Ultra


I’m still working on a race recap to my recent adventure in Texas over the past weekend. Most often my writing in relation to those trips maintain themselves over on my running-specific blog. However, after the past week, my heart is so full that my passion and my life have truly intertwined into something beautiful that I feel compelled to share with the rest of the world.

Yes, this is a little emotional.

Two weekends ago my wife and I learned that her mother had passed away. Outside of the immediate sadness and comfort dedicated to my wife, it created some questions on what to do with the entire process. We’re both only children, my wife does not have a father to speak of, and her mother left this planet with no life insurance policy, estate, etc…Plus, Darco and I had already planned to go to Texas the following weekend.

First, I’m blessed to work in a school building with people that are genuine enough to care about your wellbeing, take over your classes, and help you fill out paperwork of bereavement so you can be with your family. I am so fortunate that my coworkers and supervisors were so easily willing to allow me time away from school in the middle of the school year. Only by God’s blessing did I wind up with substitute teachers that covered my classes, took my assignments home, studied them, and helped teach students while I was gone. I am indebted to so many people from this large brick building.

Also, my parents stepped up to do exactly what we needed them to do in such a tough situation: nothing. MC and Jim carried on conversations with us throughout this time acknowledging what had happened, but not dwelling on it either. In many ways, their house was a safe-haven for my wife to retreat to from the onslaught of emotion in regards to preparing the dead for burial. Additionally, both having lost parents over the years, were able to assist us in preparation pieces and expectations leading up to the ceremony.

My wife made a decision to ensure that the funeral was taken care of no later than Wednesday via the funeral home. This was not done in regards to expediting the process in order to head to Texas; it was done because my wife does not like to dwell on what was.  As her and her family met with the funeral director some information came out about funerals. They are not free. Now, take that reality and apply it with the above mentioned piece of Darco’s mother not having anything to take care of moments like this in the event of her passing.

Darco stressed out.

The funeral home, as it turns out, has a ‘crowd funding’ site similar to gofundme and kickstarter, but solely to help offset expenses of the funeral. While we were hesitant, we figured it was better than nothing.

We are fortunate that my wife is employed through the company that she is. They take care of their employees in incredible ways. Due to the financial strain of this development; two things were able to take place:

  1. Darco was able to apply for a ‘cup fund’ in which employees in the company donate to for partners that have moments like these
  2. She was also able to get an emergency loan against her 401K that she had been building since prior to being 20 years old

Being able to have these two pieces were massive in the ability to show the funeral home that funds were available, and the process could go forward.

Her mother passed away on Saturday, this was all taken care of by Tuesday. My wife is strong.

The morning of the funeral I found my wife checking the account that had been set up by the funeral home to accept donations. It was at this point that God’s grace began to completely overwhelm us in emotional, tearful ways. Almost half of the funeral expenses had been covered by people donating; literally throughout the entire United States. A huge chunk of them coming from the running community that Darco and I have become a part of over the past year. Even to the point that one of the runners, the owner of a local coffee shop, asked if they could hold a ‘latte art throwdown’ contest in order to raise funds to offset the funeral costs. All of this combined allowed Darco the ability to not worry about the money, and instead mourn the loved one that she had lost.

The funeral was Wednesday. The substitute teachers had been checking in with me throughout the day via email to ensure my students were following instructions. After the funeral, my wife and I came home to a house to start packing for the trip to Texas. At this point it was not about running, it was about giving my wife a chance to get out, breathe deep, and just recover.

By Friday night we were laying in our hotel room, alarms set to 3:45 AM, and with the funeral still fresh in our minds we also realized that the next morning started another adventure; my first ultra-marathon.

Several months ago I had decided to sign up for this challenge. I wanted to run 31 miles in the woods, on trails in order to become an ultra-marathon runner (any distance over 26.2 miles). I had been training for months to get myself ready for this event, and my wife had been incredibly supportive through the whole journey.

31 miles, 9 hours and 38 minutes later under the hot Texas sun I crossed the finish line with a random lady from Denver, Colorado. My wife and our friend were able to get my finish on film, photos were taken, and water was drank.

Facebook. Exploded.

The amount of congratulations flowing through my timeline looked like we had announced a pregnancy (no, by the way). My social media feeds were more active than my birthday. I had gone an entered myself into a statistic that places me with .05% of the American population. Truth be told; I accomplished something that I didn’t even know was possible.

More importantly though was recognizing the amount of people that were watching it happen. One of my coworkers went to get running shoes at the store that I frequent constantly for running gear on Saturday. When she walked in she noticed a group of workers surrounding a computer, while she was walking up to them, one of them yelled, “Shawn only has 7 miles left!” They were watching my race updates live 12 hours away from the race.

My heart has been so full as of late.

There is not enough to be said or enough to be done to thank so many people that have done so many amazing things for myself and my wife. From being with us in our lowest moments preparing for sorrow and mourning, to being with us from the happiness of accomplishing something I once thought was impossible.

We are blessed in ways that neither one of us could have ever predicted. This is a life that both of us can agree on, that we don’t deserve. God has shown us so vividly over the past week how vital it is to have fellowship with others around us.

Thank you, everyone. I wish I could do better to share my heart’s joy with you all.

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You have no idea how wonderful it has been to see her smile again.

-D-

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Full & Content


Between passes of chips amongst the tables, around the salted rims of margaritas, and underneath the bowls of salsa was found laughter, humor, and smiles abroad.

Over 20 people; from different walks of life, lined the tables for a feast and an evening of company. Work, family, politics, all major themes were in play through the monthly dinner at the local eatery.

People spoke of future adventures, heckled each other for being ‘too hurt to run’, and inquired with newcomers on which wind blew them towards this strange, close crew.

A refill of water, a new plate of chips; the night passed on for the tiresome group. As the night began to settle, the laughter transitioned into final farewells;.knowing that they would see each other once all too soon. Bringing the evening to a close.

It’s true to what many say about the lines of family and friends easily being blurred. I’m fortunate, blessed to be surrounded so frequently of this unique hybrid that leaves my heart full and content.

-D-

Shoes Instead of Pews


Life continues to be a world of ‘firsts’ throughout the 2016 year. So much of it has revolved around running, friendships, and breaking away from the standard system that I had grown to accustomed to over the years. The truth is; I think I am growing, and at the least I am beginning to think on my own versus accepting a reality that has been preprogrammed into my soul.

Perhaps I will say the wrong thing, upset the balance of acceptance, or maybe just rub a reader the wrong way. I would apologize for such strange ideas, but in my life, that tends to just be the direction of which my heart flows.

I am happy and sad all in the same mindset and my soul struggled to comprehend such explicit emotions…

I had an interesting weekend. Darco and I traveled north to Omaha, Nebraska. We were traveling with a group of 14ish other people with the same task; run. My challenge was a 21 mile trail race Sunday morning. It did not go quite as planned. I finished, but I finished with a limp, a waddle, and nearly a crawl. My body gave out early and I truly struggled to finish the race. Afterwards, I was not in a good spot. My body hurt, my heart hurt, and the only thing I knew I did not want to do…was to run. That is how extreme the course was in my perspective.

After a rough night of trying to sleep, and lounging around in the classroom through the day, I decided to head back out to the trails Monday night. In celebration for Halloween, our running group had decided to have a ‘costume run’. Meaning, I was on a trail between a unicorn and a clown. I told myself, I told my wife, I told my mentor/coach that I was just walking for a mile. That was all I wanted to do, still slightly disgusted with myself on the day prior.

Something happened though; perhaps it was lacing the dirty, crusty shoes, or feeling the October evening breeze, or perhaps even just kicking up a little dirt, but even in my soreness I had to run. I started running, painfully, but I kept moving. It became fun, each step, each breath, each conversation with the people that I have grown to love. A mile and a half passed by and I finally stopped for a drink and to catch my breath. I felt better. I could discuss the chemical reasons and reactions for why I felt better, but honestly my heart felt better. Even walking the mile back down to the trailhead I sang to myself, walked in the dark, and just embraced the moment. I felt clean. I felt pure. I felt free of guilt and disappointment.

What a strange sensation.

Life taught me that being dipped in the water, raising your hands, and following the chords of a guitar was to bring about that feeling. Laying hands, eating crackers, and clapping to a 4/4 beat was to bring about joy. Ensuring that you were in your seat at 8:30 Sunday morning, not leaving the building until 7:00 PM Sunday night, plus Wednesday night from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM, that is what was to bring about glory and peace. Listening to speakers discuss fear and politics, and voting strategies because God doesn’t know what He’s doing was the norm to bring the mind under control.

I cannot be tied down anymore. I have to escape.

The biggest joy in my life is knowing that God is amazing, patient, and never gives up on me. It is so humbling, terrifying, and inspiring; it’s something that I do not deserve. It does not make sense, it is not scientific, and at last check it is not necessarily politically correct.

But it is mine, and mine alone, and my heart feels so light because of it. What a beautiful gift.

What a beautiful gift I almost lost. What a brilliant joy that I almost forgot. What a marvelous prize that I almost gave up.

I love God. I just can no longer stand the institution.

What I witnessed last night was the beautiful benefit of God’s love through the element of friendship. Friendship that is not tied to work, and not tied to the Church, but tied together with heartstrings. I could not walk into a church, complain about feeling down after a race, and expect to find grace. Instead the pain tends to get buried under budgets, and bureaucrats, and business transactions that illuminate stained glass like the office lights along Wall Street. I’ve searched, I tried, and I have torn my heart apart to find what is so wrong with me for the sake that I cannot seem to locate a building, an institution, a congregation that can put down the Facebook posts and ignore the campaign signs and just breathe life.

Likes, shares, and retweets aside…simply I ask, why did Christians choose to make being a Christian in this society so difficult?

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Maybe shoes instead of pews could change a lot of lives.

-D-

Heart


I received a hand written letter tonight after a hot, muddy run through the woods. It was an awesome, encouraging thank you letter from the previous weekend.

I did well reading the encouragement, all the way until the final sentence. Only then did my emotional state become unstable. In the cursive font I read the following:

You’ve got the heart of an ultrarunner the same way you have a heart of a good Christian.

It has been at least six years since anyone has ever said good and Christian when identifying me. This didn’t come from a preacher, choir leader, Sunday School teacher, missionary, theological professor, elder, or deacon. It came from no one within the Church. It came from a person that I want to match step-for-step with in the mud one day.

I was called a good Christian.

I was called a good Christian.

I whisper this to myself with a half smile; facial muscles fighting off sobbing or quivering lips. This is something I never deserved to read:

I was called a good Christian.

The jealous, lustful, divorced, cheating, spiteful, hateful, flawed, ugly soul that roams this earth…was called a good Christian.

I was given a compliment that I had assumed I would never hear again in my lifetime.

Even through the stress of today I’m going to bed with a happy heart. I witnessed God’s grace tonight, and my soul smiles because of it.

Cool handwriting!

-D-

#getyourpraiseon


No school.

Even though the students have been back for only a few weeks, I won’t lie in confessing that an extra day off during Labor Day weekend has been appreciated. Primarily so that I could take care of all the other things around the house that take the sideline through each week.

Time flies.

Teaching a ‘current event’ led course causes me to become immersed in the current trends of our culture, both locally and globally. Frequently it reminds me why I turn myself off to so much of it when school isn’t in session. The world is full of complaints, bitterness, and someone that is always upset with someone else. Someone still wants to build a wall, someone does not want to stand during the national anthem of a money-grabbing sporting event, and the world collectively either freaks out or rolls its eyes.

No wonder so many people struggle to find things to be thankful for in their day-to-day, or just plain forget about what joys are around them.

Driving with the windows rolled down in my truck this morning, while picking up supplies for this upcoming weekend, I was reflecting on what was and what is in my own existence on this planet. When not grading papers, tripping over rocks, or spending time with my wife this is a common place for me to be found. I have come to find enjoyment of seeing where life’s journey has led me in the recent years It continues to remind me how much praise I have yet to give for my time on this planet.

Last night Darco and I started budgeting out costs for carpet replacement in our house. I just brought in a new chair for our entertainment room downstairs, and I think finally we will be going on legitimate vacations during Christmas Break and Spring Break this school year. While I do get tired of listening about Starbucks over and over and over, I do have to admit the blessings that, that company has been in my wife’s life. She will be receiving another raise this month, she will receive a bonus this month, and a few months ago we learned that she will be receiving a brand new store to manage in 2017 (humorously it will be located 1/2 mile away from the school I teach at).

School is always teaching me something new. I have new sets of diversity within my classes this year. While students are still rather innocent, they still arrive with so much baggage and so many questions. I’m blessed because they always keep me on my toes, and I’m always curious as to what adventure we will tackle next in order to make the world a better place. A new year of education has proven to be a stronger year in terms of interaction with peers. I’m trying to work better with my colleagues and do a better job of giving praise in abundance. These folks know so much more compared to myself, and it is a crime if I don’t show them that I am grateful to be able to learn under them.

I didn’t think that running could get better compared to where it was, but somehow, someway it has. Darco joins me more often out on the trails, and she even attends a strength class every Wednesday night. The miles are becoming easier and easier for me. I’ve switched shoes, ate different food (donuts are the answer by the way), and have shown up for more group runs. It just does not hurt nearly as much. My next race is 16.6 miles in the woods of central Missouri next month, Darco is running the same race at a different length, and I’ve gone ahead and signed up for our local half marathon the weekend after that race. It is hard to describe, but the miles just melt by these days. Sure, I still have off runs and I still trip and I still have to fight spiders and mud, but all of that is just a little bit easier. I can feel myself getting faster, being pushed by my friends, and that brings me joy in ways that few things ever have.

Our church journey still isn’t complete. Over the past month Darco and I tried three other churches and sadly left unfulfilled and disappointed. Both for our own reasons. We have arrived back at the church we have been with for a few years now, but I’m still lacking ‘something’. I don’t know what it is, but it is something that burns in my heart throughout the week. I wish I had answers, but I know guidance will come along in its own unique form. I wish I understood more about why I struggle with the church setting. While I wish I could blame all of it on the university that I attended, I know that isn’t the case. It is a mixture of stereotypes, sheep, and my own foolish pride. Make no mistake; God still has so much work to do on me. I’m still convinced that I’m the Christian that people should never want to be.

Work, play, grace, family, home, and so much more. When I take the time to look at the internal works of my own life it becomes so hard to be wrapped up in the hopelessness around me. I don’t say that with pride, but I don’t say it with guilt either. I cannot save the world, but I can fulfill my obligation and responsibility to give praise when it is due.

God has blessed me with a life that I would have never imagined I would have ever had. I did not do a thing to deserve any of it, any of the joy, any of the friendships, any of the grace. That is the amazing thing about how God works; I do not deserve this life because of something I did or did not do, I have this life merely as a testiment of what God’s love looks like.

-D-

I Am Found


My body is tattooed.
My hair is long.

Due to the insane amount of rain that we have received in days past, the typical running routes have been closed. Because of this, finding places to run has become a bit of a challenge. Primarily, this is in part to my disdain of running on asphalt highways. A concept that I never thought I’d actually accept as my running philosophy.

However, after spending the week teaching and sleeping off a sickness, I had to stretch out my legs. I had to run.

Visiting my parents, I brought clothes to run in, in the event that I had some time to take off. When the moment arrived, I laced up my shoes and took off along a familiar path that I had ran so many times in years past. In fact, I’ve ran this route since 2001; so fifteen years now.

It has been two months since my feet had touched blacktop. I was curious as to what the sensation would feel like after spending eight weeks in the woods, along the dirt, through the mud, and on top of the rocks. I started at my parents house, moved past the local post office, up the slight hill at the post office, clearing the Christian Church, and eventually turning at the softball fields. I ran past the cemetery, around the corner of corn fields, and up the hill that a girl named Amy lived on and always had water waiting for me during the summer. Past her hill, I turned left and continued down the road. I passed the farm that was our ‘turnaround’ during track practice in high school, and down the hill to the bridge that was replaced in 2011. I climbed the ensuring hill, carefully turned along a blind corner, and down a slow decent surrounded by trees into the river plains just west of the town that I once called home.

I wasn’t breathing hard. My legs did not ache, and I was able to converse with myself without a shortness of breath. I was living in an entirely new world. I ran and I didn’t grow weary. I took a few photos, shot a little bit of video, turned around, and began my journey back to where I began.

The one benefit of running on the road is the repetitive nature of your leg movement, you can easily get lost in thought. Yesterday, while on this run, similar to my legs, I unlocked my mind and just let it wander for two hours I spent outside.

While I physically passed foreign memories, my mind focused on the journey that I had, had since first witnessing this route. I thought back to familiar faces, school time, small town events, and first kisses. I transitioned to college, mistakes, bitterness, and heartache. I finished while remembering the beginning point of so much of this. Papers at my doorstep, an officer informing me of the dramatic changes coming to my life, and am emptiness of not knowing what to do.

Cooling down in the final two blocks, God was loving in reminding me of the new life that I currently live. Mentoring young minds, loving an amazing wife, and trying to figure out how to live in accordance to what is right. Friends have left, family members have passed, and times have changed. However, only yesterday can I say that I found myself smiling for the duration of an entire run.

Within ten miles I charted out my life from beginning to present, connecting dots, giving thanks, and on occasion running down the road with arms extended; as if I were envisioning myself flying with the newfound life.

I’m grateful.
I’m blessed.
I’m found.

-D-