not a lovely thing, not rooted.

Until I landed here, where I stumbled into a community, a home. A place where hope multiplies like dandelions in a field, ineradicable.

I’ve always been a fan of fields and flowers and trees, but I now understand the power of a seed.

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

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Running Buddies

Posted on October 3, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I recognized a face or two as they came into the gym, smiling, twisting their hair into ponytails up and away from their necks to escape the stifling, pungent air. Ninety-plus degrees and the air conditioner down. I stood against the far wall trying not to move, not to exert too much energy or breathe too deeply.

Such awesome girls, the head coach had told me. Never seen anything like it. They’re so innocent and sweet.

A new season of Girls on the Run, three weeks in. Many sites still in the process of bonding, coaching teams as well as girls. It can be chaotic, challenging. I dropped by this site to deliver shoes and had asked in advance if I could stay, just a bit, just long enough to help me remember why it is I do this.

I sat cross-legged on the floor next to the tower of empty boxes, away from the circle of girls. My salmon colored t-shirt appeared to have sprung stripes where rivulets of sweat had trickled down and settled during the flurry of shoe trying-on that preceded the lesson.

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The girls hadn’t seemed to notice either the sweat or the pressing heat. They hurried to change clothes, find and fill their water bottles, grab a granola bar, and form their circle, eager to get started. A lesson in negative vs positive self-talk, the same lesson our coaches had practiced in training. The adults had related, nodding in agreement as the lesson uncovered the ways in which we tear ourselves down, dismantle our uniqueness and achievements as quickly and easily as dismantling a Lincoln log house, and then separate ourselves into oneness.

In the very places the adults had nodded and their bodies slumped, the girls sat upright looking puzzled, oblivious as to what the coach was talking about. I chuckled, amused but mostly relieved. They hadn’t yet started that conversation with themselves.

C’mon, a coach waved me in as the girls stood up, moved on to their warm-up. You’re here. You might as well join us.

Join? I hadn’t been a joiner. But how could I say no in the face of this? High knees. More sweating. Yet the girl on the far side of the circle smiled broadly as if she had just been crowned princess instead of standing here in this gym, hiking up her knees, excited to go outside and run circles around the small dirt playground.

At last we filed out the door and I inhaled the fresh air and warm breeze. I hung back as the team walked out to the shade. Several girls held hands, vied to hold the coaches’, leaned in sideways touching bangs as they talked.

Most hadn’t known each other when they started, yet here they were sticking together like buns in a pan, oblivious to each other’s imperfections, or their own.

You all ready to run? the coach asked as she resumed the lesson. A twitter rippled through the team.

Oh! Oh! A hand flew up from the center. Can we have a running buddy? As if on cue, each girl turned to her neighbor, and they hugged.

The coach caught my eye and smiled. Never seen anything like it.

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Wednesday Night Coffee

Posted on September 12, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

But why don’t you tell me a little about you, I say and raise my cup to my lips to silence myself.

Only 6:30 and a long day already, fourteen hours and still more to do. Fueled by caffeine, I have been talking since she sat down, conveying the usual information about volunteer opportunities, the usual story about Girls on the Run, barely pausing for a breath much less a response.

She sits post straight across from me, deportment suggesting a tightly made bed, sheets taut, covers smoothed, corners tucked in hospital-style, and listens politely. When I say tell me about you her eyes shift right, seek the corner, some point on which to focus other than me. She speaks quietly but directly, measuring words, and I am once again astonished by the honesty, the trust a complete stranger has in me.

coffe

I watch her face as she talks, still taut, no wrinkle to underscore the furrows of her life, like we’re taught to smooth away pain, tuck it under cover, hide it underneath so no one sees.  But for a moment a ripple like wind kissing water passes over her eyes, which widen almost imperceptibly, the only inflection to underscore the agony in broken relationships, loneliness, death of which she speaks.

Why running? I ask, although I too know the answer, but I listen for the epiphany, the connection, her need to say it.

Because it’s not self destruction, it’s another way, a safe way, a path toward community, she says. It feels like what happiness should be.   

She wriggles excitedly in her chair as she says happiness and I think of the girl another coach told me about only an hour earlier, the girl who walked out of math class bursting with joy and said, Math makes me so happy. I love it so much I just have to do it.  I had laughed when I heard this, thought how odd, to get such joy from math, and then, yes but it is the same with me and running, and how odd that must be to some.

She has stopped speaking and once again sits post straight across from me, waiting. Do I gloss over her admission of pain, her declaration of happiness, step back into my own reserve, my own tightly-made bed?

Another sip of coffee as I consider the balance of safety and risk, the imperative of which I have been speaking for weeks of open hearts and connection. One more sip and I venture in. Running saved my life, I say and speak to her of divorce and sickness and death. If only it had been shown me when I was young…

But what do you want? I ask suddenly, surprising myself, as I have not asked anyone so directly before. Why volunteer? What is it you expect to find here?

For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Myself, she says. My way back to me.

 

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Open Heart

Posted on August 22, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lead with an open heart and assume positive intent.

One core value of Girls on the Run. It’s what all staff and volunteers are supposed to do. As council director, it’s what I’m supposed to do. Although “do” is not exactly the right word. It’s what we’re to model, to live. To be.

The second part is not so hard. I’ve always tried to find the best in people, see through their eyes, run in their shoes.

It’s this first part, the open heart, that I find a little bit tricky. I suspect the allusion has more to do with poetry than medicine, more with Robert Burns’s or H.D.’s red roses than with scalpels.   red-rose-side

As a kid, I thought open-heart surgery meant that doctors actually cut into a heart, lay it open, poke around. Of course, that’s not really what they do.

It’s worse, almost, more violent. The slicing of skin, splaying open of flesh, prying of ribs with tools that appear better suited to construction or cars in an effort to reach the heart, hold it gently in hand to mend.

Surely that’s not what Girls on the Run has in mind.

What I think they mean, rather, is that we are to give of ourselves–not simply our time or money, our skills or talents, but our humanity. Our love for people as they are, where they are. To be vulnerable, compassionate, real.

Such an easy proposition when you consider the people that are drawn to this program. Amazing people. With amazing hearts.

Such a difficult proposition when you consider how often they come and go. How quickly the demands of life, of family or career, misfortune or opportunity eclipse a passionate heart. No sooner, sometimes, do you allow an amazing person in and they disappear, called away on some sort of adventure.

The second part, then, is not so hard. To see through their eyes, run in their shoes. Do a jig of excitement with them for their gain, sit quietly in sorrow with them for their loss. And when they go, you consider again this first part, the open heart, that’s still a little bit tricky, so that closing the heart seems less risky, less violent. A safer way to lead.

Last week, four of us gathered outside at a local pub in the sweltering August heat to plan our next coach training. Three hardly know each other. Maybe they have some things in common, some experience or history yet untapped. Initially, what draws us together is our passion for what we do, creating an environment where girls can be themselves, can feel safely strong and confident.

Before long, an animated discussion broke out. I sat as quietly as I could and observed. What I saw in each expression, heard in their words and silences was some facet of me, some part of their personality, some joy or fear or quirk that we share, and I knew that this was what really drew us together. Something deeper that we would only find if we were willing lay it open.

And as I looked around the table, a sense of peace embraced me and my heart bloomed.

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