Sunday, July 19, 2009

Race Report

Today, I embarked on my very first triathlon, the Heart of the Lakes. 1/2 mile swim, 19 mile bike, then 5.5 mile run. It's technically called a long course, but it's just shy of an international distance. This is a tri that gathers people from all over Minnesota, so a lot of local talent. My friend Kari and I headed out in her little Geo Tracker when it was still a little dark out, when the fingernail moon plus a planet still lingered over the blushing east. The IPod kicked into gear with triumphant music, and we were happily sipping our coffee. I felt ready.

The weather was perfect, with the course being a beautiful tour through Minnesota countryside, and the people were so friendly - volunteers, fellow triathletes, and spectators all. Kari, who is a veteran with this sport, showed me the ropes - transition areas, entrances and exits, how it all works. I was so pumped. An 8 o'clock start for the elites, and my wave would jump into the water 20 minutes or so after that.

I wasn't too driven to get a specific time, which turned out to be a good thing. The swim was sloshy on the way out with all of those swimmers, and I was gasping in the cooler water, hard to get my breathing regular. (Remember that part for later.) I did finally find my stride, stroking easily and joyfully all the way through to the sandy-bottomed return at the water's edge.

Running up to the spot where I had carefully laid my gear earlier that morning, I whipped my wetsuit off and headed for transition for the first time. This is where things got interesting. That air I dragged in on the swim? It gathered into a stitch in my side when I hopped on my bike. Hm, that's odd.

That little cramp came to me at mile one of the BIKE, developed into a whopping pain, and didn't leave until I trotted into the finish line on the RUN about 2 hours later. It became so debilitating around mile 1 and 2 of the mile that I could hardly breathe, much less run. As the tears streamed down my cheeks through transition and the first half of the run, I had to give up my dream of finishing fast, and I began to wonder if it wouldn't wise to lay off altogether. The sag wagons were all keeping an eye on me, communicating the difficulties to each other of "Abbey, number 521" by walkie-talkie.

I was pleading with God this whole time to lift this heavy burden. Why did I have to suffer under this, when my muscles and conditioning were happy and healthy, yelling 'let's get ON with it!'? Then, I thought of the Apostle Paul's struggle - much more significant, I sure - with what he calls his "thorn in the flesh."

"A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me...for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Regardless of what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" actually was (theologians LOVE to bandy that one about), I know for certain that this race suddenly meant more than just finishing a race. It was a spiritual discipline as well as a physical, a training for future trials, a great reflection of the race we all run when we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and we have to learn how to trust Him when life becomes...interesting.

This is where the rubber meets the road, the shoe tread hits the pavement, at the water's edge when you've just got to jump in and do it. He was there for me, His grace sufficient in the torrent of tears, tearing pain, and disappointment.

Actually, I had a great race. Thanks for asking. : )

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Framing France

It is one thing to go on vacation in a place, and come home to show family and friends digital snapshots on the laptop slideshow. ILife makes it slick enough, setting your memories to music and condensing the whole experience into a neat 10 or 15-minute presentation. IRemember when IShow you my IShots.

It's been different this time somehow. We arrived with no less pictures than usual. More, perhaps. But our motivation to pull out the slideshows was somewhat muted. Sure, we've shown a video here or a photo there, but nothing like the marathon storytellings we've indulged in during every visit home in the past few years. I have been trying to figure out why this is. Does it have something to do with the fact that we're not leaving again immediately? Probably, but I also suspect something else is going on.

Paris is home. It doesn't seem like the kind of place we need to showcase anymore. We loved the beauty, never got jaded enough to ignore the way a street weaves a serpentine path, or how almost every wall you walk past is embedded with sculpture, or how those musicians who play in the metro are actually pretty good sometimes. But appreciating all of that becomes part of living there, like breathing.

Now we don't live there. That has felt like a problem that needs solving to both of us. Our discomfort comes poking out in awkward statements about "just moving back" and such. It seems quite unlikely at this point that we'd be abandoning our current course to chase yesterday's dreams. Perhaps it's just time to dwell upon some new ideas for the future, whether they involve the same country or not, and enjoy the respite in Minnesota with family and other dear ones.

Still, I'm compelled to surround myself with images of home. (Our home over there, I mean.) A generous soul on craigslist responded to my plea - "frames wanted" - and I'm on my way to framing France. I've been trying to fit our rich life into squares and rectangles of various sizes to hang in our home (over here, I mean) whenever we define that space. Despite my intense drive to do this, I'm a bit skeptical myself. I can see capturing the joys of a holiday in a scrapbook or set of frames, but a full three years of life? Still, I'm trying.

At least part of that life apparently fits into an oblong three-dimensional package of about 12 inches by 6 by 6. We came home last night to a such a knobby bundle on the kitchen counter, which had arrived while we were out. It was addressed from a bunch of friends in Paris (two cunning masterminds in particular!) and contained many memories, encouragements, bits of Paris. It was overwhelming. And wonderful. It seems as if I might be needing some more frames.

This is only one side of the complexity of grappling with our two homes. More about the other side next time. "For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


"The help which I have received from others shows that autobiography here does not exclude the notion of collaboration, and hence of the collective." - Sarah Kay

"Real life is meeting." -C.S. Lewis

In this forum, I do not often bring up my studies in medieval literature, but sometimes they intersect with life in surprising ways. Sarah Kay, in her book involving authorship and medieval autobiography, expressed her thanks to her support system by putting an emphasis on the collaborative. I think her comment is helpful for understanding what life is about in general. C.S. Lewis' chapter heading in that Hideous Strength sort of sums it up.

We're all writing an autobiography. You may never pen the words yourself, but every minute of every day is adding to a greater, overarching story that holds together in the long run as a "good read." But none of this would be possible without the other people to whom we are connected. This is why I find Kay's quote illuminating. Essentially, there is no "me" without a "we."

As a Christian, the first collaboration I have is with God. We are hardly peers (!), so the analogy does not work in quite the same way, but I do participate in His work. Plus, the God I worship is Three-in-One: a perfect union of work and love. The collective does not get much better than that.

Next, I collaborate with my husband - with all of life. That is not to say he proofs my conference papers, nor do I tell him how to play a song a certain way, but our lives overall are meant to be one great cooperation. By God's grace, we challenge one another to think differently and grow, all while being like-minded and of one, loving spirit.

There are all sorts of collaborations that spill out from there. Run a marathon, but with a friend or my dad. Write, but check in weekly with two other writers for comments and edits. Read, but get two copies and share observations with another reader. Make music, but eventually start a band. Worship God, but in the corporate setting of the church. Study, but go to class and write papers that must be reviewed by other academics.

No man is an island, but we just might be an archipelago.