Mary vs. Biology Lab

Let me preface this by saying: Science and I have never been friends.

In tenth grade biology lab, the day we all had to skin and dissect limp, dead rats, I paid a boy a hearty amount of Snickers bars to skin mine for me, because I one-hundred percent was not going to.

I barely slid through Chemistry junior year with a passing grade, but only because I am really good at faking competent answers on homework. I don’t even remember what we did that year, just that I cried for hours when I realized how much math was involved.

And I’m pretty sure third grade life science is what initially triggered my very intense obsessive-compulsive need to wash my hands whenever I see insects, dead animals, or basically anything that crawls, clicks or slimes its way through existence. That’s right. Third grade science birthed my OCD.

So, of course, I put off my college science GE’s till the last possible moment. Finally, my counselor gave me the look that said, “it’s been years and I want you out of my office, please just do this already.” So I bit the bullet.

I signed up for Biology 100 and its corresponding 101 lab.

Friends, it’s been a battle.

ROUND #1 – MARY VS. LAB PARTNERS

Now, I’ve been at community college long enough to know that if you don’t like the people you sit next to, you will fail the class. If you like them too much, you will also fail the class.

I did a quick survey of the already crowded lab before finding an open seat next to a perky woman in her thirties and a boy with braces and a baseball cap. We were joined by a guy who came into class late, swinging his motorcycle helmet in one hand and pocketing his other into a brown leather jacket. Two weeks into the semester, after the usual dropouts disappeared, we gained a chirpy girl with a big smile and an insatiable giggle and a quiet guy who we had previously dubbed “the class nomad” because he moved from lab group to lab group for weeks before settling on ours.

Perfect. I found the breakfast club.

Mary: 1
Biology Lab: 0

ROUND #2 – MARY VS. LECTURE

It should be noted that this class happens after I’ve already had a full day at work and a three hour cross country practice. Lab begins at 6:45 and runs till 9:55. The professor does not let us out early. Ever.

“The emotional stamina it takes to attend this class is more than I think I’m capable of,” I told the perky woman, who I refer to as our lab mom because she takes such good care of us when none of us feel like being adults.

She just laughed at me.

Following our weekly quiz, which I always nail because…I’m good at faking stuff…our professor does a little overview on the lab material and the science behind all the stuff we’re going to do. I usually sleep through that part.

In fact, our lab books are pretty thick and well-sized, so they double nicely as pillows and I get a quickie fifteen-minute power nap in before we have to do things that involve hazardous substances.

Mary: 2
Biology Lab: 0

ROUND #3 – MARY VS. THE MICROSCOPE

I may not be good at science, or listening to directions, or staying awake during class, or behaving like an adult in general, but I am phenomenal with a microscope.

Motorcycle Guy and Baseball Kid usually man one of our groups’ two scopes and Lab Mom and I work the other. The Nomad and Smiley Girl just watch and offer moral support.

The first microscope lab, all we had to do was identify color threads and whatever. It was like a How-To-Use-This-Equipment-That-Costs-More-Than-Your-Life type of lab. Easy.

The second lab, they had us looking at cheek cells, plant cells and weird little pond organisms.

This was a bit of a bust and we ended up drawing a lot of fake pictures of things we didn’t really see in our microscope. Eventually, Lab Mom and I found something in our pond water that was not supposed to be there. He looked like a legless naked mole rat with a pincher for a tale. We named him Humphrey and he is my best friend.

So far, so good.

Mary: 3
Biology Lab: 0

ROUND #4 – MARY VS. HUNGER

This is where things get ugly. As previously stated, I come straight from practice. Sometimes I am able to get a hearty meal in before class, and sometimes I just chug a gatorade like it ain’t no thang.

It is a thang. Gatorade is the bomb.com.

Anyway, I’m usually hungry and out of sorts when I get to lab, which Lab Mom likes to make fun of because she thinks it’s hilarious that a twenty-something still hasn’t figured out how to feed herself.

Smiley Girl has a habit of naming off foods she’d like to eat, randomly and in the middle of class.

This usually does it for me and, after stamping my feet a little, I sneak out of lab and head to the campus cafe. After eight o’clock, all their hot food is half off.

There is a reason for this. Half-off food from the cafe has less soul than a dementor and less taste than a Kardashian.

Tears usually follow the stale bean and cheese burrito I inevitably end up purchasing. Stiff and like unto cardboard, the tortilla barely merits the name. Say nothing of the substance they claim is “bean and cheese.”

But it’s food and it’s cheap, so I eat it.

“Chocolate? Pringles? What’s your poison tonight?” my professor will ask with a smile as I slip back into the chaos of a lab that is in full gear.

“A burrito,” I say with hints of remorse in my voice.

She smiles knowingly.

“These are the burritos you’ll remember,” she assures me.

I hope not.

Mary: 3
Biology Lab: 1

ROUND #5 – MARY VS. THE PROFESSOR

I like our professor and, on some level, I’m pretty sure she’s okay with me. She’s pretty relaxed, very down-to-earth, and just weird enough to not be intimidating.

As much as I love faking answers, the journalist in me refuses to half-hash the lab questions we don’t know (unless it’s drawing something because, literally nobody cares). So I sidle up to the professor to ask her leading questions about the lab work until she gives me the answer we’re looking for. On the whole, it has been an effective practice which has harmed no one, but whenever Biology Lab wins the hunger round, I find myself getting persnickety. And the professor tends to notice.

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“I think the book is wrong,” I began after hailing over the professor to show her an inconsistency in the respiration equation written in our lab manuals. She perused the question for a moment and then we scribbled some practice answers.

“Hmm, that’s interesting,” she said. “I’m not sure why it’s written like this, but I’m sure there’s a reason.”

“The book is wrong,” I said again, not sure why this very decent explanation was not sticking.

“I’m not going to let you come to lab anymore if you’re going to troop in from practice all famished and cranky,” she told me.

Ten minutes later, we saw the lab proctor from the Biology class one room over come in and the two of them had their heads together over the question for fifteen minutes.

“The book is wrong,” I whispered to my lab group again.

I enjoy being right and pushing buttons, but now whenever the professor calls my name in roll, it’s with a sigh – “Aaaand Mary,” as if she’s already exhausted that I’m there.

Ultimately, I have to win over the professor if I plan to pass the class. And that’s slow going.

Mary: 3
Biology Lab: 2

ROUND #6 – MARY VS. LIVING THINGS

img_20161011_202906At some point this semester, and I can’t say which point because I have mostly tried to block it from my mind, we did an experiment with little mice. Cute, harmless little mice that will haunt my dreams for years to come.

I’m sorry, I just don’t do super well with animals of any kind. Like, I appreciate them in theory, and if I don’t have to touch them or anything they’ve touched, we’ll all be just fine. But this experiment required a little hands-on contact.

Our mouse was a hero for the duration of the lab. He did great. A real trooper.

Not as much can be said for my own behavior. I had several meltdowns (not as bad as the one I had over the mudworm, but definitely worse than the one over the cheeks cells).

We had successfully put our little guy back in his habitat with the other little mice when Smiley giggled and said, “Oh no! We didn’t get a selfie with him!”

Mary: 3
Biology Lab: 3

ROUND #7 – MARY VS. DEAD THINGS

Easily our chillest lab session (identifying animals) was also my most traumatizing. I mean, the bookwork was fine. Answer questions. Draw pictures. Talk about the structural difference between sponges and jellyfish (“Doesn’t one of them poop?” asked Baseball Kid. “No,” answered Motorcycle Guy, “They don’t have that thing for digestion. What’s it called? The complete gut.” Baseball Kid nodded and Smiley said under her breath, “The Complete Gut – that’s totally a band I would go see.”). It’s a grand ole time until you have to leave the table.

From one wall to the other were pictures and posters of animal intestines. Jars of tapeworms and mudfish (a boneless fish with fangs coming out of a hole on one end of it’s body) and other things you just can’t unsee were strewn over the counters. I needed blinders to get from our table to the microscope.

Then, just when I thought I was safe next to the taxidermy table, waiting to have my lab book checked so I could leave, I noticed a jar of blood orange liquid behind a cute grey squirrel. Inside this sickly jar of death juice was a tiny white weasel.

Obviously, I screamed.

I tripped backwards a little bit and fluttered around until someone directed me away from the monstrosity. Unfortunately, he directed me right into a wall display of arachnids the size of my palm.

Obviously, I screamed again, much louder and with a little sob at the end.

“Will someone please just get her out of here?” said the professor with a sigh, not even bother to check my work.

Mary: 3
Biology Lab: 4

ROUND #7 – MARY VS. THE DRUDGERY

Drudgery is a real thing and it becomes harder to deal with the later the hour. To keep myself as engaged as possible during bio lab, I have resorted to christening everything that ends up on our lab table with a proper name, doodling in the margins of my lab book, and writing correct answers in the most unreasonable way possible. “Turnt up,” “Super duper effective,” and “Chillin’” have all made it into my written answers more than once. I also used Tinder as an analogy to explain hydrogen bonds. By the end of the semester, the whole lab group had taken to my particular style of “street responses.” That, if nothing else, was a victory.

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The naming of plants, animals and bacteria has been low key, except for the time our experimental plants did super well and the professor used them as an example in front of the whole class.

“Whose are these, anyway?” she asked, trying to read the names printed alongside the two test tubes. “Who are Ben and Jerry?”

On the whole, the class didn’t appreciate the humor, but I thought it was hilarious.

Mary: 4
Biology Lab: 4

ROUND #8 – MARY VS. NEIGHBORING LAB GROUPS

One horrifying evening this semester, someone removed a chair from our side of the lab table so the Nomad moved down to the end to work with the other lab group.

I felt furious. Heartbroken. Betrayed.

After all the work we did to convince him to join our group, after he had been wandering grouplessly for weeks, he was just going to abandon us for the two mad professors at the end of the table?? I couldn’t believe it. And all over a missing chair.

Harsh words were exchanged. Mostly from me. I’m pretty sure nobody else cared.

He did rejoin our group the next week (“I’m glad you’re back but I’ll never be able to trust you again,” I told him. All he did was laugh. Nobody takes me seriously…). But he was a changed man after that. He sped through the assignments, even taking out a third microscope from the shelf because we weren’t going fast enough. He doesn’t joke around with us anymore. He just sits there and gets work down. Sometimes, I even find myself copying his answers, which just goes to show how far we can fall when we leave our true friends.

I don’t know what the other lab group did to him, but it breaks my heart to see him so studious.

Mary: 4
Biology Lab: 5

ROUND #9 – MARY VS. THE FINAL

I am completely unconcerned about the final, mostly because this has been one of the easiest classes I have ever taken, but also because we won’t have to interact with anything but a pen and paper. What could possibly go wrong? Also, I have 102 percent, which, if you’re struggling with the math there, is somewhere around an A.

What I am kind of bummed about is saying goodbye to my little group of people. Not just the lab group, but the neighboring mad professors who stole Nomad for a night (and who give us their answers when we lose track of where the class is because we’re all too busy talking about how to find a DJ who will provide a smoke machine pro bono for Smiley’s party), and the semi-cute guy who we tried to set up with Smiley (mistake), and the water polo girl at the other table who also complains about being hungry and tired all the time. And our dear, dear professor, bless her patient soul.

Biology lab has been fun because of them and I’m not looking forward to going back to classes where no one gets to know each other.

I guess that’s another point for bio lab.

Mary: 4
Biology Lab: 6

I suppose there are worse things I could be doing with my Tuesday nights. Why not spend them in a drafty room where they tear apart the ligaments of dead cats, which smells constantly of pine oil, and is probably haunted by the ghosts of a thousand lab experiments gone horribly, horribly wrong?

Besides, every semester needs one good adventure.

what I have learned as a college athlete

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“Hold still, Mary,” Ernesto said as he adjusted the lens of his very spiffy camera. “This is the last time I bring you a pumpkin spice latte before the photoshoot.”

I was jittery.

Cold sunlight was just beginning to break over the concrete tips of the football stadium and where we stood on the red and gold turfed endzone it was still chilly. My cross country uniform wasn’t doing much for warmth and the PSL hadn’t settled my nerves the way we had both hoped it would.

“I just feels weird,” I said as Ernesto finished setting up the lighting tripod. “The whole team is wearing this uniform right now because they’re at an actual race, and here I am with the uniform on getting my photo taken like a fake, wanna-be athlete.”

“The school thanks you,” said Ernesto crisply. He works for the PR department and was doing a favor for his latest project. We’ll see in a few months how much I’m going to regret it.

“What’s it like anyway?” he asked me, adjusting some knobs on his camera and then directing me to stand closer to the lighting pod.

He must think it’s odd, watching me make the transition from fully-fledged nerdling to almost-athlete. Those are two different worlds and we’ve both spent a long time in one, giving quizzical looks at the other.

“I mean,” I paused. “It’s different. I’ve been injured for most of it so it’s hard to say.”

“What have you been learning?” he asked as he directed me into position. “Tilt your head. Besides running, of course. Hand on your hip. Or do they even teach you that? What do they do? What do you do at practice? Okay, too much hip, Mary. Calm down.

I let him push me around from this angle to that and thought about his question. What have I been doing? What have I been learning?

It’s a question that has followed me into every practice, every ice bath, every hot shower, every evening class I sit through with nothing but food and sleep on my mind. And, eight short weeks later, as I sat on a sunny slope in Irvine, the bib number from my very last race still pinned to my jersey, it was there still.

For weeks since then, I have tried to write everything down. I’ve tried to explain what this season has meant to me. And I can’t. There just aren’t words for it.

So instead, for the sake of just finally getting this off my chest, I’m going to answer Ernesto’s question as best I can in just a few highlights.

As a nerd, trying to be an athlete, this is what I’ve learned from one semester of college cross country.

Firstly, ice is amazing.

Ice is the great healer. Pulled a muscle? Ice it. Feeling sore? Ice it. Shin splints? Ice it. Break a leg? WHY DO YOU KEEP GETTING INJURED? GET YOURSELF TOGETHER, KID!

I have been injured so much this semester, so I would know. It’s painful, strapping an ice pack to your leg for twenty minutes or immersing your body in a frigid whirlpool till your skin is all red and numb. But I guess sometimes the healing process requires a little pain before the gain. And there is so much to gain.

Secondly, the “Dumb Jock” stereotype is a lie.

My grades have really taken a hit this semester. ‘A’s used to come so easily to me. This semester I’m relieved if I pull out a ‘B’. I used to think that athletes who were allowed to slide by with ‘C’s were just “dumb jocks” – probably just laziness or poor priorities or too many hits to the helmet region. I was wrong. It’s hard to be a student athlete! It’s not just that you’re losing three to four hours every day for practice that you could be using to do homework or study, it’s that after practice, all you want to do is eat and sleep! I don’t think I’ve been awake for a full biology lecture all semester and I spend half of Spanish class distracted by how hungry I am. I eat all the time and I feel like I should be sleeping a lot more than I have time to.

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Exhausted after a race.

Last week, I heard some of the football guys talking about how stupid they all were. I turned immediately and reminded them that anyone who balances athletics and academics is superhuman and they should all be super proud of themselves. Someone had to say it.

Thirdly, every second counts.

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Sprinting the finish of the Pacific Coast Conference Championship.

After every race this season, I have spent the next several days reliving each moment, trying to scrape out the missing seconds. Where could I have gone faster? Where could I have pushed harder? The obvious truth is that every step of the race matters. This becomes painfully clear when you look at winning times separated by fractions of seconds. You think, why didn’t he just push a little harder during mile two? Why didn’t she concentrate on her technique a little more – over the course of a 5K, that would have made a winnable difference!

Learning this lesson on the course has been brutal, but applying it to life has become a joy for me this semester. Details mean a lot in the real world too. If every day is a long run that you have to get through, technique becomes important and it is produced by force of habit and continual concentration. Things like being nice to people. Assuming the best. Trying your hardest. If remembering to pace your breathing gives you an extra edge on your race, appreciating the pina-colada scented shampoo in the girls’ locker rooms is the extra edge your day needs. So are fresh towels and packed lunches and Sergio, the rubber ducky who floats in the ice baths in the trainer’s room. Little things make a winnable difference.

Fourthly, the human body is literally just so cool.

I eat a lot these days. I have portioned out a part of my budget for protein bars and gatorade and calcium supplements. I fastidiously pack lunches every night. I stretch. I do yoga. I sleep literally whenever life doesn’t insist on my being conscious. The harder I run, the more I realize where and how my body needs to be strengthened. And I think that’s pretty cool. Despite the injuries, despite the exhaustion and the extra work of trying to care for this body that I’m running into the ground, the decrepitation has been delightful. God gave me this amazing body that functions like a machine – the better the materials I put in, the better the product that comes out. I don’t take it for granted anymore when all my muscles and joints work, when nothing hurts. I don’t take it for granted that I can run right now. What a precious gift, to have a body that allows me to do that.

Fifthly, ego is not your friend.

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You may have picked up on the fact that I’ve been injured most of the season. I don’t know, maybe I’ve mentioned it a few times.

I’m super competitive and I joined Cross Country to compete. And I compete to win. It’s not like I’m expecting first place (though that is always what I aim for, and I’ve had visions of crossing the finish line for a first place medal since June), but my “reasonable target” was to make the top twenty in a race. I need about a seven-minute mile for that. With hard work and blood and sweat and tons of tears (because it’s me, and I cry over everything), I thought a seven-minute mile was doable.

Well guess what. It’s not actually super doable if you spent the whole season sitting on ice packs in the trainer’s room.

This season has not lived up to my hopes for what it could be. Mostly because when I am able to run with the team, I’m not fit enough to keep up with them, and I’m always nursing an injury so I haven’t been able to chase after their times.

This has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned this season. My ego – my desire to be running with the front of the pack – will not help me win a race and it will not help me heal my legs. Why? Because ego is what stands between you and the critique you need from a coach to improve. Ego is what stands between you and the rest you need to power up. Ego is what stands between you and the people who could be your friends, friends you will need when the race gets tough and the season gets long.

Let passion be your fuel, and wisdom your coach, and leave your ego off the field. There is no place for it here.

Sixthly, everyone has a voice inside their head.

The few times this season I have been functioning well enough to join in team practices have been the few times we have been doing the most ridiculous workouts. Sprinting up the football stadium’s sixteen stairwells for forty-five minutes (that’s how I got my second injury this season. Goodbye soleus!), 500 meter sprints, Indian runs, etc. I think that’s when I began to appreciate how hard Cross Country really is. It’s not just running. It’s not just endurance. It’s not just toning and speed and technique. Cross country is a mind game, and you can be prepared for the distance, the heat, the waves of competition, but you cannot begin to understand the battle that will happen in your mind until you’ve been in it. This incredibly loud, convincingly desperate voice will tell you to hold back, to take it easy, to give it your all next time, to stop, to quit, to give up. It will tell you that you cannot do it. You must prove it wrong.

Seventh-ly? They’re not kidding about team bonding.

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Picture day! Trying out our new uniforms for the first time.

It’s hard to explain the dynamic of team spirit. It sounds like such a cliche. I never would have thought that genuine friendship could actually infuse strength and energy into a team, but it does. As soon as we all started making an effort to get to know each other, to spend time together outside of practice, to invest in each other, our times started improving. Our energy picked up. Our drive improved. It was like, suddenly, instead of being alone on the course, there were these forces of goodwill pulling me along, insisting that I believe in myself, because they do.

There has not been a single day this season when someone from the team hasn’t come up alongside me and shown me what it means to be a teammate. Sergio taught me how to spit while I’m running. Janet taught me how to breath properly. Jesse taught me to fight through the injury. Cristal taught me to keep pushing. Joe taught me how to pull my shoulders back. Agustin taught me how to open my stride. Melissa has beaten self-confidence into me with a horsewhip and then given me a good kick just to make sure it sticks. And everyone else has just been there, every day, all season.

So I make time for the outings. They want to go play laser tag on Saturday or carb up at a restaurant before a race? Count me in. Weekend runs? Let’s do it. Heck, they even talked me into getting a Snapchat, which I more or less regret. But there’s just not a lot I wouldn’t do for these guys. They’re my team. They’re the first one I’ve really ever had. And they mean a lot to me.

Lastly, disappointment and failure are not the same.

This season feels like a disappointment to me. When I first thought about joining the team in March of last year, I had visions of being competitive, of being a dark horse coming from nowhere to sweep up. All summer long, I trained nearly every day, despite travel and extensive time-commitments. And the more I ran, the clearer I could see myself crossing the chalky white finish line to take first. I’ll be honest, a lot of what I saw myself accomplishing may not have actually been physically possible, but I’ve always had my head a bit in the clouds. I may still be telling people I just wanted to be in the top 20, but I wanted first. I compete to win.

So the string of injuries, the missed races, the increasingly frustrating practices made for a long, sad season. And up until the last moment of the last race, I still had my sights set on qualifying for state. As a team, we had qualified for the Southern California Championship, and as we warmed up in the foggy morning, the other girls joked about blowing their times so we wouldn’t have to go to Fresno in two weeks. So many better things to do with a weekend.

“No don’t,” I whimpered, even though I knew they were mostly kidding. “I need you guys to qualify or I won’t be able to go!”

The girls laughed, but I could hear they were tired. They were at the end of a long season, one of many they had had. This was my one and only, and I had only been able to race half of it.

“Qualify as an individual,” they told me. “You only have to be in the top hundred.”

So from the moment the starting signal sounded to the last pounding beat of my heart as I crossed the finish, I argued with that voice in my head. I want this, I said. I want this as much as the girl in front of me. I want it more than she does. I want to go to Fresno.

I finished tenth from the bottom.

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Disoriented after finishing my last race, I was escorted from the finish line to a water table where I promptly threw up behind a nearby tree. What a way to finish.

Coach walked up to me with a smile on his face and said, “Well, did you have fun?” And that’s when I knew my season was over. And this incredible sinking feeling clamped onto my stomach and it hurt.

It hurt because I fell so far from where I had hoped to land. But it also hurt because the end of this season means the end of this time I’ve had as a college athlete, and I have so loved every minute.

Maybe thinking I could jump into college sports was a ridiculous notion. Maybe seeing myself as a state champion was laughable. And maybe the disappointment and the gut-wrenching, anxiety-inducing frustration and heartbreak of this season could have been avoided if I had been realistic from the start.

Why did I even join Cross Country? I thought to myself on that sunny hillside in Irvine, the race finished. I had walked away from the rest of the team, sat down on the edge of the course, and stared out at the big, empty hills in front of me. Ernesto’s question from early September still simmered in the back of my mind. At least this time I wasn’t just wearing the jersey for a photoshoot.

How short the season has been.

I shook my head. It’s easy to feel sorry about the outcome. Easy to fall into despair. Easy to feel like I have nothing but disappointment, foolish hopes and a couple of big “I told you so’s” coming my way. But I know better.

This season of running has challenged me. The struggles with injury have pushed my boundaries, opened me up to new possibilities, helped me forge friendships and inspired me to levels of humility I didn’t know existed. The pursuit of this unachievable goal has driven me to the peaks of self-mastery and instilled in me patience and persistence. The failures, setbacks and losses have taught me kindness and empathy, and I am stronger for it.

I may spend the rest of my life on a continuous wave of disappointments, but this season has taught me for certain that I am a better person for having chased impossible dreams.

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Before you move to Canada

elections2016The last few days have left me confused. Not because of the election results – I saw those coming months ago. And honestly, I have worked hard to stay emotionally checked-out for the last half year because I have strong opinions about our new president-elect and they are radically different from those of the people in whose home I am blessed to live.

Peace-keeping efforts have required me to politely step out of conversations and bite my tongue at the dinner table for weeks, months. They know what I believe and why. We never saw eye-to-eye but they’re family. I’m not going to not love them because of who they voted for. Our family as a whole is more important than our individual beliefs. Our family as a whole is made up of our individual beliefs. And that’s important to remember.

Back to why I’m confused.

I’m confused because of the way my friends have handled the election results.

Let me clarify who I’m addressing this to.

Everyone.

I’m talking to everyone here.

I don’t care if you are out holding a protest sign, crying in my Biology class, or sitting comfortably on facebook condescending those people participating in demonstrations today (and, I realize that by writing this, I fit into that last category. So I’m writing this for myself, too).

The first thing I want to say to you comes directly from the lips of my least favorite president ever, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

As a child growing up in a safe neighborhood in a loving, lower-middle class, very typical American family in a safe, free, prosperous country, fear was not a concept I understood.

Bugs. Wolves. Heights. That was fear to me.

Time and experience have taught me that hate, racism, malice, and danger are alive and well. But all these things, just like bugs, wolves and heights, can be overcome with open eyes, with courageous spirits, with loving hearts.

Fear, however, is a different kind of beast. It is a parasite. I saps us of our strength, our hope. It darkens our vision of the future so that we cannot see the pathway. It shrinks us, stripping us of our power as human beings to show compassion, empathy, mercy and understanding.

Fear stops us from conquering hate, racism, malice and the everyday horrors that plague the world we live in.

Much of the last eighteen months has been a reflection of what a fearful people we have become. Fearful of our abilities to provide for our families. Fearful of the dangers posed from unchecked immigration. Fearful of police brutality. Fearful of hate. Fearful of changes in attitudes that we don’t understand.

So we fight fear with more fear. We claim that our neighbors are the bigger monster. That whoever is standing on the other side of the aisle is the real threat to our livelihoods. We blind ourselves. We bind ourselves. And we exacerbate the problem, becoming one more complicated facet.

I am not here to judge anyone on how they voted. Casting my ballot on Tuesday was an excruciating decision that I dreaded for months. I’m not proud of how I had to vote. But I am proud that I voted.

I am proud of my fellow Americans who voted, who used their voices, who exercised a right that so many in the world still fight and die for. We did it safely, and then we all got stickers.

We live in an incredible country.

And still the results shock us.

For those who are judging a large wave of the population for “overreacting” to Trump’s victory, take a moment to consider where they are coming from.

Trump has spent months showing just how little he cares for immigrants, women, and people with disabilities. Whether or not he is qualified to lead this country, he has spewed a lot of hateful words and words have power.

He has incited a kind of hate in America I did not know still existed. It has been lying dormant. He woke it back up.

There are many who still think these reports are overblown. They think the problem doesn’t exist because it hasn’t happened to them.

So I’m asking you to pause and listen to the demonstrators. Whether or not they are overreacting to the outcome, they are a reflection of a very real hurt in our nation. Americans afraid of deportation because they don’t have the paperwork they need to stay in a country they love. Americans afraid of abuse for being born a certain color or for holding to certain religious practices. Americans worried about what the future now holds for their daughters and how it will shape their sons.

Real things to be afraid of.

To those walking in demonstrations, giving up on college classes and homework for the week, threatening to move to Canada or Mexico…Stop. Stop it.

It was an election. They happen once every four years. They’ve been happening for the last two hundred years, peacefully, which has awed and inspired the world for two centuries now.

We moved from one regime to another without gunfire or bloodshed. Two men with completely different worldviews had lunch together today to begin the process of passing the baton.

We went to polling booths and were not bombed. We watched an election that was fair, unrigged, and open from the start.

Women and minorities, and young people who are not yet property owners were all allowed to vote. We were all given a voice.

Why do we not appreciate that? Do we not see the victory in this? Do we not see how great our country still is?

So let’s talk about the future.

Trump is president, but he is in charge of a government made for the people, by the people, of the people. We are still in charge.

If we respond out of fear in these next few days, we will waste the strength we need for the fights of tomorrow, whatever they may be.

If we respond in fear, we will further isolate the communities of this great nation, alienating our neighbors and the friends we will need so desperately to fight those daily horrors (not all of which will be Trump-related, I promise).

If we respond in fear, we will cloud our judgement, stifle our ability to make wise decisions, and step out dangerously into choppy waters without an anchor to hold us fast.

If we respond in fear, we will continue the cycle of abuse, mistrust, hatred, malice and ignorance that has brought us to this day.

To borrow a term from our former colonizers, keep calm, and carry on.

Our nation as a whole is more important than our individual beliefs. Our nation as a whole is made up of our individual beliefs.  

We are all Americans. We live under the same flag. Let’s not give up on each other. Seek to understand, to empathize, to walk boldly towards peace and unity.

That means, for your personally, taking a deep breath and realizing that it will be okay. And if it’s not okay, we will work together until it is.

That means, for us as a nation, making a concerted effort to find common ground, for reals this time.

Thanksgiving is in two weeks and I will sit at a table with a family I am blessed to belong to. We may or may not talk about politics. I may or may not participate. But we will find a way to understand each other and be grateful for what we’ve been given.

And what have we been given? A country that allows its people to grow and change and broaden the scope of human rights.

A country that, though imperfect, and freckled with the sins of each generation that has tilled its soil, will continue to reach for liberty and equality for all.

A country that does not house a people who are fearful, but is rather a home to the brave.

once a teacher

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img_20160906_085443There it was. Bright red and gleefully tucked beneath the clear folds of plastic wrap and blue ribbon, my very first “Teacher’s Apple.”

It’s an idea I have loved since I first spotted it in the soft colors of Norman Rockwell paintings kept in a book beneath our living room coffee table. Giving the teacher an apple. How classically, iconically American.

Needless to say, it wasn’t really something I experienced in the Czech Republic. Oh, I was begifted with plenty of little treasures, but apples were never a thing there as far as I could tell.

So beginning at my new little school this year, ten minutes away from where I grew up, has been…Well, it’s been a long time in coming.

My tumultuous year away from my Czech students in Prague was reaching an excruciating peak in March when I was contacted by this little school to see if I was interested in a teaching position.

I wasn’t.

Already, I was mapping out a survival plan for my remaining three years of college education here in San Diego and teaching part time at a tiny Christian school was just not in the cards. It wouldn’t be Prague, you know? And I would be too busy.

But I have trouble saying, “No” to people, so the next thing I knew, I was in the middle of a phone call with a board member and then in the middle of an interview with the entire school board and then negotiating hours.

None of it held any large office space in my mind. I was in the middle of several meltdowns in April and May, mostly involving finals and anxiety about my trip back to Prague in the summer for some final goodbyes and a little closure.

And all the while, I assumed I would turn the job down eventually. Something wouldn’t work out. Because how could it? This school wasn’t mine. It wasn’t Prague, remember?

And yet an insatiable curiosity kept pulling me along. This was no longer an inability to be an adult and say, “No, thank you, but I just can’t.”

There was a turning point, I remember.

During the full-board interview, after being sufficiently and terrifyingly grilled on my values, virtues and skill sets (most of which I may have slightly oversold), the Chairman leaned back, pointed his sharp eyes on me and said in his gruff voice, “Is there anything you’d like to ask us?”

I thought for a moment, whispers of my little Czech students still echoing in my ears all these months later, and said, “Tell me about the kids.”

All heads turned to the Chairman, who had been to this point the most intimidating figure in the room. He softened. He smiled. He said, “Let me tell you about them.”

I don’t remember what he said, but I remember how he said it. He said it with the same tenderness I have felt for my own little okurky. He said spoke about them with affection and hope, as though he could vividly see all the promises held in their futures lined out like golden stepping stones and he wanted more than anything to help them jump from one to the next.

And I knew that feeling so well.

So I took the job.

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Harvey, the fake owl that sits on my candy bowl. He is a dear friend.

I rearranged my school and work schedules. I found minutes in the day I didn’t know existed until I had all the time I needed to make everything fit. I read text books. I made lesson plans. I drafted a friend into decorating my classroom for me.

And on the first day of school, I found myself on the receiving end of an apple. The girl was quick about it. She placed it in my hand and then dashed away.

For three and a half hours, I made my way through high school level English and Spanish. Then I packed my things, locked my classroom and dashed off to campus to begin a round of back to back college lectures.

All week, I was in and out so quickly, I barely noticed the flurry of paperwork and signatures and beginners ‘how to’s’ I still needed to walk through. I did notice the other teachers graciously asking, “How’s it going? Are you doing okay?”

And I was, surprisingly.

After teaching several hundred students of all grades in a different language in the Czech Republic, a room of six high schoolers who all understand English seemed too easy. It was like training for a marathon and then running a mile.

On top of this, it was good to be back in the classroom. Indoctrinating a new generation of children on the importance of adverbs and explaining complex grammatical concepts with shoddily drawn stick figures. Having a little room with a little desk to sit behind (or on, as is more often my case). Having tiny people just bursting to ask questions, push buttons and grow into themselves.

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It wasn’t until Friday, the end of the first week, that I felt it. A realization. A revelation. A homecoming.

As my new students waltzed out of the room, practically singing, “See you on Monday!”, tripping over themselves to get to lunch, I felt a little tug on the cords of my heart. The same tug I always felt when school let out in Prague. It would be a whole weekend before I saw my students again.

My new school isn’t my old one. I knew that going in. I am very aware of it now. And I know that nothing will replace what Prague was to me.

But I think God knew I needed to be back in a classroom. I think maybe he’s been wanting me here and I was too stubborn to go on my own, so he just kind of pushed me into one.

When the Chairman bustles into my classroom with his gravelly voice and his broad smile and asks, “How are you doing?” – I tell him I’m doing well, that I like it here, that it feels like a good fit.

But the truth is, it’s more than that. It feels like home.

the real life of fancy people

dresssy

dresssy“Is it supposed to be ripping?” Aubrey asked as we struggled to get the dress over my head. Some get-ups are simply a two man project, and this dress was quite the get-up.

“No, generally that’s not a good thing,” I said as I tried unsuccessfully to shimmy into the sparkly death trap. “Mom already redid the seams on the side. Can you check to make sure the straps are still attached?”

Last year, when I was asked to cover the annual charity ball of a particularly humanitarian chamber of commerce in San Diego, I wore my only pair of fancy dress shoes (purchased for my High School Spring Formal back in 2009). Both straps snapped before dinner made it to the tables. The barman was kind enough to lend me some masking tape, but eventually I just went barefoot.

I have sturdier shoes now. It’s the dress I’m worried about. I just don’t have fancy-people clothes.

“I mean, for being Sarah’s dress, it fits you pretty well,” Aubrey said as we stood back to admire our handiwork (getting the dress on in one piece). For being a thirteen-year-old, Aubrey is a pretty good wingman.

Mom insisted on getting pictures as I hurried out the door. I protested because this was not Prom, this was work, but all she could see were the glittery earrings and the fact that I was wearing make-up for the first time in several months. We snapped some hurried photos.

I raced to Downtown, nerves flaring. I may have gently nudged a parked vehicle with my car this week and it was a scarring experience, especially considering that the other driver was sitting in the front seat while it happened. I haven’t cried so hard in front of a stranger since that bus driver in Prague shouted at me two years ago.

These happy thoughts in mind, I made my way gingerly into the crowded, chaotic streets of the Gaslamp and circled disorientedly for a place to pull up.

“Where have you been?” my editor asked cheerfully through the phone as I locked my car and began a conspicuous trek through downtown in all my second-hand pomp and circumstance. He knows I’ve been lost.

“Almost there,” I said, navigating the muck on the sidewalks with my unnecessarily long, swishy dress, camera bag slung unceremoniously over my shoulder.

“How are your shoes?” he asked.

“Sturdy,” I promised.

San Diego’s Horton Grand Hotel rose before me, lit brightly from the inside. Glamorous figures paraded around the entryway and lounged in the dimmer parlor bars on either side of the lobby, some already well into the evening’s supply of alcohol. A pair of finely dressed greeters stood near the door to sign people in and accept donations for the charity gala’s cause.

Golden shoes and glittery dresses flashed and sparkled and men in bowties and waistcoats pranced about in black masks. Everywhere was a different face – here an elephant man, there a phantom or a butterfly or horned lion.

Romance is dead, my friends. Social media has killed it.

I had brought a mask with me but I bought it at a 99c store and, frankly, it was just a little too yellow for my taste. Besides, I was working. One cannot take pictures while wearing a mask. That’s what I’ll tell him. I had a whole line of excuses ready for my editor for not wearing one.

By the time I found him, he was lining up on the red carpet near the entrance to the patio and could have cared less about my mask. Granted, the massive, live boa constrictor was a bit of a distraction.

Individually and in groups, guests stood on the carpet to get their photos taken by the professionals waiting behind flashing cameras while a snake handler draped the large reptile over their shoulders.

My boss was nigh on gleeful when we finally made our way across the room and into the patio, lit with thousands of white bulbs and washed in the warmth of a perfect summer night. Tables with treats waited for VIPs and a DJ and acrobatic dancers kept the air full of energy and movement.

I took a water bottle from our table and stowed my camera bag beneath one of the chairs. Time to get to work.

For the next 45 minutes, I moved around the hotel from lounge to lobby to back hallway bathrooms and back again in the search of a perfect photo for the story. Mostly, I found a lot of delightful, inebriated people dressed very, very nicely. The Horton had all types, really. The cool kids of wealthy community members who were trying to not enjoy the silver spoon they were dining on, the loners dreaming in corners on dark bar stools, the loud and lively divas with outfits as sparkly as their personalities, the nicely dressed men who think that hitting on a woman these days means asking if she has facebook.

Wait, let’s stop there.

Gone are the days when a man approached a woman with mystery and finesse. Smooth talking, swashbuckling roustabouts that our mamas warned us about no longer exist. They have been replaced by guys who totter over to say you look pretty and then ask if you can be friends on facebook and then make you type your own name into their phones.

Romance is dead, my friends. Social media has killed it.

But back to the soiree.

I sometimes pay for gas in quarters. Like this morning.

At some point, I found myself climbing a water fountain erupting from the side of the west-facing patio wall. For someone scared of heights, I felt this was going above and beyond the call of duty, but a winning trait of a good photographer is relentlessness and I’m trying to improve. With the sound of water trickling behind me and a devastating fall waiting in front of me, I looked out over the masked faces of several hundred people and thought, so this is how the fancy people live.

Crowning the evening was the main event, a fashion show and hair styling contest. I crouched down on the ground in front of a row of other photographers (I have also learned how to be pushy in this occupation), and clicked away as model after model sauntered through the crowd, heads tossed back elegantly as if to say, beautiful people don’t pay for their gas money in quarters.

I sometimes pay for gas in quarters. Like this morning.

The hair models were even more magnificent, sacheing from one corner of the fairy-like patio decor to another, holding up massive hair displays on slender necks.

By the end of the show, my sparkly black gown seemed rather commonplace.

Eventually, the DJ returned to his throne behind the speakers. A pageant queen was sitting on a chair, enormous crown pinned to her head and sash wound around her tiny waist, trying to rest her heeled feet. The line at the bar reappeared out of nowhere.

Too noisy to interview the designers and too chaotic to talk with the organizers, the party seemed to be losing its potential for productivity. I found my editor outside by the valets.

“I think my job here is done,” I told him, collapsing onto a bench. “I can call my sources tomorrow when they’re a little more available.”

“How did your shoes hold up?” he asked.

I looked down to double check that they were still attached to my feet, only to notice that a seem on my dress had begun to split.

“They’re doing okay,” I told him, “But if I don’t get home by midnight, I may turn back into a pumpkin.”

“Did you have fun?” he asked me as I packed my camera back into its bulky black bag.

“It was a nice evening,” I said. He waited.

“Honestly,” I finally said with a small sigh, “I think I’d rather be covering a game right now.”

He smiled.

Promising to get him copy on time (always a challenge for me), I swooshed into the night with my sturdy shoes and an old black dress that wasn’t even mine. I hadn’t had to put my mask on all evening and as I mentally reviewed my pictures, I was positive I had at least a few workable shots.

Downtown glittered in the midnight air and laughter and music spilled from the labyrinth of streets that led me back to my car.

Homeless people picked through trash and Uber drivers and taxis let out well-dressed men and women into streets full of regular people just having a good time.

And I was happy to be one of them.

an open letter to single women and literally everyone else

single laaaaadaysssszzz

Dear single women and literally everyone else in the whole world, but especially in the Christian community,

I think it’s time we cleared up a few things. These are things I know you know, but sometimes a reminder is helpful (if you’re tired of reading things about singleness, feel free to move along. I’m impressed you even stopped by). And because I’ve had this conversation four times in the last week, I decided to just blog about it to save myself some time.

Because tone is tough to convey online, please know that this is said in love with firmness of conviction and gentleness of heart. This did not used to be an easy subject for me to talk about and I know many of my dear friends still find it hard to put words to the feelings of doubt, loneliness, isolation and rejection that can come from being a single woman of “marital age” in the Christian community.

So…

  1. Your value as a human being is not in your relationship status, but in the image you bear that reflects our Creator.
    Okay, this one is basic and we all know it. But I also know it doesn’t always seem like this when our friends get married and have kids and we’re still here burning poptarts and watching Netflix by ourselves on Friday nights (..um, okay, maybe that’s just me). The point is, I know that the trend in our community sometimes seems like you aren’t important unless you have family – this is true especially in the church. Gosh, it’s like we aren’t even fully human until we get someone to put a ring on it. But know that God didn’t make you half a person, destined to wait for your other half to come along. He made you a whole person. And he also made you with a job to do, and right now he’s asking you to do it in whatever your current relationship status is (because this applies to married people too). God has a purpose for each family, and each individual. So go out and do it, you beautiful, capable, whole person!

     For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

    -Ephesians 2:10

  2. A relationship will not fulfill you.
    Mmk, in the spirit of honesty, I learned this one the hard way. I was in a relationship with a godly young man that could reasonably could have ended in marriage. I was surprised to find that after six months, not only did it not feel fulfilling, but (at least on my end) it also didn’t seem very godly. This may have been because I went into the relationship hoping to achieve my own ends rather than allowing God to work out his own. The only relationship that will fulfill you is the one you have with God. But when we take our eyes off God and our aim is no longer to glorify him, we will ultimately fall short of the good things God has in store for those who wait on him. Keep in mind that good things do not necessarily mean “husband and kids” (though they also sometimes do, and that’s wonderful because it has made me an aunt and that’s probably my life’s second-greatest joy and definitely my favorite job). Those good things might look very different from what we’ve been wanting, expecting, or told we should want or expect (but we will rejoice in them because they are from him and his inexpressible fullness and grace will be far greater than what we had even thought to ask for!). And that leads us to our next point.
  3. The community does not decide your calling, God does.
    I don’t mean to sound prickly here, but sometimes the church community can be a little over zealous about marriage. We know everyone is well-intentioned, but it can feel like a witch-hunt sometimes (single women being the witches, with gossip, judgement and pity – the very worst of the three – being the flames that consume). And if you embrace your singleness and explore the plans God has for you, sometimes those flames get a little aggressive. (STOP AND BREATHE: I am obviously not saying everyone who has asked you about your relationship status is a witch-hunter, nor should you. I’m saying, a lot of us know what it feels like to find our feet walking down a path leading us far away from the expectations and hopes of dear people in our lives). Do not be dismayed. God sees your patience and your graciousness. And he also sees the plans he has for you, and he knows they are good. Because, of course they are. He is a good God. If God calls you to be a wife and mother, rejoice. If he calls you first to go to college, become a doctor, work on a mission field, travel the world, pursue the arts or stay home to care for elderly parents, rejoice! If he calls you to be single till the day he calls you home again so that you can serve him in that capacity, rejoice! Rejoice always. Rejoice, because you have been created for a purpose, elected as a child of the Risen King, and given a job to do, chosen by the Almighty himself. And if that job is sweeping floors, or building skyscrapers, or raising children, or sitting deaf, lame, and blind in a corner praying for people you’ve never met, it will be the same in the eyes of God. And believe me, if done unto the Lord, there is peace that comes with sweeping floors.
  4. Love God first, and he will help you love everything else.
    It is easy to feel isolated when you are single. Easy to feel like everyone else caught the wave into shore and you’re still sitting stupidly on your surfboard in the open ocean, wondering if sharks can smell fear and cheap pizza. It’s easy to feel like every glance your way is a pitying or judgemental one, like no one understands what you’re going through (especially married people), like life is a little more unfair than people claimed it would be. And it’s easy to think that maybe there’s something wrong with you. (Like, I know I’m a little high-maintenance and have the emotional stability of a goldfish, but I’m really a charming person beyond that. Just ask my pet rock!). People will tell you to love yourself. People will tell you to find contentment in the Lord and then he will give you a husband (Ha!). People will say that you are fine just the way you are (that may or may not be true. I know I personally have some work to do). I’m here to tell you that this is misguided advice. Love God and he will give you a new heart with which to love everything else, including yourself. When you start seeing yourself as a child of the God you love, and everyone else as his children, and this whole world as his beautiful work of art, a divinely written story that we get to be a part of, suddenly it does seem lovely. Our own attitudes will inevitably shift when we look to truly see the works of God’s hands and are filled utterly with his ineffable grace. And this is important because the more we channel that love into our lives, the better witnesses we will be for God’s kingdom, to testify to his goodness and minister to his people.

Now. Which of those four things might also apply to someone who doesn’t strictly fit the “lonely 20-something” category of youngish women? All of them. That’s because relationship status does not put you in a separate category of what it means to be a Christian. It’s simply another way we are sometimes called to serve.

So enough of the pity-parties (for yourself or for the poor, dear single women in your church). We have been given jobs to do on this earth in this lifetime. What a privilege!

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

-Hebrews 13:20-21

And, lastly, know that if you are called to serve as a single person, you will not be doing it alone. We work together, the unified body of Christ, brothers and sisters. We are all his bride. Let us unite and use the gifts, time and talents he has given us to fight the good fight. And may we find peace and joy in the task!

sincerely,

a sister in Christ

Mary vs. Olympic shoulder angels

Forty thousand feet in the air and my mind was tracing a dirt path on the ground in worn out sneakers. Over and over again, I saw myself round the track, hit the final grass stretch before the finish line and blaze into a first place medal. Not even the turbulence could stop me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything competitively. My last high school speech and debate tournament was an unmitigated disaster (by my own standards, at least). I was second in the State going into that national tournament. I finished somewhere in the teens. After the awards ceremony, all my friends went out to watch the fireworks over Mission Bay. I just stood there and cried, colors bleeding down my face and across the black bay water. I was so disappointed. Six years of pushing myself towards this one goal and I had fallen short.

I don’t often feel defeated because I’m not a quitter, and as Babe Ruth says, it’s hard to beat a man who never gives up. But that night, I felt defeated. I felt defeated for a long time.

Needless to say, I am nothing if not over competitive.

I stopped competing formally in college. Too busy to join the debate team. Then life and work and the real world kicked in and I never had a chance to go back to anything that might put me on a path towards a podium and a medal.

Not till this summer.

As some may know, I have been working as a sports reporter for nearly a year, and it has been brought to my attention that I may broaden my abilities as a journalist in this field if I actually had some experience in athletics (which I don’t, unless you count some intense games of ultimate frisbee, or that summer my church insisted on playing volleyball every Wednesday and I was named the MVP for the opposing team three weeks in a row).

So I signed up for the cross country team. They spent this summer training. I spent the summer in Europe. Aware that I would need to keep pace with everyone, I asked the coach for some things to practice while I was traveling around.

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Running through Czech forests, summer 2016.

In Prague, in Budapest, on the silver shores of Lake Balaton, Hungary and in the majestic mountains of Šumava, Czech Republic, I ran. I did 300 meter sprints that nearly killed me, again and again. I raced up hills. I ran for miles through forests. I’d get up before my friends to finish my workouts so we could spend the day together. I ran my way through Europe.

Coincidentally, I also ran my way into a bit of a hamstring problem.

One night at the English Camp I volunteered at, we watched “Chariots of Fire” (everyone was getting pumped for the Olympics two weeks down the road and Chariots of Fire is like, the greatest Olympic movie of all time).

Irish missionary Eric Liddell and self-made man Harold Abrahams are running these 100 meter sprints in ten seconds and because I’ve been doing sprints all summer, I know just how ridiculous that is to do. You guys have no idea how long 100 meters is when you’re running hard.

I really relate most to Abrahams. He has an intensity I resonate with when it comes to winning. He lives and breathes competition, so much so that the anxiety and the pressure of it seems to shake him to his core, but it’s what drives him forward too. And although he has something to prove to everyone else, you just know he really just needs to prove it to himself.

But when I would be in cold sweats outside a semifinal round, it was Liddell my dad would remind me of as I wrung my hands and paced the floor. Dad loved Liddell’s quote about God making him fast and that when he ran he could feel God’s pleasure.

That was Dad’s way of reminding me that I do what I’m good at not to prove that I’m good at it, but because when I exercise my God-given strengths, God is glorified in it.

In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.”

― Eric Liddell

By the time I touched down in the USA this summer, my leg and I were not on speaking terms.

I stretched, I iced, I ran again, because I am not a quitter. And because I didn’t know what else to do. Coach wants us to be at 12 miles by the time the season starts and I can barely manage eight.

Sitting on my sister’s couch, watching the Olympics and sitting on an ice pack, I thought to myself, I want to feel that thrill. Not even the thrill of winning, just of getting to compete again.

“Are you going to see someone about your leg?” my sister asked.

“Naw,” I said, shifting on the ice-pack under my thigh. “It’ll get better.”

Besides, I had other things to worry about.

All new athletes have to get a physical from the school medical staff. I showed up with like 50 wanna-be football players and spent the day having my blood pressure taken, my weight measured, my balance examined and my eyesight checked. It was all rather new and glamorous to me. I’ve never felt so cared about by strangers. This must be what being a princess feels like.

“You’re 5’11,” said a nurse measuring my height.

I gaped at her. There’s just no way I’m 5’11, ma’am.

“Let me see that,” I said, bending over her petite shoulder to see the chart. The stocky jock behind me snorted.

“Can I have a few of those inches?” he asked.

I’d trade, I thought as I walked to the last examination station. Thirty of us waited in a crowded line in the sun for the examination. Behind me, several football players were making some low-key cat calls (I’d like to assume they were directed at me, but they were probably intended for the blonde soccer girls a few heads in front of where I was). The guys were rowdy. The day was warm. And I was tired of standing on my bad leg.

But I was just so excited to be in this new, seemingly glamorous world of athletics that I didn’t even care. Also, I’m not a quitter.

We must have waited in that line for half an hour, and by the end of it, I’d been invited onto the football team as an honorary member (they said they needed a kicker).

Then it was my turn. I was almost done. So close to having everything I needed. Just one quick sit-in with the doctor and I would be finished!

She checked my vitals and said some friendly things that I don’t remember. Then she looked at my chart and asked, “Have you had chest pains during exercise this summer?”

Yes, I had checked that box. It was just once, I explained to her, right after that first round of horrible sprints in the summer heat. Just an ache. Only lasted a few minutes. No big deal. I’m not a quitter.

“You’re going to need to get an EKG before we can clear you,” she said.

My heart sank.

Instead of getting out of there, I found myself in another series of lines to have my insurance checked, my medical history reviewed, and my options clarified.

During the process, we discovered that I was one academic unit short of eligibility.

“To compete, you need to be a full-time student,” they told me. “You need 12 units. You have 11.”

My mind roared in frustration. How was I supposed to find another unit? I’m about to transfer! I have no classes left to take! And where am I going to find the time (or the money) for another class? I’m already working two jobs and I’ll be training all afternoon every day. Most of my night classes don’t end till 10 p.m. anyway.

I left with a piece of blue paper that had the number of a clinic in Chula Vista, a printout of my current class schedule (11 units circled in red) and a few fraying threads of my resolve to do cross country. I could feel my hamstring wincing all the way up the stairs to the parking lot.

But I’m not a quitter.

I spent a week trying to set up an appointment for that EKG. I found a 7 a.m. yoga class (which is full, but I am on the waitlist and I’m ruthless. So…). I also started going to the neighborhood hot tub to soak my leg (which is some mighty dedication to recovery, given the 90 degree temperature we’ve been scorched with this month).

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Hiking to church with the fam-bam, August 2016.

On Sunday, we hiked to church for evening service. My dad has done this periodically since we were kids. If the afternoon is too restless, we walk to church. A good way to simmer down before worship. And truly, one of the prettiest corners of San Diego you’ll ever see, especially in the golden stretches of evening.

It’s only two and a half miles and we were only walking, but when we got to the church, my hamstring was practically singing. I tried stretching it out a little with no luck. Fighting back the urge to cry, I washed the dust off my face in the bathroom sink and went to find a seat with my family in the sanctuary.

On Monday, I still hadn’t heard back from the doctor regarding my EKG, and now my coach was sending me emails asking if I had been cleared to run yet. I called up the receptionist again (who knows me by name now because I have called her every day for a week and a half). She said she’d personally inform the head nurse of my message.

It’s been a long summer and I felt myself running out of steam. I just wanted to compete again. How hard could this possibly be?

“Maybe God is closing this door?” my pastor said gently. I’m sure it would have been a helpful nudge to anyone less of a hardhead than myself. When people tell me I can’t, the Harold Abrahams in me rises up to say, Oh yes I can!

It’s possibly one of my worst qualities and has gotten me into more than one traffic citation.

“Why not just drop this?” my dad asked.

“I can’t,” was all I could think to say back.

Why not? Because I spent my whole summer abroad training for this when I could have been sleeping in or hanging out with my friends a little more. Because I can basically feel the blood shooting through my veins when I even think about running competitively, vying for a medal, aiming to win at something again. And because the idea of coming back to San Diego to compete in cross country this fall was one of the only things that soften the very difficult goodbye when I had to leave Prague again this summer.

I really needed to be able to do this.

So there I was, lying on the ground with my mind up in the air, somewhere floating around the sewage of lost dreams and abandoned ideas. I felt very much in a haze, the way Abrahams looks when he’s lost a race (which he doesn’t do often, and frankly, neither do I).

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All iced up in the field house at school, a week before the start of the fall semester, 2016.

All the anxiety built up on being able to compete and win was taking the fun out of running. And running is something that I have always loved to do.

Eric Liddell sat down next to me, taking the fuming Abrahams’ place. “God made me fast, and when I run, I can feel his pleasure.”

More prone to turn God-given abilities, these divine gifts, into my own self-serving aims, Eric’s perspective is one I have to fight to hold on to. I learn because God gave me a brain and it glorifies him for me to do so. I teach because God gave me a big heart and a steady hand and it glorifies him for me to do so. I run because God gave me long, healthy legs and a passion for movement and it glorifies him for me to do so.

I pulled myself off the floor and immediately drove over to school.

I sat on the examination table and let a trainor bend and prod my leg in all directions. Then I sat on more ice and was told not to run till the start of school. So much for 12 miles.

But I felt better.

It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals.”

Eric Liddell

The nurse from the clinic called back and I scheduled an appointment for the EKG. Hopefully it comes back clear, but if it doesn’t, I know I’ll find a different race to run.

Because I am not a quitter, and not every race is on a track.