The Journey of 1000 Miles Begins

Beckoning Trail. © Tim Graves
Beckoning Trail. © Tim Graves

I was disappointed that I was unable to significantly exceed my goal, a goal that seemed insurmountable a year ago. I recall saying as I signed up for the challenge, “I may not make it but I can try, can’t I?” I ran 1000 kilometers last year. (Actually, 1037k which is equivalent to 644 miles.)

Running 1000 kilometers in a year was a significant accomplishment for this fifty-seven year old man. I didn’t win any races (or run more than one) but I cannot forget the feelings of accomplishment intertwined with physical exhaustion on that hot summer morning when I ran 13.31 miles in less than two hours. For non-runners, that’s a half-marathon. That’s better than a nine minute mile.

So, why was I disappointed that I did not significantly exceed my 1000k goal?  I think my disappointment was tangled up with my injury discouragement. Between mid-September and late December I was on an injury-enforced hiatus. I lost one-quarter of the year to an injury I didn’t see coming. It felt like a personal attack.

Running continues to teach me about balance. It teaches me about being.

My natural inclination is to do, do, do, and do. Until exhausted. This inclination is something akin to a compulsion but is also a learned behavior. As a child, I absorbed the internal belief that my value as a human being is related to what I do. This is a “works theology” in which hard work gets us love.

My journey over the last decade has enabled me to be more and to do less, but my embedded inclination is still a powerful force. Yes, hard work can and often is a good thing but it is not the source of my worth. It is not the source of love. Love is only love if it is given freely and without strings of expectations.

And I love running!

I love running! (To be sure, I hate running during the first mile or two of every run but after that, I love running.) I love running under the big skies of rural eastern Oregon. I love running along Portland’s suburban footpaths. I love running in the rain! And I’m learning to love running in the cold.

Running requires balance. I must pay attention to my body. Like my faith that dictates a regular sabbath, running requires rest days. It requires time for adequate recovery between runs. It requires pacing and kindness to myself when my body and, sometimes even my spirit, needs a day off.

When I miss my body’s signals, my body can become injured.  My love of running allowed me to push myself too hard through the summer months. It was time for a vacation. A week or two off from running before my injury might have prevented the long healing period at the end of last year.

Running is metaphor. Just as my body needed a break to prevent physical injury, something I failed to give it, our spirits need rest. When I fail to take adequate sabbath or insist that hard work will get me more love or prove my worth, I am harming my spirit just as I injured a tendon in mid-September.

Goals like my 1000k goal last year serve a purpose. It is reasonable to set goals that require effort and provide purpose. However, goals and New Year’s resolutions can cause us to harm ourselves. If the goal becomes more important than ourselves and the people around us, we fail to be who we are created to be.

Yes, I was disappointed but I am learning. I am learning to be. This year, I’ve set a personal goal of running 1000 miles (equivalent to 1609k). In addition to the distance goal, I commit to paying closer attention to my pacing, not just the speed I move but to take weeks off here and there to rest my body.

Because running is metaphor, I also commit to the 1000 mile journey of the new year by pacing myself. I will take care of my spirit, taking adequate sabbath and vacation to avoid injury to my core, my soul.

Running from Embarrassment

Running from Embarrassment
retired
Retired. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

 

Costumed in a kelly green tracksuit with yellow stripes down each leg and arm, I left our tiny apartment for a run. I must’ve been a sight! I didn’t get into running consistently in college despite that green polyester jogging suit.

 

My feelings of conspicuousness coupled with the memories of public school gym classes led me to abandon running in a few weeks. I associated exercise with being targeted, taunted, and ridiculed.

Running was a punishment in junior high school.

In my thirties and forties I dabbled in running, never getting serious. Still, I couldn’t help myself in my pre-dawn walks, often shifting to short runs. Because no one could see me, I was free to move my body. Those adolescent feelings of negative self-image die hard. Today, the taunting of my poor athletic skills and my husky childhood body still lurk within my psyche.

In the last few years, as my running became frequent and regular, I’ve begun to identify as a runner. That identity is qualitatively different than previously.

My aging body is certainly not qualitatively more graceful or attractive. You will not see me on the cover of Runners World. I am, however, healthier and more comfortable in my own skin. Major surgery coupled with the natural aging process, has changed my mind and spirit. I care less about what others think.

I am healthier and happier because I run.

Re-starting this kind of intensive activity in your fifties can and did lead to a few injuries. I listened to my body. They were minor and I recovered well. As I set personal goals, I challenge myself but am respectful of my limits. Despite craving the daily endorphin fix, I’ve learned my body cannot handle running more often than every thirty-six to forty-eight hours.

I choose to learn from the experiences of others, but I focus on health and self-care rather than anything close to competition. Maybe that’s why I do not participate in group running events. Others say they are about personal challenge, not competition. I have no reason to mistrust other runners but for now races do not appeal to me.

Runs are physical and spiritual journeys that mirror life. Some days I meet goals and challenges. Other days I struggle and run slower or not as far as I’d hoped. Some days I just want to go home.

Running is embracing the imago dei within myself. Created in God’s image, I have nothing to be embarrassed about the limits and skills of my body. My mind, body, and spirit are all facets of who I am.

And so I run. I sweat too much, my fat jiggles with each stride, and maybe I look a sight! This is me, as beloved by the divine as the fittest athlete. But run I must because it heals past hurts, strengthens me in the present, and fortifies hope for the future.

I am runner, watch me go.

The Risk of Hard Work

The Risk of Hard Work
Beside Still Waters (variant). Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Beside Still Waters (variant). Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

“Some people don’t need to rest but I do,” she said. In the rhythm of the conversation, it wasn’t the time to contradict her assumption that some do not need rest. I just nodded, “Yeah, me too.”

The great American myth is that we can accomplish more if we muscle through without rest. The great American sin is failing to take care of ourselves and, in the process, failing to trust God that the world will keep spinning without us. It is an arrogance. It is an idolatry to worship work at the expense of rest and self-care.

Besides our arrogance and failure to trust the divine spirit that flows through creation, when we neglect self-care and regular sabbath we abuse ourselves.

Threaded through the biblical witness from Genesis (e.g.; Gen. 2:3) to Jesus (e.g.; Mark 2:27) is an emphasis on the importance of self-care and rest.  Living into the image of God in which all of us are created, we need regular sabbath. Despite the church’s traditional (self-serving?) teaching that sabbath is primarily about going to church, the reality is that most references to sabbath in the Bible are about abstention from work, rest, and self-care.

Created in the image of the divine, maltreating ourselves through overwork is abusing God.

When we forsake physical and emotional rest, we are more likely to mistreat others and break the Golden Rule (Matthew 22:34-40). When we fail to care for ourselves we are less kind, less patient, and, in my case, quicker to become angry and short over minuscule slights. Harming the God in me, harms the God in you.

Without regular sabbath, we cease to be the people we were created to be.

 

Breathing in the Journey 

Breathing in the Journey 
Journey. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Journey. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Though productive and gratifying my spirit and body were ready for a sabbath hike at the end of the day. With thoughts of wafting sage and a murmuring river, I began filling water bottles and checking my pack.

Making a “just in case” stop before heading the twenty-five miles to our local state park, I watched as the energy of out-of-towners turned our small town gas station abuzz. Some smiled; many looked pained and stressed.

The station manager smiled at me and I her. It was a holiday weekend at the only gas stop for fifty miles. Our small talk while she pumped multiple cars revealed that though it was still before four, she’d been chewed out several times by stressed holiday-goers.

Refreshing. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Refreshing. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Once filled, I headed down to the park. As I passed wheatfields, the old abandoned homestead, a parishioner’s ranch, and the wind farms I noted actual traffic on our two-lane highway. I waved at the sheriff as I slowed to pass him writing a ticket.

The thought emerged as I made the twenty-five minute drive but impressed itself upon my brain as I walked the quiet trails in the canyon. My holidays are significantly different than those of others. We’ve long since given up stress-cations and are healthier for it.

Walking quietly along the trail, I listened to the gurgling river, the singing birds, and humming insects. The stress of my day flowed out of me with each footfall. Respite is not tied to a place; it is in the journey. My sabbath began as I filled my water bottles and stopped for gas. My healing was jump started by smiles and small talk at the gas station.

The friendly wave from the sheriff and the nod from the woman leaving the trailhead are not a means to an end. They are the sabbath itself.

I hope that the hurrying masses find the peace they need when finally arriving where they’re going on this holiday weekend but I wonder. I wonder if they might have more joy if they slowed down and breathed in the journey rather than fighting it.

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Sticking with the Scar

Sticking with the Scar

One misjudgment and my car lost $300 of value, at least according to Kelly Blue Book. The bumper blemish that remains is so minor you’d barely notice especially on a 2-1/2 year old car. My dad once called this the cost of owning and driving a car.

I have options. I can choose to report the injury to my pride, letting my insurance company pay to repair it, minus the deductible, of course. But that seems silly and a waste of resources. Leaving this scar on the bumper also, for those who care to notice it, is a testament to my human proclivity to make mistakes.

I’ll probably stick with the scar.

***

One necessary surgical procedure and my body was forever changed. The incision area is minor, you’d barely notice, especially on a fifty-something man who rarely goes shirtless in public. My eighty- and ninety-something parishioners call this the cost of growing older.

I have options, I suppose. I could probably have minor plastic surgery. That, is definitely silly and beyond my financial means. My belly blemish, and its occasional  sensitivity, are a testament to my life’s journey.

I’ll definitely stick with this scar.

This scar, unlike the one on my car, adds value. I grew emotionally and spiritually through the experiences of surgery and recovery. I’m more than I was; I like who I am. I like the lessons I learned about myself, my family, and others.

I understand now why people like to show their scars. I’m proud of this scar and I’m going to try to be proud of the bumper blemish on my car. They both say, I’m living. I’m learning. I’m human just like you.

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Awakening on the Perpendicular Trail

Awakening on the Perpendicular Trail

I woke up on the perpendicular trail;
though I meant to stay beneath the blanket streaming videos.
Whose idea was this anyway?

Golden Gem. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Golden Gem. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I should turn around;
I need the rest.
Maybe just another switchback or two.

That obvious rock moved as I stepped over it;
I’ve been toddling stably for five & one-half decades.
Why else would I have fallen?

I should turn back;
the dirt on my knee will stain without prompt pre-treatment.
Maybe just to the clearing up ahead.

Breathe in, breathe out, I’m really worn out from the week.
Those things! Those emails and phone calls and screen work
will need a well-rested me tomorrow.

Yellow Meadow. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Yellow Meadow. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I should turn back;
wearing myself out today will only further exhaust. 
It’s probably an old athlete’s tale that moving muscles leads to healing.

Whoa!

The leprechaun didn’t notice the hole in his bag;
He never would’ve left that golden mushroom,
the one that rolled out and landed beside the trail.

Wow!

That class trip during the beige of winter didn’t pack it in & out;
I guess five-year-olds can’t be expected to know this would happen.
Their crayolas have sprouted in the warm sunshine.

Mt. Adams from the summit of Dog Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Mt. Adams from the summit of Dog Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

But I should turn back; 
all I have is a trail bar and an apple; that’s not much lunch.
Maybe just a bit longer.

Purples, yellows, whites, and
pinks sparkle beside the trail.
Cyan has chased away even the fluffy clouds,
And branches have captured the cumulus marshmallows.

Maybe just another switchback;
maybe just up to the clearing. 
A little more trail bar is all the energy I need.

Snow peaks beckon:
“Come peer at me from within a floral blanket;
and I’ll stream something better than video.”

Maybe just for a little while;
as long as I’ve come this far.

Though muscles ache and skin has pinked,
awe overtakes my soul; and
I awake three thousand feet above the azure river.

Perpendicular Trail. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Perpendicular Trail. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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Related Posts & Photos

Dog Mountain, April 2015 (Flickr)
Wiped Memories, June 6, 2014
Perseverance, June 10, 2014
Dog Mountain, June 2014 (Flickr)

The Angst of Sunday Afternoons

The Angst of Sunday Afternoons
Mt. Jefferson. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Mt. Jefferson. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

In my household it is assumed that anything I say on Sunday afternoons is taken with not only a grain of salt but the whole shaker. Following the emotional build up to morning worship, I fall off the cliff in the time it takes me to get to my home three blocks away.

I am self-critical. Feelings of discouragement descend upon my whole being. I parse what I said; I parse the words of others. My perceptions of self and events lean negative.

I am unreliable. I have little faith in the divine and I take upon myself responsibility for everything. Everything is my fault. Everything.

***

Mondays I take responsibility for as little as possible. They are days for trusting the divine to heal me. They are days for trusting the work will get done without me.

The sin of failing to sabbath is that of believing that God and others cannot manage without me. It is to ignore the way in which I was created. It is to ignore God.

My salvation comes through trusting in the healing one. In faithfulness to sabbath, my body, mind, and spirit are renewed. I once again have a reasonableness about my being that allows me to take responsibility where it is mine and no more. Restorative sabbath leads me to living more fully as the unique human being I was created to be.

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Sabbath Moods

Sabbath Moods

As my level of fatigue increases, my positivity decreases. When I am tired I self-judge harshly, my self-esteem goes down, and I am less tolerant of imperfections in others. This is particularly true of the fatigue that comes from of a lack of adequate sleep. That is, hard work and fatigue from physical exertion do not have as strong an impact on my mood if I’m getting proper sleep.

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

God, as experienced by our ancient kindred of the faith, desires us to have periodic rest so that we can regenerate not only our bodies but our spirits.

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. Genesis 2:3 CEB

Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. Leviticus 23:3 CEB

We need sleep and rest so that we can be the people we are created to be. This may be the greatest sin of our twenty-first century western lifestyle in which we are always connected. We don’t get the rest and sleep that we need to be kind to one another and ourselves.

Though it is not the whole answer, I wonder if the rampant polarization and evils that we see in our world might be lessened if we took better care of ourselves. I wonder if we were all better rested, we might be more tolerant and loving.

God of the Sabbath: We confess our always-on lifestyles contradict your will for us. May we trust you that six days is enough. May we take better care of ourselves, keeping sabbath rest sacred. Amen.