One foot in front of the other

Snuggle Party

If you’ve ever experienced deep grief, you know this. If you’ve mourned a parent or spouse or child, been intimately involved with the care of someone fighting cancer, survived an attack, had a sick kid, dealt with some kind of grief that came out of nowhere and upended your whole world, you’ve seen that there’s a whole other world right along side the one everybody accepts as reality.

Right along side of all the mundane trips to the grocery store and Facebook political arguments, there are people walking around like shadows, confused as to how the whole world is going along like nothing has changed when their world will never be the same.

It’s not the same as being depressed. That’s a different shadow world. Most of the time I’m not even sad, although there’s plenty of times when it sneaks up on me and I need to respect it and give the sadness the attention it requires so it will move on without me. Most of the time I’m just feeling kind of melancholy as I keep moving to get the job done. Meals need to be cooked, then fed, then cleaned up. Then Atti needs to be cleaned up because eating every meal in bed makes a gross mess even if you have full use of your motor functions. He needs to be entertained, and moved from room to room, and kept calm and hopeful, and I have stolen moments here and there until Bear gets home from work.

Meanwhile I check in on Facebook and see people going about like normal. And it’s just confusing. People have been so kind and supportive, I have no complaints about my friends, it’s just…weird.

One time I watched an episode of Law and Order that was particularly haunting to me. It was the one where they did a take on the Michael Jackson molestation scandal and in the L&O universe, the parents knew what was going on and allowed it to happen so they could have money to pay off medical bills. I found the whole thing so shocking, and possible, that I dreamt about it all night. And then when I woke up, in that early morning grogginess, I remember waking up and checking my phone and wondering why it wasn’t every lead story in the news.

That’s how my life feels right now.

I see something silly in my twitter feed and I think, “Seriously? THIS is what you’re thinking about right now? When calamity is so close to all of us at any moment? When tragedy has moved in and made themselves at home?” And then I have to remind myself, every time, that it’s my tragedy. Not the world’s tragedy. It is only this big to me.

I’m sad, but I’m not, I don’t know, in danger. This is different. I almost feel taken up. Inducted. Transfigured. It’s like trying to describe an altered state or a religious experience. It’s ineffable. It’s hard, it’s sad, but it doesn’t always feel as simple as that. It’s deep. It’s profound. It’s heavy.

This probably sounds like one of the most depressing things I’ve ever written, but I don’t feel that way about it. Well, sometimes I do. I’m not a rock. I am definitely skirting around depression and using all of my strategies to keep it at bay. But I almost have a sense of awe about it all.
Like when an astronaut does a space walk and gets a glimpse of their place in all of creation. Like I’ve gone so far down I’ve come all the way back around and I’m looking at the backside of enlightenment. I’m astounded that in spite of all my sorrow, the world keeps turning. And somehow, in my dark way, I find that hopeful.

When I was 15 I had foot surgery and very much like Atti right now, I spent 6 weeks mostly in bed. I got to move around on crutches, but that was extremely hard for a clutzy girl on the slick streets of the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t have anyone to take care of me so I had to crawl up the stairs to get myself some food and find my own way to keep myself entertained in the pre-Internet pre-iPad days. I spent most of my time cross stitching a sampler that said “This too shall pass.” I tried to believe that and tried to let that be enough. But for 15 year old me 6 weeks was an eternity. It wasn’t enough. I finished that sampler and I stuffed it in a drawer. But now, with a fully developed prefrontal cortex and some life experience behind me, it might be.

That I think is the lesson of this shadow grief space. It all passes. Life passes. Loved ones pass. Possibility passes. Grief passes. The rain is pouring down outside as I type. The local dam opened a spillway for the first time after drought plagued years. The morning glories are spreading across the redwood bark in the yard. Kids come home from school and splash in the puddles. The squirrels and the birds are fighting over the birdfeeder. Odds are that I will never have another baby. Parents get older. Friends get sick. It all passes.

It’s all only unfair if you believe you have a right to expect something different. But you don’t. It all passes. None of us have the right to break the laws of nature. It all passes.

I’m not a fan of one size fits all self help approaches. I don’t believe that suffering makes you a better person. I think that most people allow suffering to pickle them and then they punish the world for their experiences. I don’t believe that Atti was given to us because we’re such exceptional parents and could therefore handle his disabilities. Foster care is so full of special needs kids there is no safe place for them all.

What I believe is that empathy makes you a better person. And anytime we experience suffering, we can choose to let it expand our empathy or shrink our souls. In this shadow grief space, I see how densely populated it is. How many people are walking with hurts that the rest of the world refuses to acknowledge. How healing it is to have your grief witnessed.

It will pass, but I hope that I can remember this.

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Full Circle Moment

Sesame Tweet

This is what I woke up to this morning. I’m going to try and explain how this is a sea change for me. It’s going to be a total bummer of a story, but hang in there. There’s a happy ending.

I’ve written and spoken pretty extensively about my abusive childhood, but I rarely tell the stories. I have a selection of stories that I think are hilarious in their downer-hood, and some stories that are only hilarious to me while the rest of the room gapes in open mouthed horror, but I rarely give out the gorey details. This is purposeful and I have a lot of reasons for it, but I’m going to break that rule so I can explain just how important this tweet is in my life.

My childhood was abusive and neglectful. A lot of people have sadness and trauma in their childhood and part of the reason I don’t tell my stories is so that they can’t be ranked. I am not interested in playing a game of “Who Had it Worst!?” (Boy, would that be some weird theme music.)

Many people experience abuse and trauma. But my parents? Were experts. They went to creative and innovative lengths. It’s like, if everybody eats, some people really really enjoy food, and my parents were foodies. My parents were the foodies of abuse.

I have a specific memory. We lived in a house in Broomfield Colorado, and my younger sister and I were too young to start school. Which meant that I was 3 or 4 years old. We lived in the basement and my dad worked days while my mom worked nights and my two older siblings went to school. So I was home alone with my younger sister until my mom came home from work, and then we had to be quiet while she slept after her shift. And kept sleeping until everyone got home. So my sister and I would stay in the basement by ourselves until my siblings came home from school. Sometimes my mom would call down the stairs and hand us a bag of donuts on her way off to bed, but most of the times we would fend for ourselves.

I was three or four years old and I was climbing down the stairs with a bowl of cold cereal, trying to balance it carefully so I didn’t spill the milk on the stairs and face trouble. I’d set us up in front of the TV and we’d watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and that was the only happy part of my childhood.

I learned to read at 3 years old because of Sesame Street. I had friends who I felt cared about me. I saw happy families and people and muppets work through conflict with understanding. I would pray that Maria and Luis would adopt me and that Grover and I could be friends.

I grew up and I learned to keep secrets. I learned how to hide and let people believe what they wanted to believe. And like most abuse survivors, I believed that I was intrinsically damaged and dangerous. I believed that there was something so wrong in me that my parents couldn’t help but abuse me. It was easier to accept blame than it was to face that the people who were supposed to protect me were dangerous. And as I hit my teenage years and began to think about my future, I knew in my bones that children could not be a part of it. I *knew* that I was a Nitrogen bomb and that when the day came – and of course it would come – that I exploded, everyone in my path would be charred. I was a 16 year old high school drop out who lived in my car. I was a street rat. The life lessons I had to pass on were how to spot trouble, how to dodge, how to hide, and how to climb through a vent to get to the locked up food. Nothing a happy child should have to know. I knew that the best way I could protect my potential children was by not having them.

As the years went on, that shame became a secret too. In our society having kids is still pretty much a given, and for a girl in a religious environment it’s all but a fact. All of those feelings became a burden that inspired reinvention and denial. As I kept getting older and faced the years of infertility, I was nearly crushed under the conflict of an honest desire for children to love and a secret relief that they weren’t coming.

I worked really really hard at addressing that. I have always been diligent about getting emotionally healthy and this was one area that I dove deep into. People tell me a lot that I’m brave because of what I talk about publicly, but it doesn’t feel brave to me, it’s just how I’m wired. If I’m going to claim any bravery for myself it’s in staring the ugly right in the face and dealing with it. Whatever success I have as a mother is because I did that. I opened that door and I looked in the dark corners and I faced it all down so that my children wouldn’t have to.

Getting that tweet from Sesame Street brought me right back to that 3 year old me. It brought me right back to that loneliness and longing and that hope that someday someone would love me. And it made me realize, again, in a way that 3 year old me could understand, that I did it.

I took all the ugly that I was handed and I transfigured it into love. And because I did that my child will never know that world. He will be untouched by the Nitrogen bomb because I spent years defusing it and turning it into fertilizer that nourishes the soil and creates beauty.

That tweet was a pat on the back from a beloved family member, telling me that they were proud of what I’ve done. I don’t have parents or grandparents to tell me they’re proud of me. I only communicate with two siblings who live far away. No cousins. No aunts or uncles. No family friends or old teachers or church elders. There is no one in my life who could have offered that and had it mean anything like this. This was a gift that I will treasure forever.

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Show You Care

Happy love

This neverending fertility journey I’m on has been horrific. I got some more bad news this week, but I’ll get into that another day. Right now I’m deep into self-care mode with lots of puzzle doing, cat snuggling, and playing with Atti to get me through the hard stuff.

As I’ve been wading through all my tender feelings, it’s really hard to not sink into a place of desperation or loneliness. It’s really really easy to succumb to all the magical thinking that tells you there’s a reason you can’t have kids, and that it’s because there is something wrong with you. This infertility stuff, I tell you, it gets right down to the core of your identity and the love you have to give and long to receive.

But one beautiful bright spot in all this darkness is how people have shown up for me.

When I go through a hard time, I cocoon. I don’t leave the house, I don’t reach out for help, I hide in a safe space until I feel strong enough to re-engage with the world. Of course, this coping mechanism comes with some significant drawbacks. Namely, when the hard time is your own body and mind, a cocoon isn’t always a safe place. And often, hiding by yourself just intensifies the loneliness. But what is a person to do when they need support but don’t have the energy or courage to ask? You ask in whatever way you can bring yourself to. Sometimes that’s just squeaking out “help” to a trusted friend, sometimes it’s attending a meeting, sometimes it’s even vaguebooking.

Over the last few days the texts and PM’s and emails have been flying my way from all sides. Some who recognize what it means when I post about having a “bummer day” while in the midst of fertility treatments. Some responding to a more detailed call for help, and some just following an impulse inspired by whatever you want to call the human connection we all share. I call it God.

As I’ve been lost in the fog of my own problems, I’m constantly amazed at the goodness of people, putting aside their own problems to care about mine. To take the time to send a text while they’re racing around with all their own responsibilities. Who forgive me when I need to take some time to respond from the well I’m at the bottom of. Who never ignore that impulse to offer kindness.

When I’m more myself, I tend to wander through life with a big goofy grin on my face and my unmistakable cackle announcing my arrival. My laugh is something I’ve been self-conscious of forever – it is loud and omnipresent, but I know that if you ask people who love me what they love about me, my laugh comes to the top of the list. And even strangers have told me that my laugh cheered them up. How silly that something so small as a laugh is all it takes to spread a little joy. When something as untaxing as a high five can turn a day around. From my current vantage point under the covers, a text is hope. A friendly nod can overcome so much sorrow.

SoulPancake, home of Kitten Therapy and Kid President, has launched their latest viral campaign to put some goodness into the world by challenging people to show they care. This video totally made me cry at how beautiful the world is. From the high-fiving baby to the gentleman on the phone spelling out plainly exactly what the person on the other end meant to them, it’s a lovely reminder to step outside ourselves and our fear of rejection and prove how much love is in the world.

Because there is always more love than loneliness. And it takes so little to remind us of that. So do it today. #showyoucare

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Friendship Retreat

Retreat
During the last year from hell when I was busily trying not to kill myself, a lot of my relationships took a big hit. I had to pull away completely from casual friends and acquaintances, developing relationships got nipped in the bud, and some long-term relationships were blown to bits. Being that vulnerable and exposed left me feeling naked and wounded in every encounter I had with another human, but it also made me need people more than ever. It’s been weird.

So with everything being so fraught and complicated and vulnerable on my end of things, it was the perfect timing to have a retreat with some of my favorite people from around the nation. Us Mormon Feminists LOVE our retreats. So often you’re the only one who thinks like you at church every Sunday, retreats are times to gather together, celebrate our relationships and our work, and nourish our hearts until we’re strong enough to get back out there and keep at it.

These gals are all a special breed of trouble that I run the Feminist Mormon Housewives empire with. We chat online every day about the minutia of our lives, problem solving all the issues that come with running a giant online community, and raging against the man. I love them totally, and getting to have a few of them in the flesh was heavenly.

Cooking
I forced everyone to travel to my house so that I could pamper everyone silly. I had the very best time cooking for everyone, fussing over bedding, making sure everyone was comfortable and watching the whole season of the Bachelor while we critiqued it through a feminist lens. And then Christa made us all homemade potstickers from a secret family recipe.

DungeonsandDragons
My friend Melissa schools me in all things Nerdly, and it was her gentle hand that guided me through my first ever Dungeons and Dragons experience. Turns out, it’s just like an improv game! I’ve wasted so much time not playing this!

Dudebro
My friend Noelle just went through an unpleasant divorce and if there’s one thing us MoFem’s like as much as retreats it’s rituals. Anytime we get together we come up with reasons to celebrate, to mark the occasion, to recognize milestones. There are just not enough moments in a woman’s life where she gets surrounded by her community in support and celebration, so when we get together we make those moments happen. For Noelle we decided to have a letting go ceremony. I had white tissue paper lanterns on hand we use for birthday celebrations, so we took one of them and we all wrote on it together. On one side we wrote all of the things we didn’t want to be a part of the next phase of her life – fear, sorrow, shame – and on the other side we wrote all of the great things we wanted for her. Then we lit it up and watched it rise into the night sky, glowing the whole way.

Dudebro tears is something we want to be banished from her life forever.

(Because it’s a fire hazard and I live in forest fire country we kept it tethered and then disposed of it safely once it was done burning.)

Friends
I must love these ladies an awful lot to make that face in a photo.

It was three restorative days with women that I love so so much. It’s almost too good to be true. And then last week I got to go to Utah for another retreat. This was for a conference about race and Mormonism and I flew in and showed up because I deeply care about anti-racism. I thought I was making a sacrifice. But then I got PREACHED to, and once again it was restorative. It cracked me open and poured me out and filled me back up with holiness. Luckily, you get to listen to the keynote address too. If you need a little retreat, a little ritual, a little restoration, go and listen. It’s enough to keep you going until you see the people you love in the flesh.

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How to help

How to Help

How to Help

Being the unfortunate expert in going through hard times, I often get loving tender hearted people who ask me how they can best help their loved ones who are dealing with something hard. Parenting a kid with special needs, dealing with miscarriage or infertility, chronic illness, and so much more, I am all too well acquainted with hard stuff so people come to me for the lessons I’ve learned that they can apply to their relationships.

Here’s the big thing I’ve learned: no two people need help in the same way. I’ve gotten to the point where I have very little pride and I’ll just take what goodness comes my way. But for other people, well intentioned but actually unhelpful help is just one more thing they have to deal with.

This is especially true when people express sympathy and then say, “Let me know if you need anything.”

I know that comes from a sincere place. We feel helpless watching people we love go through all the hard things life holds and we don’t know what to do. But we want to do something, so we give some vague offer of good intention and then our phones never ring. Because who among us is good at asking for help when we’re in the middle of suffering? When I’m dealing with the worst of it I know that there are people who would show up for me, but the thought of picking up that phone or delegating some part of my life to them is too exhausting to contemplate.

But since everyone needs help in different ways, what else are we supposed to do?

Here’s what:
You hand your loved one a questionnaire. You ask them what kind of help would be helpful and what kind of help would really only be about you feeling like you were doing something, and then you follow through.

Giving your friend this little handout my friend Jerilyn and I made for you (I wrote the words, she made it beautiful) is an act of love all by itself, but it allows you to learn exactly what your friend needs without giving them a burden. You can learn what works and then without any further instructions you can do it.

i know times are challenging for you right now, and since you are my friend, and i love you, i want to do something to give you support.
but i want it to be something that would really help you, and not just make me feel less helpless as i watch my friend go through hard things.
tell me what would be truly helpful, and i will be there.

bringing dinner would be great.
dinner is one area we’re covered.
food would be great, but only if it meets these specific dietary requirements.

providing childcare would be a nice break.
my child really just needs to stay with me.

my last priority is a clean house. i would totally let you tackle that for me.
are you kidding? i’m not letting anyone see the state of my house.

all of my clothes live in one pile. i would let you find them a home.
if somebody folded my towels wrong it just might be my last straw.

flowers are beautiful and so thoughtful.
flowers are only great in theory and then i have to clean out a moldy vase.
chocolate makes everything better.
i don’t need cavities on top of everything else.
a care package on my doorstep shows me that i’m thought of.
i want to talk to someone about anything else. let’s chat about something fun.
i want company without the pressure to be entertaining. just come sit with me.
i need people to keep a little distance and let me take the lead.
i need someone who is unafraid to let me be angry, and sad, and depressed, and whatever else i’m feeling. help me process what i’m going through.
i need a distraction. take me to__________________________.
this is what i need more than anything: _______________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________

I love you. I believe in you. And I will be there for you.

Download the pdf here and use it with love.

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Class Guilt

Fireplace reading

So I mentioned last week that we went to the resort at Pebble Beach. If you’re not familiar, it’s, like, the hoitiest toitiest super elite thing there is. Their golf course frequently hosts the US Open, they have an “equestrian center” and tennis courts, and a spa that was just bonkers. There are actually homes within Pebble Beach that cost upward of 5 million dollars and they’re used as vacation homes. It’s a level of wealth that I honestly find sinful.

Since Bear started this new job, we’ve been entered into a new circle of access and opportunity. We are NOT rich. We have so many years of medical bills and school debt and times when we had no choice but to live off credit cards and then our sweet little San Diego house we had to lose because it was too expensive to sell, that we will be digging ourselves out of this hole for YEARS. But thanks to this new job, we will eventually dig ourselves out. Eventually we’ll be able to have a retirement and probably even save for Atti to go to college. Which is a hell of a lot more than most people can say these days and that thought is never far from my mind.

I’ve never known true poverty, but I’ve come as close as you can get while having access to good public schools and living in an area safe enough that living in my car wasn’t taking my life in my hands. I’ve spent years dodging creditors and floating checks and living paycheck to not quite another paycheck, I’ve gambled with no car insurance, and lost my twenties to having no health care. I’ve come *thisclose* to bankruptcy and been foreclosed upon. So when I go to a place like Pebble Beach, part of me feels like a hypocritical fraud.

But another part is beginning to feel right at home. Through work connections and some generous friends I’ve been able to get enough of a taste of luxury that it doesn’t shock me any more. As I was getting a massage at Pebble Beach this thought actually went through my head: “I’m enjoying this, but I think the massage I got at LaCosta was better.” And then I killed myself.

When Bear and I first got married, one of our first arguments was when I swore to him that no matter how much money he made, I would never shop regularly at Nordstroms. He got upset because back when he was 22 he thought that the measure of his manhood was how he provided for his family, and what would his hard work be for if we couldn’t enjoy it? I brought this argument up to him the other day and he just shook his head and said, “I was such an idiot.” Years of hard times has taught him what the hard work is for, and that’s security. I do not take that for granted for a second, and we have big ambitious plans for how we’re going to use our good fortune to provide security for others. But in the meantime, as I get these experiences that so few people in the world get to experience, my enjoyment is always laced with guilt.

I often call myself a “red-letter Mormon” because the words of Jesus are paramount to my faith. So I take very very seriously the charge to care for the poor and needy. I take seriously how often Jesus condemned the rich and powerful. I believe that people in positions of abundance are stewards and have an obligation to use that abundance for the betterment of the world. And I also believe in beauty, in design and style, in rest and relaxation, in appreciating creation. I guess every person has to find the balance in there somewhere.

For me, so far, the balance is enjoying it on someone else’s dime, and then writing angsty blog posts about it.

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One Little Word: Strive

One Little Word Cross Stitch
Last year one of my big goals was to start more seasonal family traditions. I think there’s more I can do on that front, but I’m really pleased with what we’ve added. A Christmas open house, birthday lanterns, even Atti and my first camping trip (Bear remains a holdout.) But I think this one is my favorite. Around Christmas time we have lots of ways that we display our family values. I have a whole tree dedicated to it, for goodness sake, and our collection of Newlywed ornaments is always a big hit. I love that these little leaves bring that tradition in all year long.

Bear and I sat around one night brainstorming our Word of the Year in between commercial breaks, and we both kept coming back to ‘Work.’ But out of context that could mean anything, and for a couple of people a little too dedicated to our work, maybe we didn’t need that encouragement. We both felt like this coming year was going to be one that required our diligence. Atti will probably, hopefully, possibly, getting the big surgery we’ve been waiting on for two years, and if that ever actually happens it’s going to be a major step back in his ability before a (hopeful) leap forward. Bear’s work is relentless, and mine is as big or small as I’d want to make it. My angsty posts of late probably reflect a bit of dissatisfaction there, but it’s one borne of analyzing what I’m trying to accomplish. I think I might have found an answer, but it’s going to take more work.

So all of our goals this year require us to aim high and work for what we want. So we’re going to strive.

Word of the year Needlepoint
With only two years of this tradition, I’m still keeping my little leaves in a bowl, but once I’ve got three leaves, I’m getting myself a little tree to put them on. And as the years go by it will fill with more and more of our goals as our little family works on becoming who we want to be.

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Spiritual Directory Assistance – the original!

Spiritual Directory Assistance

I designed this handout years ago when I was working with the teenage girls at church, and it’s kind of taken on a life of it’s own. I’m constantly seeing it all over Pinterest, and some wonderful forthright people have contacted me to make sure they’re giving me the proper credit. Gosh I love thoughtful people. So I resurrected this from the bowels of my computer to create one easy place to find it.

After all of the activity of the last few weeks I am feeling energy depleted. I might just take to my bed and look a few of these verses up.

Click for full size image!

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Overcoming diminishing statements

In all my years of crafting, I’ve gotten one reaction a whole lot – “You must have a lot of time on your hands!” – but once I became a mom, that statement started being tinged with suspicion.

We’ve talked about it here, I get a lot done. And so people are always asking me how I manage that. (Hint: It’s mental illness) Sometimes people really want time management tips, other times they want to find out where the catch is. I must be a phoney, there must be something I’m neglecting or some help I’m getting that they’re not. If I sense that they’re sincere, I’m happy to talk tips or confess to how many days a week I go without changing out of pajamas, but they’re rarely sincere. Usually they only want to press me until they find something they can hold against me, or use to discount my accomplishments in their eyes (hey, if mental illness won’t do it, what exactly are they looking for?). It’s a weird position for me to be in – I believe that it is my moral responsibility to be as authentic and truthful as possible, but I don’t exactly want to hand these people my weaknesses for ammunition.

I’ve gotten this reaction so, so, so much, that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I realize it rarely has anything to do with me. Now whenever someone says it, I recognize it as coming from a place of insecurity. They recognize that my quilts or jams or whatever takes time and thought and care and they feel insecure about their own efforts. They wonder why I am able to do these things that they’re not doing, and instead of feeling secure about their own priorities or deciding to try harder in areas that matter to them, it’s easier to try and attack the efforts of someone else.

I can’t do anything about these people, only steer clear once I recognize a diminisher, but since I hate it when people do it to me, that means I have to be on the lookout for the times I do it to someone else. Because we all do it. We all have our insecurities, we all question our priorities and wonder if someone else has got this whole thing figured out.

Whenever I catch myself wanting to dismiss someone else’s accomplishment, I have to force myself to stop and run through this little quiz.

Why do I want to dismiss what this person did?

Do I think they did something stupid and inconsequential?

Fine.

Did it hurt anyone? Was it unethical?

No.

Then let the person have their accomplishment and don’t be a dick about it.

If I don’t think it’s stupid and inconsequential and I’m still wanting to dismiss it, that is a big red flag that I have some work to do to be secure in my own choices. I could find a way to participate, or I could evaluate a few things and decide that it’s not a priority after all. And once I’ve made that decision, I actually find myself able to enjoy my friends’ accomplishments without jealousy.

I have a ton of runner friends. And I hate running. Hate it with a passionate fire. But I don’t want to. I want a hard runner’s body and the endorphin rush and the fun events. But after evaluating my priorities and my body’s ability, I’ve decided running is just not something I can take up right now. But I can cheer my friends on. I can donate to their races, I can support them on facebook, and every time a friend finishes their first marathon, I feel genuinely happy for them.

Diminishing the world to bring it down to your size is such a temptation. It’s a quick fix to feel instantly better. But ultimately it’s a prison. You’ve made a world with no room to grow and nothing to aspire to. It might make your jealousy feel better, but in the long term it’s poison.

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