A local radio station, KTYD has (used to have) “the question of the day” each morning. My husband, Scott actually won the question of the day earlier this week… answering correctly “most people do this in the dining room or the kitchen, while 30% do it in the bedroom.” Answer – wrap presents.
I have my own question of the day… but it is based upon my own non-scientific study. Want a go at it? “What is the most commonly asked question in the two weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas?” Answer: are you ready for Christmas?
I don’t know how many times I was asked this question and my answer changed depending on what I had accomplished on any given day. Am I ready… presents purchased, wrapped, and placed under the tree… cookies and other goodies baked and given away – but those pies have to wait so they’ll be fresh! Worship planned, bulletins printed, church decorated… sermon a work in process… what else?
It seems as though whatever we do, we can find more that needs to be done… even if it isn’t absolutely necessary. I wonder if anyone can truly say with an emphatic “yes, I am ready for Christmas!” Why? Because in many ways we expect or at least hope for perfection.
We want to give or receive just the right gift. We want the meals we serve or eat to taste just right. We want our family gatherings to be free of the drama that accompanies so many family get-togethers. We want so much for everything to be perfect that we wear ourselves out with worry… And what happens when we’re worn out? We’re too tired to enjoy ourselves… making a less than perfect celebration.
Maybe we even face frustration with life… maybe not life in general but in our work or our families or our inability to do things the ways we used to… We all know people who give up on things just because they can’t do them well enough. I wonder how much time we spend a little bit grumpy because things are just not happening they way we want…
So what can we do? Maybe learn from the one who is perfect that perfection isn’t necessary… because the one who is perfect knows its’ not possible!
Just look at the story of Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph have to travel home! Many do that for the holidays… but we expect to have a place to stay when we get there… they must have expected a place too… but they didn’t get their soon enough… so all the places – at least indoors were gone!
I think it interesting that we have all these idealized visions of this birth even in our minds. I’m a collector of Nativities and when I looked at them this month I realized that all of them depict tranquility… and maybe that’s because we expect this from God.
But we are in danger of missing the scandal… that God’s son… who is God with us… was born under less than ideal circumstances…
I ask all the mothers… would you have been happy having your baby in a barn? And all the fathers… would you want these circumstances for your wife and son? Why did Jesus come this way? In such humility?
Wouldn’t the king of kings come in glory? With riches and comfort and people attending to his every need? That’s what we would expect if we were expecting perfection. Instead we get humility… and we get an invitation to come to the stable to see…
To see what was difficult become beautiful… to see a family that may not have everything they want, but has more than they can dream for…
And you know what? We too have far more than we can ever dream for… for we too have the only perfection that is possible and that is the gift of Jesus into our lives… and through him the gift of love… because he loves you just as you are… as imperfect as you are!
So, if you’re not quite ready… if you’re still a bit frazzled at what you need to do… if you’re a bit frustrated or a bit sad… I invite you to come to the stable and gaze upon perfection… I invite you to bask for a moment in the light of Jesus. I invite you to allow that light to warm you… and remind you that you already possess perfection in the perfect gift of God’s grace…
We can let go of all the rest… and as we let go we’ll discover that what we have is OK… and when we realize this we will have received another gift… the gift of life… we actually receive it each day… and are invited to live each day in appreciation of this gift. Are you ready?
Anticipation… expectation…watching the days… watching the hours… hopefully waiting… waiting for God to move… waiting for the special day… that special day when God comes and lives among us… when God graces us with God’s presence… we wait with hopeful expectation for what tomorrow might bring… we wait with hopeful expectation for what God might do… we wait with hopeful expectation… for what?
What is it that you are waiting for this Christmas? What is it that you are hoping to receive on this special day… this day that we celebrate Christ’s birth? Are you hoping to find something under a tree? Are you hoping for something to begin… or maybe you’re hoping for something to end… What are you hoping for this Christmas? Is it a present? Or a job? Or healing? Or reconciliation? A new relationship? Or a new beginning? What are you hoping for this Christmas?
We all bring our own hopes… and even our fears to this day… to this place. I wonder what hopes and fears Mary and Joseph brought to the place where Jesus was born. What might they have been feeling on this day? We don’t know but my guess might be frustration and exhaustion followed by relief with finding a place to stay… and then maybe some more exhaustion… with the birth of the baby.
And then there are the shepherds… out in the fields, keeping watch over their sheep. They were looked down upon by the other people… the wealthier people… the respectable people. And yet God chose them to be the first recipients of the good news of Jesus’ birth. Can you imagine their surprise when the quiet of the night was interrupted with the presence of an angel? Surprise that turned into terror as they realized they were in the presence of a heavenly visitor… who immediately sought to reassure them and to take away their fear and to give them the good news of Jesus’ birth.
Do you think they had been expecting anything out of the ordinary on that special night so many years ago? Probably not… but that God chose them… is a good lesson to all of us that God might indeed choose to visit us… through an angel or through a friend, at any time… we can always expect to be surprised by God. But at Christmas time we tend to raise that expectation to astronomical heights.
And often our reality does not live up to our expectations… and so instead of joy… we feel disappointment or emptiness or longing for something else. Maybe this is partly why suicides increase at this time of year… a time when happiness is expected but not always delivered…
Last year a friend of mine started a comment thread on Facebook about Christmas songs that make her sad. Her comment reminded me of a comment of my own… made as Scott and I were driving and a melancholy Christmas song came on… it was a song about lost love and regrets in life… and I told Scott that someone could probably make a special radio station just for the depressing Christmas music.
There seem to be a lot of sad songs for this time of year …
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my heart”
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart, the very next day you gave it away…”
“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you…”
“Do they know it’s Christmas…”
It’s interesting that these songs are all secular songs What is it about Christmas that brings out songs of disappointment and sadness? Have you ever felt a bit blue at this time of year? Or maybe as we approach the end of the year we take stock of our lives and are disappointed with what we’ve failed to accomplish…. John Lennon addressed those thoughts with… “another year over and what have you done?” Or maybe this past year was one of difficulty and we have a desire to move on to something new… and yet we have fear about what the future might hold.
We might feel a bit sad at Christmas because we remember the carefree days of our youth and wish that we could celebrate Christmas in the same way this year. Or the nostalgia of special memories bring our emotions to the surface as we remember those loved ones who have gone on ahead of us…
We bring all kinds of emotions to the celebration of Christmas…anticipation and excitement and tiredness and regret and hope for something new…As we celebrate we are invited to look… not under the tree… to look… not for whatever gift we might be expecting… to look… not in things… but to look where the shepherds looked… in the manger.
As we look in the manger… along with Mary and Joseph and the others gathered… we see a little baby… but not just any baby… we see Emmanuel, God with us… we see the man who came and lived so that we too might live… we see the baby who became the man who gave his life for all people… and we see the man who taught us to not only love those who are loveable but to even love our enemies and to love those who persecute us. When we look into the manger we see God… we see hope…
We see hope. And you know what? The vast majority of Christmas songs, the good songs, are not depressing… rather they are songs filled with hope. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The good songs are about the hope and the joy that we find in our God… they are songs about the love and care that God has for us. The good songs don’t sugarcoat the reality of our lives or the problems in our world… Remember the words in O Holy Night? “The weary world rejoices…” We all experience weariness and disappointment at times… but we and the world experience the struggles knowing that Emmanuel, God is with us.
And God with us is the best gift that any of us could ever receive… not only on this Christmas, but every day there after… We come to Christmas with expectations and hopes and the child who came for each of us invites us to place those hopes and those expectations in him. This child who became the man Jesus loves us more than we can ever know… He is the true gift this and every Christmas. Amen.
The 2018 Boston Marathon will commence 17 weeks from today.
I’ve been eating horribly! Cookies, candy, and various other forms of holiday junk have wrecked havoc on my diet. I haven’t eaten this horribly in years and my body is feeling it! Bloated…skin breaking out…grouchiness. Underneath all this is the fear that if I stay on my present course it probably won’t take long to gain back all the weight I’ve lost and kept off. What’s up with this year?
Last night I remembered that for the past two years I was in the middle of marathon training during the holiday season, and so didn’t indulge as much in the holiday goodies. In early 2016 I ran my 3rd marathon, Surf City (Race Recap – Surf City Marathon). This was the first since I started working with a coach. Then, in early 2017 I ran my first attempt to qualify for Boston at the Carlsbad Marathon. Logging lots of miles helped to burn calories…but more beneficially it lead to better choices in eating because you don’t want to feel horrible on a run.
This year I’ve been mostly walking as I recovered from my first 50k (December 2nd – Race Day – Ray Miller 50K Recap). The first week of recovery was walking with a 2 mile run at the end of the week. Last week I ran 2.25 miles on Monday & Wednesday. Had fun at a Jingle Jog, for 2.75 miles. And ended the week running a nice 5 miles on Saturday. Because I’m leading a Mile a Day Challenge, I’ve also walked at least a mile on non-run days. So I’ve been moving while recovering…but not enough to counteract a horrible diet.
There is also the truth that for many of us, or all of us who struggle with weight, that eating lots of fat and sugar just leads to eating more and more fat and sugar. It is an addiction in that eating at the moment feels wonderful…but is followed by feeling awful as well as guilty (to yourself!).
So, today I’m officially starting my Boston Marathon training… a week early…even if my coach hasn’t given me anything but additional recovery for the week! I can’t think of a more inspirational way to hit the reset button!
This means…food diary until I get my eating back under control and easing back into my 5 days of running per week with a long run on Saturday. Yeah! I love training!
So far the Thomas Fire has been burning for more than a week. Here in Oxnard, we are not in any danger from the fire but are occasionally experiencing heavy smoke. My husband and son work in Carpinteria (north of here) and have been out of work because of the fire. I think they are going a bit stir crazy.
Yesterday, Scott and I did a bit of shopping at lunch time. When we went into a store the skies were clear and blue. When we came out, that smoky haze and smell had returned. I commented, “I guess I need my breathing mask again.”
A man standing near his SUV heard me and asked, “are you from Santa Barbara?” We said, “no, we’re from Oxnard.”
He stated that he and his family (wife and small children in the SUV) had driven to Oxnard to escape the smoke, which was (is) oppressive in Santa Barbara. He said he’d looked at the air quality charts and thought Oxnard would be a good choice. We told him that it was clean and clear just an hour earlier. Scott asked him about Carpinteria as he’d have driven through the city and he replied that “it’s horrible there.”
I suggested that he drive to Thousand Oaks. He said, “we’ll keep driving until we get out of the smoke.” I suggested taking the kids to Disneyland and then said goodbye.
As we left I realized that we never have conversations like this…with strangers in parking lots. It’s another example of how catastrophes bring out the neighborliness in us all. Maybe we need to find ways to chat with one another when all is good in the world. Meanwhile I’ll be thankful for all the good that counters all that is bad.
This week one of my favorite places was hit hard by a horrendous wildfire. Homes have been lost…homes of friends, homes of strangers. Others had great scares as they were evacuated. All of us have experienced days of ash and smoke. I could say it’s been a horrible week, except that in the face of disaster we’ve experienced the goodness of our friends and neighbors. Donations of material goods, food, and funds have flowed in. It’s heartening how we come together and try to help in trying times.
I want to also suggest one other way to help. But first a little story of another disaster. Hurricane Katrina and the flooding in New Orleans.
We have chihuahuas. When they were puppies I purchased some clothing for them from a store called Chihuahua Gaga. While they do great business online, their storefront is in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A few months after the storm, I decided to see how the store doing post-Katrina. According to their website they were doing ok, except that there were no tourists in New Orleans. They said that they (and the rest of the French Quarter) didn’t flood, yet they were all suffering from lack of business. They, and the other small businesses in New Orleans needed tourists to return.
We happened to be planning our summer vacation and because of the plea for tourists from Chihuahua Gaga, my husband and I decided to vacation in New Orleans. We stayed for a week and ate and shopped and saw the sites and everywhere we went people thanked us for being there. We weren’t part of the rebuilding but we were helping, by spending money in the city.
The smoke has cleared so I want to encourage you to go and eat and shop in Ventura…to spend money in the stores (especially the small businesses). The business owners and their employees are hurting in the midst of this disaster. Losing vital funds for business is a disaster that results from disaster. So, if you live close enough, go shop because this is another way to help.
I signed up for this race last spring. It seemed to be so far into the future then, and I am always surprised when race day dawns. Where did all the time go? A book that I read for an intro to trail running was, “Relentless Forward Progress.” In addition to being a primer for ultra races, the title serves as a metaphor for the passage of time. So how’d the day go?
Pre-race Not surprisingly I didn’t sleep well Friday night. The plan was to get up at 4:00am. I tossed and turned from 11:00pm on… and at 2:45am, I decided that I’d get up at 3:00. Thankfully I actually went to sleep after that decision and was awakened by my alarm at 4:00. I had already put my kit together so the first half hour upon waking was to relax with a cup of coffee and eat a banana muffin made with Kodiak Cakes protein flour. Megan arrived at around 4:30. Time to get moving!
The first part of getting dressed is to roll Sports Shield everywhere! This is the best stuff for preventing chafing. Then sunscreen. I use ThinkSport. It goes on very thick and thus lasts a long time. After leaving home I realized that I forgot to put sunscreen on my face. Thankfully I wore a hat. Both products worked well…but I did chaff badly where my bra hooks. I even used my portable sheet of Sports Shield when I felt it happening, but I think it’s time to retire the bra I wore on race day as the hook is what moved and was digging into my back.. Taking that post race shower sure hurt when the water hit my back.
We left home at 5:00am and arrived at La Jolla Canyon at 5:20. Nice to live that close! After getting our bibs we went back to the car to stay warm. I was admiring the stars while commenting sadly, “we were supposed to have clouds today.”
At about 6:10 we used the porta potties, did a little muscle warmup and went to the starting line. The race started at 6:34 (I think).
First Segment, Ray Miller Trail
The race starts with the first major climb and the plan here was to walk/run at an easy pace. It was easy to accomplish because there were so many of us on the trail. With that we ascended a bit faster than we had in our training runs. I had to keep reminding myself to slow down…it was going to be a long day. We made it to the Hell Hill aid station feeling pretty good. I didn’t need anything so I just turned left and headed to the first loop.La Jolla Valley Loop The first mile of this segment was my fasted for two reasons: it was downhill, and there were so many people coming up behind us that there was a psychological need to push ahead of those coming up behind. At about 5.5 miles Megan (my daughter) fell…her first ever trail running fall. She was back up almost as fast as she went down…adrenaline at work!
We made sure not to start at the beginning of the pack, but we still had faster people behind us. I made sure to allow those coming up behind me to pass. Once though a guy came up behind me yelling, “on your left,” the problem was I had nowhere to go and almost fell off the trail trying to accommodate him. That was a bit scary.
The second major climb was towards Mugu Peak. This was a hard climb that I had already planned to walk. I realized that lots of people can walk uphill faster than I can. Once we hit the top I had a very nice run back down and through the La Jolla Valley, back to the Hell Hill aid station. This time I ate two pieces of watermelon…but they were warm and didn’t taste good. I took two pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my next food break and then headed to the next loop, Guadalasco Trail. Megan and I had separated and I was expecting her to catch me at any time.
Guadalasco Loop The loop started with the third (and easiest) climb of the race. A few people passed me who’d passed me previously, they must have stopped at the aid station for a longer time. I encountered a few bicyclists on this trail…I had encountered them in training too, but had been hoping they wouldn’t be on the trail today…on this section they weren’t a problem and one guy was shouting encouragement at everyone. The descent on this trail is a hard one for me. The trail is rocky and uneven and I am very tentative. Megan passed me on the descent. I made it down to the bottom unscathed…and ran with another woman for awhile. She was from San Diego and running her second 50K. The fire road at the bottom of Guadalasco (Wood Canyon Fireroad) was a welcome site and I enjoyed this little respite while I mentally prepared for Hell Hill.
Hell Hill was a hard walk…once again people were easily passing me while walking. I even did it a bit faster than in training. Impressively one woman ran up this hill! How’d she do that? Getting to the top meant that we were now a bit over halfway done. Yeah! This time I refilled my water and even had some water dumped on my back. Megan walked up slower than I did so when she arrived at the aid station, I told here I was taking off, knowing that she would catch me on a downhill.
Backbone Trail to Danielson Ranch Interlude This little section took us to the last loop. Going down the Backbone Trail was the most frustrating because of bicyclists. One guy was going so fast that, thankfully, another runner behind me yelled, “bike” so I could scamper out of his way. She then told me that he whistled to warn her…whistle? Megan later said he whistled as he came up her too. Then later on the trail, three men came flying down on bikes. Thankfully I saw them on a switchback before they got to me. The trail was narrow and I had to climb up the side to avoid being hit. Megan saw me here and yelled, “Mom, are you ok?” I responded, “Yes, just frustrated.” One of these three guys was repairing a flat tire down at the bottom. All the drops in pace while going downhill were the pauses needed for the bikes.
The Sycamore Canyon Fireroad then took us to Danielson Ranch. This was a very gradual climb and I ran an easy 12:00-12:30 pace, enjoying the respite from the single track trails and mentally preparing myself for what was to come. I was approaching 20 miles and very happy with my performance thus far. I was also looking forward to seeing my friend Brenda at the Danielson Ranch aid station. After getting a hug, some more water, and two more pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwich I was off… and thankful that bicycles were not permitted on these trails.
Boney Mountain – Serrano Canyon Loop This is were I struggled the most. I guess this is also where such a struggle would be expected, and I did expect it. The climbs here were so hard. And by this stage of the race the runners were very spread out so for most if my time in this loop I was alone. If I hadn’t known the trail (and they marked it well) I would have suspected a wrong turn. But then people did occasionally pass me…walking faster than I can walk. I really need to get better at hill climbing! It was at this section that my thinking change from, “I’m doing pretty well” to “I hope I can finish.”
Once I made it to the top of the second peak, the downhill portion was glorious! It was long, it was not too steep (mostly) and the trail was nice and even. I’d have to say this was my favorite part of the race and I plan to go back and run this portion again soon! Towards the bottom of this segment we were alongside a dry creek. I’d remembered in the training run that we’d cross this creek numerous times. So I decided to count…for entertainment purposes! By the time I got to 16 crossings, I was no longer sure of the correct number…but at least 16 crossings. Thankfully it hadn’t rained and there was no water!
The last aid station was at the end of this segment. They asked me what I needed and thinking about what was to come I replied, “an elevator.” I took 4 peanut butter filled pretzels and kept going. My mouth was so dry that these were hard to chew and swallow… I had to keep adding water, just to eat. But by this point I’d already run farther than ever before. WooHoo!
Fireline Trail and Back to the Beginning Prior to the race Megan and I had run Fireline one time (actually true of much of the course). We remembered that it was a hard, hard climb. On the switchback portion at the bottom I was able to manage a few jogs and was hopeful for a good finish. But the more I climbed the harder it was. There is a picnic table at the top of this trail and I was thinking that I just needed to get to the picnic table where I could put my head down and rest. I also knew that if I were to do this, I’d probably not finish the race. Thankfully there were two men sitting at that picnic table when I arrived and they were so encouraging. They told me what I already knew – that I was almost done. But sometimes in life we need to hear this from others. And we need others to help us know that we can indeed find the strength to continue. With their encouragement I did the last little climb that was now on the Overlook Fireroad. It was uphill but not steep like the trail.
On nutrition: When I run a road race (or train long distance on the roads) I usually aim to consume calories every 2 miles, as this is a common interval in races. While training for this race I was keeping the same intervals and getting VERY hungry. One day after 11 miles I ate an entire Superhero Muffin and then suffered a stomach ache from eating too much. My coach recommended that I plan to consume about 50 calories every 20 minutes. So I set a timer on my watch and did this. I ate Cliff Shot Block; Sport Beans; Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich; and peanut filled pretzels. This all worked until the last hour or so. By then my stomach hurt…and strangely felt hungry at the same time. I couldn’t eat anything more…and unfortunately water wasn’t feeling too good either. I drank water because I knew I needed it but my stomach felt awful.
Once I hit the Ray Miller Trail I knew the rest was downhill. I wasn’t sure if I could run it, but I decided to try…mostly because that was the fastest way to be done. I encountered a few hikers. One couple asked, “how long is this race?” They were impressed with my response. Other hikers knew about the race and every one of them was so incredibly encouraging to me as I encountered them. Most people are truly wonderful!
On one of the bottom switchbacks, I heard Megan yell, “Mom!” She was finally catching up to me…and she did catch up when we had about a quarter mile to go. Here’s a little side note: she has a habit of passing me and beating me at the end of races. We laugh about it. As she caught me Saturday, I said,”you stinker, you’re gonna beat me again!” She replied, “I just want to finish with you.” We held hands as we crossed the finish line. I have a wonderful daughter!
At the Finish I was completely spent and close to fainting. I was hungry but at the same time my stomach still hurt. I got some cold water and half a Subway sandwich…ate a few bites and it tasted awful. The taste was a problem with me rather than the sandwich. Matt (my son) then went and got me a bowl of chili. This was a bit better and I was able to eat a few bites. Between trying to eat, and drinking I was dropping my head down between my legs because I felt so faint. After eating I just put my head on the table (like I imagined doing at the top of Fireline). My husband was concerned, but I knew I’d eventually feel ok. Finally I recovered enough to go home!
The next day, I was still a bit tired, as expected. But surprisingly my legs were not fried like they are after a marathon. I can even walk normal… something not possible after a hard marathon. Hmmm.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this race. I’d had a hard time training for it. I was seriously thinking of dropping out (or moving down to the 30K a couple weeks ago. But decided to go for it. My goal was to finish. A second goal was to finish within 8 hours. I met the first goal and came within two minutes on the second. I’ll take that!
Will I do another one? Probably…because I know that if I don’t overload myself like I did this year I could possibly do better. I’m not sure when I’ll try again.
Meanwhile I have a couple weeks to recover and then I get to start training for Boston…because my really big accomplishment this year was to qualify for that race!