Sick people

“Mommy, are people sick here?”

The young boy’s question caught my attention as we sat in the waiting room of the counseling center. I didn’t hear his mother’s answer, but I wondered the same thing myself the first time we went for counseling. The people waiting with us that day looked so normal, I remember thinking. If I’d met any of them on the street, I wouldn’t have thought they needed to see a counselor. People might say the same thing about my husband and me.

We’re not outwardly having problems, but we’re seeing a counselor to help us with our marriage. I don’t have to tell you that, but I want you to know that things aren’t always what they seem.

I forget that all the time. Never more than when I walk into my church building on Sunday mornings.

Honestly, I’ve never thought to ask my Father, “Daddy, are people sick here?”

Some people are more obvious about their needs, their failures, their weaknesses than others, but even if those things aren’t visible, we all walk around with some kind of sickness. In college, I remember interviewing a girl who used a wheelchair. I can’t exactly remember the reason, but I won’t ever forget what she said: “We all have handicaps. You can just see mine.”

We’re all sick with something: pride, envy, prejudice, lust, unforgiveness, worry, fear … you name it.

I’ve heard it said that churches are to be like hospitals where sick people get well. Instead, we walk around dismembered, disfigured and dying, figuratively speaking, pretending like nothing’s wrong.

I’m guilty of telling people I’m fine when I’m not, and I’m guilty of assuming everyone else has their lives all together when they don’t. And I forget to treat people with compassion because I can’t see their injuries, their sicknesses.

Are there sick people here? Oh, yeah. And I’m one of them.

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32, NIV)


And just like that, it was over

Nine weeks ago, pretty much to the day, Phil and I committed to a running plan that would enable us to run a 5K — me for the first time, him the first time not in the Army and the first in 5 years. I remember the day we shopped for gear, anticipating the next day’s training session — a gradual introduction to running. At that time I could not imagine actually being ready to run a 5K in 9 weeks. Not without walking. Or collapsing. Or puking. Not intentionally. Not for fun.

I still couldn’t believe we were doing it, even as I started the day before sunup with the two early bird kiddos awake and raring to go.

We left the house at 7, loaded down with snacks and drinks, mostly for the little ones, and uncertainty. It was cold. Frost on the car windows and the ground, a chill in the air. But it’s November; what did we expect?

We were dropped off in the parking lot of the Lebanon Farmer’s Market, close to where the race would start. Blew kisses to the kids, whom we hoped we’d see later on the route, and took this picture after affixing our numbers to our shirts.

We cut through the farmers market building, receiving second glances as we did. It’s been four years. I’m sure they’re used to it by now. Potty break, then out to the street to mill around with the other runners.

We felt appropriately dressed, unlike the man we saw running around the block wearing only shorts, socks and shoes. Brr, I thought. Now, he’s crazy.

More than 200 people eventually gathered at the start line. Maybe we’re all crazy, I thought. 8 a.m. on a chilly Saturday morning in November and we’re getting ready to run 3 miles? And we paid money to do it? Yeah, we could definitely be called crazy.

After a few muffled announcements and a jaw-dropping rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by a girl who didn’t look much older than 12, I let out a squeal of sorts and then we were running.

What a sight. We were near the back of the pack, purposely, and we could see the rows of runners fill the street from side to side as they traversed the blocks ahead of us.

Not long into our run, the 10K’ers split off to the Rail Trail while we crested the hill toward Lebanon High School. We passed the finish line as it was being set up and the clock said 10 minutes. We were just about a mile into our run, and feeling good.

We wound through the parking lot of the high school toward a second entrance to the rail trail, volunteers pointing us in the right direction, cheering us on.

A mile behind us, we settled in to our pace on the trail. Just over a bridge, we glimpsed our kids, sitting snugly in the jogging stroller. Yesterday, Isabelle said she was going to say, “Go, Mommy! Go, Daddy!” I was teary just thinking about it as we ran. She got shy and just smiled and waved. Still, they were a sight for sore eyes. Or maybe legs?

Mile 2 was the longest part of the run. A straight stretch that felt like it was going to last forever. People started passing us going the other direction. First a few, then larger and larger packs of people. We knew the turnaround must be getting close. As the water station came into view, we could see people turning around. Two miles were soon behind us.

The home stretch found us leap frogging, per se, with a woman and two young girls, maybe 10 or 11, who alternately walked and ran. Spoiler alert: The girls finished before we did, which made me feel a little sad until Phil reminded me that those girls weren’t fat and hadn’t made two babies. Touche.

We passed our kids again. It was almost over.

A man on a bicycle rode toward us announcing we only had half a mile to go. I was beginning to believe we could do this.

We left the trail and headed back through the parking lot of the high school toward the finish line. People cheered for us. They called out our race numbers in encouragement to finish. The cheers got louder the closer we got.

Phil reached back and grabbed my hand, and the emotional dam broke. I was sobbing as I tore the tag from my number and handed it to the guy collecting them. Phil sympathy cried for a few minutes until he thought he might hyperventilate. The last few months have, at times, been a living hell for us. So many things have carried us through: prayers, notes of encouragement, shows of support, even the running. We don’t plan to stop running or exercising together, but finishing the 5K felt like closing the door on a tough chapter of our lives. Now, we look ahead.

I can’t forget to mention that seeing our time as we approached the finish line added to our mental state. We finished in 36:34. Our best 3-mile time yet, much less 3.2 miles.

We caught our breaths, walked around, found the cafeteria and gulped some water. Walked some more, ate orange slices and a couple of cookies. Grabbed more water, then went to meet the rest of the family.

We’re beat but proud of our accomplishment. Worn down but hopeful.

Home before 10 a.m. Eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast. Showers. Comfy clothes. Back to reality.

If my legs weren’t sore, I’d think maybe the whole thing was a dream, it all happened so fast.

Here we are after the race. I feel amazingly close to my husband right now. Getting through trial will do that to you, I guess.

My ever-thoughtful parents sent us these, delivered to our door a few hours after we got home.

I can’t say where the next months are going to take us, but something has changed in me as a result of this part of the journey. I feel stronger, tougher. Yet also humbled and awestruck. Running has deepened my faith at the same time it has toned my muscles. I’m more convinced than ever that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Running was not one of my ways to fix what was broken in our lives.

He knew better.

He always does.

We smell like bacon and we’re here to pick up our race packets

Pre-race meal: Chicken carbonara.

We cooked bacon this afternoon. And chicken.

Then, we headed to the Y to pick up our race packets.

It was kind of like Christmas, digging in to see what kinds of goodies we had.

Water bottle. Snacks. A long-sleeve, running T-shirt. And most importantly, our numbers. I’ll be the one wearing “4”. Phil is “5.”

We have a plan for the morning. Where to drop the runners off. Where to park the car. Where the kids can see us run past. What the kids will do in the meantime till we reach the end.

We’re ready to go.

 Here we are, post-rapture.

Kidding, of course.

All that’s left to do is drink some more water, sleep, wake up, dress and head out the door.

Tomorrow, then?

See you on the other side.

Now, we’re on our own

Week 9, Day 3. I should have posted this yesterday but the final 3-mile run in our couch to 5K training plan kicked my butt. Could have been the not so great sleep from the night before. Or the 25 mph winds we were running in. Or that I’d been at the grocery store all morning with the kids and thus was on my feet more than usual before a run. Yeah, I’m hoping it was one or all of those things. Phil, on the other hand, said it was his best run yet. He’d only had 2 hours of sleep the night before. He’s half seriously considering that as a strategy for running the 5K. Head in a fog = no pain. I think I’ll choose sleep, thanks.

38 minutes and some change. Running into the wind was a killer.

My encouragement is this: No matter what happens on Saturday, we completed a 9-week running program and can now run 3 miles. Two things I never imagined I would do and enjoy.

It’s been a crazy, wonderful journey and I know it’s not over, per se, but I feel a bit like the Biggest Loser contestants who go home — We’re on our own now to keep up the training.

Thanks for all your encouragement, support and advice through this whole thing. Two more days. I can’t wait.

What is THAT smell?

Week 9, Day 2. 3 more miles. 37:28. An out-of-town hilly route. The fun thing about running is noticing what you don’t normally when you’re driving. Like the beautiful country homes near the creek. Bridges and underpasses.

And, today, smells.

Running through the underpass brought a whiff of something stale and moldy.

Past a machine shop of some kind where the odor was so strong I wanted to vomit. (That’s the smell of death, my husband informed me later.) OK. Should we call the police? There were definitely signs of life, but the smell … oh, I won’t soon forget it.

Manure. Myerstown often smells like manure because it’s surrounded by dairy and cattle farms. Today, though, I was sure I’d stepped in it. Nope, just in the air.

Everything’s sore today. One more training run before the big day on Saturday. Can’t believe the goal is so close. And we’re still standing. Still having fun.

This time next week

Week 9, Day 1. The beginning of the end. Or is it the beginning of the beginning? A tough 3 miles today. Mostly because it’s Saturday and we’re tired and 3 miles is a long way to run. My legs are still aching, but maybe that just means it was a good workout.

One week till 5K and I’m starting to think of logistics. Where will we park? How far is the beginning from the end? How early do we show up? Will it be feasible for the kids and their grandparents to see us at the end? What am I going to wear? Those are just today’s questions. But this time next week, none of those questions will matter. Barring any debilitating injury this week (Please, God, don’t let that happen!) I will have run a 5K. Our goal is 40 minutes. Today’s 3 mile run was 37:26, so it’s possible. Probable even. But the course is unfamiliar to us, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m also looking ahead to what happens next. So, we’ve had this training plan to run a 5K. What do we do when the 5K is over to maintain or continue our training? It may have to be indoor and low-cost, so I’m open to suggestion if you have any. I don’t want to lose the winter and end up starting couch to 5K over again in the spring, but winter does pose its share of problems for fitness.

Three miles. I once thought it impossible, avoidable and miserable. I’m on the other side of that fence now. I think I might be on the verge of loving running. Who’d have thunk it?

There’s more to Jersey than the ‘Shore’

New Jersey. The Garden State. Every time I see this slogan on a license plate, I think of Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality,” when asked a sample question about her home state, “Why is New Jersey called the Garden State?” answering “Because ‘Oil and Petrochemical Refinery State’ wouldn’t fit on a license plate?” That, and SNL’s Governor Patterson sneering when he says the words “New Jersey.” Oh, yeah, and “Jersey Shore.” Never seen an episode. Don’t have to. Snookie makes enough news that I don’t need to watch.

Before Friday, I had never been to New Jersey. The only reason my family and I found ourselves traveling through the Garden State was because access to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty seemed easier for us, coming from Pennsylvania, than to drive into New York City. So I was surprised by a number of positive and curious points of our trip.

Curious point No. 1: It turns out these two national monuments are at least partly part of New Jersey. My husband was alerted to this when he saw that the Statue of Liberty was going to be on a New Jersey coin (quarter? dollar? I can’t remember.). All this time, when I heard Statue of Liberty, I thought New York. Not so. Not so. And according to a native New Jerseyan I know, getting to the statue is nicer from the Jersey side. At right is a picture of the old train and ferry station that now is used for ferry tickets and boarding. Pretty neat.

It certainly was easy to get there from the Jersey side. And I must say, the view of the New York City skyline was striking. Like, all of a sudden, it was there and I didn’t realize it. And I didn’t think it would be as close as it was. We considered for a moment taking the Holland Tunnel into the city just so we could be IN New York City but time didn’t allow. Phil and I desperately want to go to New York. We love cities and being from near Chicago, we have to check out the “competition.” (Your pizza will never beat our pizza, though. Sorry. It’s true.)

We picnic lunched in the park before lining up to board our ferry. Before boarding our ferry, we had to succumb to an airport-style security screening. Fact: I have not flown on an airplane since 9/11. Fact: Security screenings sort of scare me. I was holding Corban. I had to remove his hat and lower his hood. (Warning: Rant. I don’t even want to think about the kind of people who would use their kids to smuggle stuff illegally. OK. I’m done.) My dad had to take his boots off. My mom lost a pair of fingernail scissors to the Great Beyond of Illicit Carry-Ons. Phil had to take his belt off. I quote: “If I wasn’t losing weight, I wouldn’t even be wearing a belt.” Losing weight is good. Having to take your belt off in a room full of people waiting to board a ferry, not so much.

So much excitement and we hadn’t even left New Jersey yet! We bundled up and boarded the ferry, choosing to ride in the open, even in the cool air because the views were unbelievable. As you can see, Corban is all set, having survived the screening just fine.

 We had checked the map on the way in and I was certain we’d be able to see the Brooklyn Bridge. Another fact: Phil is obsessed with the Brooklyn Bridge since reading a book about its construction a few summers ago. So I took a bazillion pictures of it, most of which looked like this:

Minus the seagull, of course. I could tell you I did this on purpose, but it was a surprise to me when I viewed the photos this week.

A short ferry ride and we arrived at Ellis Island. This was our boat. Just kidding. Ours was much nicer.

I didn’t know what to expect going in. I don’t know if I have any ancestors who came through there. Phil’s great-grandparents came through Ellis Island from Germany. We knew that. Here’s what I can say about the experience: I was moved beyond words and inspired to read more about the island’s history. In the crowds of tourists, I could feel the confusion of being dropped into a place where you didn’t know what would happen. With the skylines of New York visible from the windows, I could feel a longing to be there. So close, yet still so far from your hopes and dreams. With my son wrapped on my husband’s back, I could identify with the women in photos with babies wrapped to their chests, carrying so much more than what they could fit in a trunk or a basket. And those trunks and baskets, holding everything important to them in the world. What would go in my trunk, my basket? We need a U-Haul and a truck to move all our stuff when we change locations.

There’s not a lot to see at Ellis Island, but I could see and feel the history in that place. Maybe it’s the connection with Phil’s family. The young couple in his family who arrived at Ellis Island from Germany are not related to me, but they are part of my children’s ancestry now. That excites me.

Isabelle fell asleep on Phil’s shoulders (he wasn’t wearing Corban at the time … he’s a great dad but even that would be asking too much and might be next to impossible). A brief nap before catching the next ferry to the Statue of Liberty. So long, Ellis Island.

The Statue of Liberty is such an icon for this country that I didn’t know how to respond to seeing it in person. Before we left the shore, I was giddy with excitement. I told Phil that I tended to geek out when seeing a famous landmark for the first time. In our three years of marriage we hadn’t had this experience yet. It reminded me a little of Paris when I was in college. Every time I saw the Eiffel Tower anywhere in the city, I took a picture. It was THE reason I wanted to go to Paris and it was the symbol of the city to me. I might have annoyed the friends who were traveling with me. Seeing Lady Liberty was a little like that. I peeked out a window at Ellis Island and saw the statue. Of course, I took a picture. When we actually arrived on the island, though, the statue was sort of a letdown. We didn’t have monument access, so we just walked around the island. How long can you look at a statue? I wondered. People-watching, though, could have gone on for hours. Do you know how frustrated people can get trying to get a group picture in front of the statue that includes the entire statue and no other people? It’s no easy feat. Here’s our offering:

Now that I look at the pictures, though, I’m pretty excited that we had the opportunity to see this landmark. Next goal: to set foot in New York City.

Our trip home offered more curious points of New Jersey. Like roundabouts and all turns from the right. And full-service gas stations. Apparently it’s illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey. (I don’t think it’s actually illegal, but all the gas stations we saw were full serve.) My husband was surprised when a man approached the driver’s side window and asked for a credit card. He then pumped the gas and returned the card so we know it wasn’t a scam. My New Jersey friend said it’s to give people jobs. My dad theorized that it had something to do with drive-offs. Anyone else want to weigh-in?

We ate at a Perkins where the wait staff was entirely of an undetermined ethnicity. But we ordered enough entrée food to receive two free appetizers — more food than any of us could finish easily.

And I don’t know if this is a curious thing about New Jersey or Pennsylvania, but you don’t have to pay a toll to enter New Jersey from PA, but you do have to pay a toll to re-enter PA from NJ. Weird. Or smart. The jury’s still out.

All I know is we had a great day, tired though we were, and my opinion of New Jersey has improved. Maybe next visit we’ll actually check out the shore.