November 2008


Yesterday was the first holiday Jake & I were completely sans family.  I was kinda sad about this at first.  No mindless eating, no classic family favorite dishes, no detailed talk of health problems, no catching-up chatter, no communal naps.

But it turned out all right.  Living with people here for 6 weeks makes them family in a way similar to biological family – you have no choice in the matter.  And while we may not have gotten to know some of our favorite people here if we weren’t living “in community,” seeing as they are cynical introverts like me, they are the sort of people we would pick as friends anyway.  So we ate cafeteria food for Thanksgiving – not too good, but not as bad as we expected.  Yesterday evening our quad had a Thanksgiving party, complete with pigs in blankets, sausage balls, queso, and desserts, and we watched Elf and A Christmas Story with people squished on couches and sprawled on the floor.  It was pretty family-like, considering we’ve only known each other for 6 weeks.

And so we learn to give thanks for food that is edible if not tasty and the cafeteria workers that came in on a holiday, to create bounty from barrenness, and to make something beautiful from what looked and felt like being forgotten.

“Blessed be God!  He didn’t go off and leave us!” Psalm 124:6

I have been rather glum lately.  I am tired of crappy food, crappy internet (which conveniently fritzed out just as I was making my appointment to apply for my visa), crappy food, annoying people, crappy food, the freezing cold wind, the greyness that never clears up for more than 3 hours, broken sewing machines, and really crappy food.  My jeans are getting really loose from lack of nourishment.  I am always hungry…except when we go to the cafeteria and I am faced with various unrecognizable options.  Last Friday I went with some other ladies to Cheesecake Factory – we escaped the compound! – and I had an enormous omelette (the California one) and cheesecake (the peanut butter cup/fudge one, SO good) and that night was the first time in 5 weeks I went to bed comfortably full.  And it was just so nice to see that the world goes on, whether I know about it or not.

And to top it off, Thanksgiving is this week.  I wanted to go with some other people in our region group to Cracker Barrel or something so we would at least get some decent food, but only one family has a vehicle and all the facility vehicles are checked out (we think).  So we’re stuck here, with our only option for Thanksgiving being cafeteria food.  Awesome.

Jake says I sound like Eeyore, and maybe I do, but the complete lack of control over my circumstances is starting to really wear on me.  I don’t have a car so I can’t just trot into town if dinner in the cafeteria doesn’t appeal, and we are way too far from town to walk.  So I am trapped on the compound.  I think this is part of the process, to see who snaps in the isolation and general weirdness and to weed out the weak ones.  We only have 3 more weeks or so…I will make it.

But oooh…a Cracker Barrel Thanksgiving sounds so wonderful.

There has been a lot of talk floating around me lately about the story of the prodigal son.  You know, the guy who tells his dad he wants his inheritance – basically, “I wish you were dead” – and then fritters away all his money.  And then he comes back, apologizes, and his dad interrupts the apology to throw a party.  A lot of people really love this story, I think because they picture themselves as the son and God as the Father.  I think that was actually the point of the story in the first place.  But I really don’t like it.  Actually as I have been thinking about it lately, I kinda resent it.

See, I really like the older brother in the story.  To me his is the voice of reason.  “Hey Dad – I’ve been a good kid all this time, and you have done jack squat to celebrate me.  But you are throwing a party because your other kid, who has been a complete jerk, spent half your money on prostitutes.”  Let me point out here that it doesn’t even look like the older son was invited to the party – he was still out in the fields, working his tail off, while everyone else celebrates the return of the disrespectful, lazy, loser son.  His dad didn’t even tell him his brother was back – he got the news from a servant.  Honestly this looks more to me like an incredibly dysfunctional family than the way God should relate to His people.  This looks like a blatant display of the favoritism that every oldest child just knows is lurking in their parent’s heart.  I know it is a celebration of return…but it looks like a celebration of a sinful, squandered life.  And in a way, it flies in the face of most Old Testament teaching: obedience reaps blessing, disobedience reaps misery.  Here obedience is brushed aside, disobedience made of no importance.

Lots of people have stories like the prodigal – lives squandered, then redeemed.  I don’t have that story.  I mean, I know that on my own I am a lousy wretch.  And that whatever mess I have made of my life is redeemed.  But I became a follower of Jesus at a young age, and never did the prodigal thing.  I’ve pretty much been the older brother, dutifully slogging away – no drugs, no wild raging parties, no occult dabbling, no eating disorder, not even cigarettes – nothing to spice up my life story.  Like the older brother I may not have the best attitude about it, and my heart may not always be in the right place, but as far as actions go it’s been pretty straight-laced.  Not only does this make me feel like my personal story is inferior to those with more excitement, it makes me feel like I will always be just on the outside of the party, forgotten in the hullabaloo over the return of the wild ones, left out.

I’ve heard interpretations that we are all far from God, like the younger son.  That is true.  And I’ve also heard interpretations that maybe the older son is prodigal too – but in his heart, not his actions.  That is probably true too, and I identify with that.  I thought about wrapping up this post with those thoughts, that my heart is just as prodigal as some people in what they do, that spiritual pride is just as damaging to my relationship with God as blatantly walking away.  That would be a really great ending – a fine spiritual conclusion and an example of great introspective writing.  But it also wouldn’t be honest.  The honest truth is that I feel like wanderers get some extra measure of love and grace.  I know that “the same grace that saved them out of (fill in the blank) is the same grace that kept me from it,” and I truly am grateful for that, but I also feel second-class as far as God’s favor and also relating to people who don’t know Jesus.  In church we spent several months focusing on learning how to tell your spiritual story, and a few examples started out “I grew up in church and became at Christian at age 9” and I would get really excited, like maybe here is how to relate a boring story to other people…but then, inevitably, the college years would find them astray and once again I would find myself on the outside looking in.  It’s not that I don’t want other people to know Jesus, because I do.  I think that is wonderful.  I just wish the older brother and I were welcomed with the same enthusiasm.

This story has no real conclusion, and with the way I am rambling this post probably won’t either.  The dad just brushes off his slighted son: “You’ll get a reward someday, but right now we are celebrating your brother!” and it doesn’t say if the older brother came in and joined the fun, or if he went back out to the fields to work, or if he stormed upstairs and sulked in his room.  And maybe that is part of the point of the story too, that I can choose my response and be joyful at others’ coming to know and love God or be a party pooper.  But it just seems like his dad didn’t get his point: BORING PEOPLE WANT TO BE CELEBRATED TOO.

Today I ran the Richmond marathon.  Actually I walked quite a bit, due to high humidity and associated breathing difficulty, “getting sick” yet again*, and a knee injury sustained earlier this week.  But I finished.

*Obviously my “bad shirt” theory didn’t pan out.  My slightly more scientific theory is that my body does not absorb well while in motion, and the sloshing creates motion sickness.

I had some really good ideas about how to blog about running a marathon.  One was to start with my lyrical inspiration (“Minuteman” by Stavesacre**, “I still believe, and baby I’ll fall or I’ll stand/BUT THIS TIME I FINISH, I FINISH“), and then put certain mile markers and then whatever I was listening to then.  But I listened to “Underdog” by Audio Adrenaline** for the first 10 miles, over and over and over.  And then I listened to some other things, like Skillet’s** “Invincible,” and by the time my shuffle produced “Pressing On” by Relient K** I was a few miles away from the finish and just kept playing that til I got to the finish.  So that would be pretty boring.

**Don’t judge me.  All Most of the good music was when I was in high school.

Or I could talk about what a surreal experience it was…and it was, and also a spiritual experience, but mostly it was an experiment in guts – could I do it?  I told myself to keep going until I found the finish line, and so I kept going when I couldn’t breathe, and when I threw up, and when my knee was in excruciating pain.  And that’s all there is to say about that.

So really, all there is to say is that I am so happy and proud that I finished.  I know I could have done really well had I the sort of fortune that would have left me injury-free but that’s not how my life goes, and so I really am thrilled to have accomplished something like this.  I was choking back tears of happiness as I crossed the finish line Rocky-style.

Special thanks to:
Lisa, for training for so many months with me (she had a great finish in Chicago, by the way); the accountability and encouragement given as a training partner and friend; and for giving me back a piece of myself by asking me to be a runner again.

Jake, for all the egg-in-a-hole made on so many Saturdays; for picking up the slack my complete exhaustion has caused the past 6 months; for walking with me all those miles; for letting me try again; for believing I could do it even before I did; and for telling me I didn’t have to finish but understanding that really, I did.

I must not have been thinking clearly when I decided to come live with a bunch of people in close quarters, along with all their children (why is it that kids always have snot dribbling out of their noses?), in the middle of winter.  I haven’t been sick much in the past 3 years, mostly because I worked in a small office with a very limited pool of people to interact with.  Before that I taught preschool, before that I worked retail, and before even that I was in school and I was sick. all. the. time.

So far amongst the people I am in closest contact with there have been bronchitis, tonsillitis, a small fevery sick child (the particular illness is yet TBA), an eye infection, several snotty kids, a double ear infection, some sort of virus, a few other infection-y type things I am pretending to ignore, and now Jake has fallen ill with something that involves thick green snot, an extremely sore throat, and sleeping all day long.

As for me, usually so unconcerned with the possibility of germs, I have taken to Purell-ing my hands at every opportunity and am popping Airbornes like Smarties.  Woe to he that doth causeth any illness to befall me, for his grief shall be great upon the visitation of my wrath, and he shall be sore afflicted with many miseries, and I shall smite him with my arm of retribution, and he shall be smote with mine indignation and fury.

I have a little pod that attaches to my running shoe and calculates my pace and distance, and transmits this handy information to my running watch.  In order to ensure its accuracy it requires calibration on a measured distance, ie a track.  Since we are in a rural area there is no track nearby, nor even a school as far as I can tell.  So, thanks to Google, I located a high school including a track approximately 7.5 miles away.  That will make a lovely long run for my prep for the Richmond marathon, I thought cheerily to myself – 15 miles, 15.5 if you count the calibration.  Saturday afternoon I set out, and I should mention that rural Virginia is not a runner-friendly area as far as I can tell.  The roads are narrow, winding, have absolutely no shoulder, and plunge into deep ditches on either side.  I survived the first 7.5 miles, was pleased with my time, and located the high school.  Behind, I might add, about 3 million police cars.

I innocently began walking around, trying to find a place to sneak onto the track.  I mean, I did just run 7.5 miles so I could run 2 laps on the track.  That’s 4 – 5 minutes for me, not a lot to ask.  Unfortunately one of the police noticed me and strongly encouraged me to retreat to the sidewalk.  So I asked one of them if there was another track nearby.  “Ma’am I don’t know.”  OK, so is there a measured distance anywhere around?  “Ma’am I don’t know.”  Then they yelled at me for standing still on the sidewalk, I needed to keep moving.

I will stop here to mention that this is exactly, exactly my luck.  The one day of the year I need to use this school’s track and make the necessary arrangements in my life, not to mention running a 15 mile round trip, is also the one day of the year it is swarming with law enforcement.

I found a different policeman who directed me to a different track about a mile or mile-and-a-half away, so I headed off.  I found the track.  My watch’s calibration wouldn’t work.  This is also exactly, exactly my luck.  By this point I am THIRSTY, because part of Virginia’s plan of attack on runners includes a complete and total lack of water fountains.  I find a park.  I locate the one water fountain in the park.  The water fountain does not work.  I cannot think of anything but WATER because I am so thirsty (I had been running for close to 2 hours at this point).  I keep running back the way I came and pass a soccer park (I don’t know what else to call it – it is a large tract of land with about 30 soccer fields on it, nothing else).  Surely, I think, there will be water fountains aplenty in such a place.  I locate a building which has concessions (closed) and restrooms.  Hallelujah!  There are always water fountains near restrooms.  Except, apparently, in Virginia.  The water fountains had been ripped out (there used to be water fountains there, though) and a useful electrical outlet placed in their stead.

So I did what any truly thirsty person would do and drank out of the sink in the restroom.  Then I started back home, it got dark, I almost got hit a couple of times, I rolled my ankles a few times each falling into ditches on the side of the road trying to avoid getting hit, I went too far because it was so dark I couldn’t see my street, and by the time I got back I had accidentally run about 20 miles.

And who is responsible for all this mayhem and total inconvenience?  Sarah Palin.  She was having a rally, for whatever reason, at the high school where I needed to run.  Just my luck.  May the record show that the first time a politician directly influenced my life it was a complete inconvenience.