“So, do you run marathons or something?” she asked, with no shred of irony (which, if she KNEW me, would have totally been there).
You see I have the lab results of a serious runner. I always have. It’s genetic good fortune.
My blood pressure used to be so low that I would occasionally be handed a glass of water before I was allowed to leave the student health center at Penn State (WE ARE, for those inclined to reminisce with me).
When it came time for me to choose a way to exercise in my twenties, as grad school stress management, I decided to take up running.
I’ll be honest. I chose it because 1) I could do it alone, 2) I didn’t need a lot of gear, and 3) I could do it alone. Feel me?
In other words, I didn’t have some passion to become a runner, but I wanted to exercise alone.
I loved it. I didn’t love it like “Now I’m going to be a competitive marathoner,” but I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I loved the portability of it. I loved the way it made me feel. I loved being outside and moving fast enough to feel a breeze regardless of how still the air was.
I just loved it.
My relationship with running was a long one. It wasn’t always consistent and I never got into the competitive version. But running was always there for me.
And then came the pain. My foot was swelling and telling me very clearly to stop running. So I stopped, hoping it was temporary. I kept walking though and my foot kept swelling.
I kept ignoring it. Well, not ignoring it, but not really addressing it.
And then it became impossible to ignore it any longer.
So began a series of doctor’s visits that ended with me having a surgery that took a really long time to recover from and ended with a follow up visit with the orthopedist looking over his glasses at me and having a frank and seriously depressing conversation about shoes and… running.
“I can’t remove the arthritis. I can only take care of some of the damage so it won’t hurt so much. How long it takes for you to need to see me again depends on your choices.”
Ugh. Sometimes I hate it when it depends on my choices.
And so I stopped running and chose more reasonable shoes most of the time.
And I sort of forgot that I was a runner at all, that I was ever actually a physical runner.
The truth is I’ve been an emotional runner as long as I can remember.
I ran from conflict.
I ran from disappointment.
I ran from friends and groups of people who let me down, who proved themselves to be too human.
I ran from people who called me out when I let them down.
I ran from well-intended young men who didn’t read my requirements memo quickly enough.
And more than anything, I ran from an idea that kept surfacing, starting in high school and coming back up for air intermittently until now. That’s about 35 years of running, in case you’re wondering. That’s a LOT of running.
And for most of that time I can honestly say that my most common response to standard chit-chat was that I was tired.
And I was.
Because running is tiring.
You see I didn’t believe that I could follow through on that idea that kept surfacing, that idea that I could be a minister.
I was sure that I was too flawed (which is really silly because I have known some seriously flawed ministers – and I say that with total love).
I was sure that my faith was too riddled by doubt and a lack of clarity, that I had no business trying to help people with the big questions when I was so clearly still not answering them very well.
And so I ran. I ran every time it came up. I ran from churches. I ran from religion. I ran from job to job. I ran from people who asked more of me. I ran from people who let me off the hook too easily.
I ran, because I could do it alone and the wind that it generated let me believe I was going somewhere.
And then, last month, with a perfectly reasonable plan for my career trajectory in hand, that idea rose up again. Well, okay, it was a little more dramatic than that.
I’d given a sermon that morning, as lay folks are scheduled to do in summers at my Unitarian Universalist church. It went well. I got great feedback, including some questions about my professional plans, which I ducked. That afternoon I sang with my musical partner at the ordination of our church’s intern. That sentence felt complicated. Our intern was being ordained, becoming “official” clergy, and we sang a piece in the service.
And as the most official words were spoken, a voice in my head said: “Why isn’t that you? Why aren’t you doing this?” And the question was serious, not accusatory, like REALLY why?
The usual answers piped up, drowning in the poor self-image I’d worked for years to elevate, with a few logistical and totally “reasonable” adult objections thrown in for good measure. And I looked at all of that stuff, right there while the ordination proceeded, and decided they were not very good answers.
I decided, once again, that it was time to stop running.
It was a stone’s throw from that moment (through some meetings and terrifying and exhilarating conversations) to filling out paperwork and waiting nervously for my fate to be decided, and finally getting to yes.
Yes to me.
Yes to the questions.
Yes to admitting I don’t have the answers and to letting that be okay.
Yes to the call.
Yes to being enough to hear it.
Yes to standing still and feeling the wind in my sails, and learning a new way of moving.