Sunrise on Ash Wednesday

Lent is my favorite church season, followed closely by Advent, which is weird because I hate to wait. I am a really bad wait-er. The reason these are my two favorite seasons of the church calendar isn’t that Lent or Advent are particularly happy, because Lent certainly is not happy. I am also not a masochist, so I don’t love these two seasons because of my intense need for self-punishment at waiting. My love for Lent and Advent probably has more to do with the fact that I know how long I will be waiting, and I know the outcome of the wait. I know that at the end of the 40-ish days, there will be a big event that makes the wait worthwhile. At the end there is a birth, there is resurrection. There is hope.

Another of my favorite things is the day when I realize that the sun is rising again on my way to work, when I am not driving the entire hour-ish in the dark. Driving out of the darkness into a sunrise is the best way to start a day of work, or of travel, or even of play. Especially if that sunrise is filled with purple deepness and yellow brightness and red intensity. The sunrise brings with it a sense of a new beginning; there is hope; the beauty of the earth is a forever thing.

The most beautiful day right now in my life is the day when Ash Wednesday and the sunrise morning happen to coincide. In other words, today is my most beautiful day.

On my way to school this morning, I listened to a podcast called “Everything Happens” featuring Kate Bowler and Nadia Bolz-Weber. In the conversation, they talk about how things happen and about how we frame the bad things that happen: “I think that those kinds of ideas, you know, the reason it hurts is because it’s painful, not like, the reason this thing in your life is hard is because hard things in life are hard. It’s not a spiritual failing of yours that this feels bad. Hard things feel hard. Period” (Bolz-Weber). My take away is that we try to make difficult things seem like they are our fault, but we always think the beautiful things are someone else’s fault. Maybe just take away fault. Bad things are bad. Good things are good. Beautiful things are beautiful. Things are.

The sunrise morning, and the beginning of my favorite season of the church calendar, happening on the same day makes me joy filled and helps me to recognize how beautiful God is and how amazing [Their] work in this world is.

Down to the Church and Back to Grace (Street)

I wrote most of this as a caption for a post on my Instagram: fatvegantrailrunner.

One SOUL-filling mile: down to the church and back to Grace (Street). No, seriously, that’s my one-mile route in my neighborhood: down to a church and back to Grace Street, which is a block away from my house, my brother’s house really. 

I’ve been fucking up a lot lately: being angry for no really valid reason, crying over things that are out of my control, feeling displaced when my place is wherever I am, and generally feeling sorry for myself when there’s really nothing to feel sorry for. This is a combination of not living with my wife, being a teacher during COVID-19, and simply reaching middle age.

I’m trying, really trying, to give people the benefit of the doubt, assuming positive intent and believing that people are doing the best they can. I’m trying really hard to extricate myself from family things and friend groups whose “best they can” still feels wrong or bad to me. I want for myself a healthy and fulfilling life, so sometimes someone else’s best and my boundaries don’t work together.

I never wish them ill, but I want the best for myself in this life. And at this point I am not willing to sacrifice my best I can for their best they can. Is this selfish? Maybe.

So, I guess this is to say that I don’t want to hurt people, but I also don’t want to be hurt. 

This is to say that I am trying with each new day to make a new me. To make good choices that don’t hurt people, to say I am sorry when I have hurt people.

Down to the church and back to grace. I have a few I am sorries to say.

46 Years and 48 Days

In July, I wrapped up my 46th revolution around the sun and began my 47th. The first 48 days of this revolution have been some of my best days as an adult, even though the last time I wrote about how hot it was in my van with my dog.

The week after my birthday was spent in leisure on our Washington Island property. I spent the days with my wife reading, lying in the hammock or sitting around the fire, cooking food outdoors, eating delicious carry out, drinking coffee, walking to the lake and wading in the water, and being with each other.

During that week and for the past month and a half, I was able to contemplate a few things in my life. I want this year to be governed by three things—to filter every decision through them, like guiding principles—and I am trying to say yes to things that bring me joy,

The first guiding principle is this meditation, which I read in a book, but I don’t remember which one: “What did you do today to make this world a better place? What difference did you make in someone’s life today? How did you let someone make a difference in your life today?” When I end my days in this manner, I get the opportunity to reflect and think about how I am reacting and responding to the events in my life. Sometimes I love what I see. Other times I don’t love what I see. But either way, I have thought deeply about how my day went.

The second guiding principle is a quote from Brother David Vryhof, who is a monastic at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist: “Complaining, or murmuring, as St. Benedict calls it, can have a toxic effect on human communities. Suppose you gave up complaining. Suppose you made it your practice to express what you desire and to work constructively toward achieving it, rather than complaining about the things you don’t like. Could becoming “murmur-free” make a difference in your quality of life and in the quality of life of those around you?” Not complaining about things is challenging, but when I can adhere to the spirit of this quote, my life feels more peaceful and more loving.

Lastly, this poem by Mary Anne Perrone sums up a lot of what I am feeling these days:

Life at Midlife

I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness.
I believe, I Believe.

In addition to living by these principles, I have begun accomplishing some tangible goals. I started reading a few chapters of the Bible each day. I am attempting to read a leisure book each month. I’m running every day, which is always something that makes my life better. And, I am fully embracing veganism for all of the reasons!

These guiding principles, living into my goals, and a job that makes me feel alive again are making these days beautiful.

They aren’t easy, but they are beautiful.

 

So This is the 20-21 School Year?

Shortly before school began, I accepted a position teaching back at my old school in Muncie, and shortly after my school began and before their school began, I accepted a one-class overload teaching at another school in Muncie, so to say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

For some reason, even though school is online, I feel like I am spinning my wheels and can’t get a good footing on my teaching. I try something, and it doesn’t feel right, so I change to something else that still doesn’t feel right, and then I try something else, and so on. I think part of the problem is that I feel like I am just having my students do tasks, and that it’s hard to make those tasks meaningful for them.

I wonder if it’s because I feel unsettled in my own life, so that rubs off into my teaching. I live on the East side of Indianapolis with my brother, but on Sunday and Monday night I stay with some friends on the outskirts of Muncie. With my dog. In my van. And it is hot right now. Today the temperature was in the high 80s, and there is no air conditioning in the van when it’s parked, so Luna and I are roasting as the van cools down, and I am working on school stuff and writing about my life.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I love this life I am living right now. I have a beautiful dog. I live part time in a van, which feels super free. I am teaching in a place I really enjoy. So, here I am, sweating something fierce, in a van, in Muncie, IN, while my dog sits on my right arm, and I think about what I’ll have my students do in class tomorrow. And I love it.

But even things you love can give you stress.

Fat Vegan Trail Runner

Within the past year, I have  become better friends with my body, developed a better relationship with food, and rediscovered the joy in exercising. Warning: this blog post could be, may be one day, a whole book.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my body image. Emblazoned in my mind is a pediatrician’s appointment from third or fourth grade in which my doctor described me as smart, athletic, funny, and almost perfect: “You’re practically perfect, but we need you to lose some weight, because you’re way too much overweight.” At this point in my life, I played softball, spent my days playing outside in the woods, and was generally a joyful kid, but it stung to know that my body was the thing about me that was out of control and keeping me from being “perfect.” Who tells a child that they are practically perfect anyway?!

For my entire life, I have tried to be an athlete, sometimes succeeding more than others, but, even when I was finishing my Muncie 70.3, there was a voice somewhere inside me saying, “You were almost last, you almost didn’t finish, and you don’t deserve this.” I played it off and reveled in my finish, but then I tried a marathon the next fall and only made it to mile 15 before allergies (damn ginkgo trees) caused me not to finish.

And, it wasn’t until I sat down to have coffee with my friend Molly, that I pieced together my biggest fear for five or more years has been my body betraying me again. I’ve said I was going to train for runs, I’ve wasted money on races I didn’t even start, and I’ve started running again two or three times each year since then, before simply stopping and finding an excuse. I didn’t have faith in my body. Because she is allergic. Because she is fat. Because I didn’t believe in her.

But mostly, because for some reason, I forgot that being fat isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Being fat certainly isn’t the worst thing to happen to me. There is a whole host of other things I’ve done or experienced which I could write about, have written about, and probably won’t ever write about that are worse than my being fat.

But a switch flipped in me during that beautiful conversation with Molly (everyone should get a friend like Molly), and this year after 40-ish years of struggling to perceive myself as powerful and beautiful—I’ve always feigned knowledge of my fat body’s beauty and power—I have finally come to really believe that my body is, in fact, beautiful and powerful. And fat. And I can be friends her.

I. Am. Beautiful. Powerful. Fat.

During this whole reflective process, I also looked back at my writing here and elsewhere, and I reflected back on my diet choices since 1992, the first time I went vegetarian, and I realized that every time I make a food choice, the underlying motive is weight loss, even when I try to pretend it isn’t. I became vegetarian when I went to college to avoid gaining weight living in the dorms. And I ate so many grilled cheese sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and salads with bad thousand island dressing and spaghetti with marinara, because there weren’t delicious vegetarian and vegan choices in dorm cafeterias like there are now.

Then I started eating meat again when I took my required PE class, because my professor said that she got sick being vegetarian in college (she neglected to mention that she was a marathon runner on a scholarship and was running 100+ miles each week without vegetarian nutritional coaching). So I started eating a lot of chicken and broccoli and “healthy” foods to lose weight without getting sick. And then I went through the phase with no money and ate ramen and Hawaiian punch for every meal, because ramen was $0.10 and I could get a 48 oz. Hawaiian Punch at the Discount Den for $0.69 and it would last all day. And I lost a lot of weight.

Then I became vegan, because that was where you could really restrict your fats and all those things you shouldn’t eat, but I said it was for the animals and the politics, and it kind of was, because I love them, and I read The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams.  But it all kind of had to do with controlling the size of my body, which was the “only thing” that made me imperfect.

I’d go for incessant runs, lift weights, swim, bike, and do it all without adequate fuel in my body. Basically, my whole life, day to day, was like the one scene in Brittany Runs a Marathon where she gives herself a stress fracture. My hair started to fall out, and everyone blamed it on my vegan diet, because that’s the part of my life they knew about. So I cycled through every single diet (Atkins, Paleo, Weight Watchers, that weird one with the cards and the milkshakes, the fasting thing, the juice thing, the military diet, you get it), every single exercise regimen known to man (weight lifting, cardio, Richard Simmons, kickboxing, aerobics at the local gym, and well you get it again). And every single time I tried something new, I just knew it was going to fail, because it wasn’t who I am.

All of that to say, because of my ethical and moral compass, I believe that being vegan is the best dietary choice for me, but it took until October of this year, even before that coffee conversation, and as a 45 year old woman with a couple of graduate degrees, for me to realize that I couldn’t become vegan to lose weight. And I love the choice for compassion—not against calories—I made in October while snuggling one of my backyard chickens, so I eat whatever I want as long as it does no harm to animals. I try to make sure my choices do as little harm to anyone or anything, choosing fair trade, organic, and all those fancy things when I can. I have to be vegan to follow my heart and my conscience. I have to be vegan to be powerful and beautiful. And I’ll probably still be fat.

Finally, I have rediscovered the joy of exercise by doing what I enjoy: swimming, trail running, hiking, and in the spring, biking. And doing these things for the sole purpose of joy, not weight loss. Because I went for so long without really running just pretending to do so, I am really slow, and I’d be telling tales if I that doesn’t hurt my feelings and make me somewhat frustrated, but I am getting stronger and faster every day, and that to me is what it is about. Being better than yesterday. In all facets of life.

Being outside, on a trail, with no one around, is my greatest pleasure. In the words of one of my favorite runners and writers: “All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.” On the trail, there are only trees and plants, animals, the ground, and me. I can revel in the strength and power of my body, and I can align with the beauty of the natural world, and I don’t have to worry about what I perceive other people might be thinking about me. And maybe they aren’t thinking anything, which is fine too.

But what I am thinking while I run in the silence is: I am beautiful and powerful and fat.