A Widow and a Half

Today I ran my second half marathon.  My first half marathon was more than two years ago.  This was my 14th run in 5 months and the first run longer than seven miles since my last half marathon.  Craziness.

What goes through a widow’s head while running 13.1 miles?  Do you really want to know??  It’s not that scary…I promise.  Maybe, just maybe there is something here for you too!

1. Nudge…and get nudged (or in my case, elbowed!)

Jon mentioned this half marathon on five separate occasions.  Each time I looked at him like he had 10 heads.  “A half??  Hello…you know how much I have been able to run recently!”  There was not a 10k option which would have been my go-to challenge in this situation.  On Monday I finally took a look at the run.  Then, thought I couldn’t do it because [insert 100 good reasons here].  Tuesday, I looked at it again and just decided to sign up.  That’s the crazy girl coming out.  I felt the challenge, and honestly, the nudge that I needed to do this for some reason.

The last (and only other time) I ran a half marathon I signed up the week before, and like today, with virtually no training.  My nudge for that one was reading about a man who had been training for the marathon with his wife when she was hit by a driver on one of their final training runs.  He was still going to run. I had no excuse. This woman I had never known had become my nudge. I showed up because I could, and for some reason I felt like I was supporting a fellow widower on his run.

Who have you nudged lately? Have you challenged another person to push their boundaries?

2. List the reasons why you can’t, then do it anyway.

I didn’t write my list this time, but I assure you there was a long one in my head. There were two reasons why I thought I could – one, I had done it before. Two, I know I am healthy enough to walk to the finish line if needed.  I’m one of the lucky ones in life – I don’t have a terminal disease and I’m not disabled. There are no barriers other than the belief in myself.

When I thought about all the reasons why I “should not”, there was this quiet little thought in the corner of my mind that said “I can”. I rarely hear that quiet voice, and yet, it seems to be the one that controls what I actually do – I just need to get to the “do” tipping point.

Once I get to the “do”, that voice that loves to make lists transitions to a list of what I need to do to be successful.  I’m always planning, and planning alternate options. Trust me, my mind is never quiet!  Now, my voice that was negative has turned to an asset – this is why I LOVE the “do”.

3. Set a Goal, then Set a BIGGER one.

This morning I checked all the things off my “do” list then tentatively walked to the start.  With each step I took my mind was virtually screaming “What are we doing?? This is crazy! OMG, this is happening!”

Then I saw the pacers.  “Oh, jeez…there they are. Do I join a group? What group?” I couldn’t remember what I ran last time, but I believe it was right around a 10:35 pace.

I saw the 2:20 group and did the math and figured this would be a stretch goal.  Then I saw the 2:10 group – those that run a 10 minute mile pace.  I’ve run one 10k at a [slightly] less than 10 minute mile pace – not my comfort zone.  BUT for some unknown reason, I kept taking baby steps toward that group.  Then the gun went off – the race was on. I was running with the 2:10 group…what??  I figured I could start there and hope to finish between them and the 2:30 group.  Best case, I could end up with the 2:20 group.

Fast forward to mile 2.  This is when things really got crazy. I saw the mile 2 sign and decided right then that I was not only going to finish with the 2:10 group, I was going to run past them in the last mile. What the…?? Where did this thought come from??  I have no idea, but in that moment I believed I could and I spent the rest of the race staring at their pace sign and seeing it as a big goal bullseye.

I started thinking about all the times I achieved more than I set out to do.  All those times I stretched myself – or others stretched me – and how much more I achieved when I believed in more than I ever thought possible.

When was the last time you set a goal that was so far out there you couldn’t possibly believe you would achieve it? One where you set your sights on the moon, but knew you’d be happy landing among the stars?

My take away from today – set a goal, then set a bigger one.

4. Hills and Butts

I’m not writing this to tell you life was perfect this morning. Some of the hills were killer. What do I do when I have to run hills?  I grab onto a fact – the fact that hills work your butt muscles – and who doesn’t love a nice butt?  That may be too much information, but for me, I have always loved having strong legs.  It may come from my days as a skier, who knows?

In any case, every time I internally groan about a hill my mind is conditioned to think about the benefits of hills – benefits you cannot get from running on flat ground.

Changing my mindset to find the positive in every challenge has helped me immensely in all areas of my life. As a widow, there were (and still are) times where it was hard to just breathe. Then I focus on being thankful that I can breathe, I’m here, and I can breathe, which means I still have time to make a difference in this world.

While I don’t love hills, I do love what they can do for my butt!

5. One foot, and then the other.

There were also times during this run that my mind said that “I couldn’t”. At 0.1 miles I got a side ache.  Really?  I wasn’t even out of the parking lot!  Then I remembered that I just needed to breathe correctly with my steps – and keep taking those steps.

At mile 5 my hip flexors tightened up and my knee started to hurt. I could have stopped to stretch, but I knew if I stopped I would struggle to start again – I’m just not that type of runner.  If I allow myself to give up even a little bit, then I would struggle not to give up more. So I kept going, one step at a time. My music cycled and I focused on the scenery and the beat and kept moving. It worked!

When you don’t know if you can – just keep moving. You will get where you are going faster and be glad you didn’t allow yourself to do less than you were capable of.

6. Be Your Own Biggest Fan.

If you’ve read other blog posts of mine you will know that Steve (my late husband) was my biggest fan. He saw and believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. These last 4 years I’ve had to carry that forward. I fail more than I succeed as a cheerleader, and yet, I still hear him cheering me on. I still see that smile.

Today, I realized that I was truly running for myself. I was the only one with a goal. No one was watching. I could quit and it would mean nothing – other than to me.

Today, I was my own cheerleader. I persevered. I believed. I set big goals. And I reminded myself constantly of what I had accomplished in the run while I was running it. Every hill I ran up I celebrated mentally. Every mile I finished with that 2:10 pace group I considered a win.

I also had this crazy thought at mile 8 – “there’s only 5 miles left!  I can run 5 miles.  I got this!” Never mind that I had already run 8 miles (for only the second time in my life). I was focused on the fact that I knew I could run 5 miles and I wasn’t going to let the past hold me back. When I was finished, I’d appreciate the the entire journey, but in that moment I was laser focused on the belief that I had been here before, and I could do it.

As a widow, there have been times when the “wins” were much smaller. Some days the celebration was the fact that I showered AND put on real clothes (not sweats). Or, I made it through work without crying. Or, I cooked dinner for my daughters. Its all about finding the win.

There are moments in every day for positive self talk. Have you been your biggest fan today?

7. Let the world motivate you

One of the reasons I decided to do this run was to see Winston Salem in a new way. We moved here a few months ago and I know there are so many things that I have not seen. There were beautiful buildings, families cheering each other on, and lets not even talk about running in 50 degree weather in December – pure heaven for someone from North Dakota/Minnesota.

I saw a man that was likely 60+ running in the top 20 of all runners. There was a few obese ladies that were on a journey to get healthy and they were running the half – so cool!  Then there was the person with cerebral palsy going through the course on a hand bike with a person who is obviously one of her biggest fans.

I thought about my friend Anna who loved the YMCA and had lost her very short battle with leukemia earlier this year. This was a YMCA fundraiser to end childhood obesity – maybe she was nudging me as well.

As I ran I was able to appreciate all the beauty that surrounded me in life. It gave me a chance to reflect on just how much good there is in the world if we just choose to look for it.

Life is not easy as a widow, but it wasn’t easy before widowhood either.  There are different challenges (hills) to climb, but those challenges can also be the driving force to do more in life.

This post isn’t written to say that everyone should run a half marathon – and I would certainly NOT recommend trying it without training appropriately.  I do hope this article is a little nudge for you to look at your life a little differently today. Find a challenge, find the beauty, nudge someone. You never know what you can do…until you do.

 

The Power of Your Story – Part 1

Ultimate MissionA few weeks ago I was asked to “tell my story” to a broad group of individuals at work. The objective was to share the power of storytelling. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to do some self-checking on the stories I tell myself to make sure I’m writing my book the way I want. The process and impact of storytelling (to yourself, not an audience) is life changing. It’s been awhile (too long!) since I really sat down to reflect. I realized that I need to make the time to do this AND I really need to share this process with those I care about.  I cannot wait to share it with you!

The first part of storytelling is to understand what story you want to tell. Our lives unfold through the stories we tell ourselves – consciously or unconsciously. These stories add context to the events in our lives. Stories turn events into positive or negative memories, successes or failures, or makes us the hero or the victim. Stories form our reality. Forgetting where we left our keys is an event – telling ourselves that we are stupid and forgetful because we lost our keys becomes the story we tell ourselves. Stories have power.

What story do you want to tell?

Your story is your story. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, or any other crazy comparison you are thinking of. Just like a great novel that we hate to finish, our stories need to be grounded. Stories need to have a purpose.

Step 1: Your Ultimate Mission

Mission:Possible. Yes, you. You are going to write your ultimate mission in life. Not sure where to start? I’ve found that just like every good story you need to start with the end in mind.  Here are a series of questions to get you started.

  1. Picture yourself being eulogized. What would you want to hear?
  2. What is the legacy you want to leave?
  3. Who or what matters most to you in life?
  4. How do you define success?

Step 2: Write It Out

There is power in writing, walking away, then coming back again. Writing your ultimate mission is not easy – and it is a big deal. I went through about 10 iterations before I was able to put together a personal mission statement that just felt right. And it shocked me. I don’t want to skew your work, so I’ll wait until part 2 or 3 to share my mission with you.

So, why do this work?

Your ultimate mission becomes your true North in life. I cannot tell you how many decisions I’ve made simply because the situation either aligned or did not align with my ultimate purpose. Knowing exactly what you want out of life helps liberate you from unnecessary distractions. Your ultimate mission creates boundaries. These boundaries can release you from guilt, focus your energies, and give you a sense of accomplishment in the ordinary.

Your ultimate mission forms the framework for the story of your life. We don’t always get to write the events that happen to us or the situations we are put in, but we always have a choice in how we respond.

The toughest decision I have ever made in my life is to keep living without Steve. I wanted nothing more than to just fall into a black hole or join him in heaven. I wanted to stay on my bedroom floor crying to the point that I couldn’t breathe – simply because the act of moving was overwhelming.

I had a choice – I stay stuck in grief and loss, or I could continue to write my story. Hearing Steve eulogized was the moment I knew I had to live. Steve fulfilled his ultimate mission in life – and I needed to fulfill mine.

I started journaling and I found that my writing would start with raw suffering, but end grounded in my mission. My mind was able to come full circle through a blank page and a pen.  My mission grounded me – even as every other piece of me was shattered. I’ll liken it to an eskimo – you are lost in a blinding blizzard and all you can see is the North star. You know that is the way home, but you are scared, cold, hungry, and have no idea how far it is. You aren’t sure you are going to make it. It’s hard to breathe and every breath shoots icicles into your lungs. Everything hurts or is numb. Your only goal is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that you will get to your destination even though you can’t see anything around you. That North star will guide you – as long as you keep moving forward. Your ultimate mission is that North star in the toughest moments of your life.

Take a couple days and work on your mission – you will be amazed at what you find out about yourself. Try to write it with “empowering” words – something that truly motivates you. Keep it short – no more than 3 sentences. Can you do it?

Want to know more?

Check out the book The Power of Story by Jim Loehr. He has done a lot of work with a broad group of people – from athletes to CEOs and his message never wavers. You need an ultimate mission to succeed in life.

What is your ultimate mission? If you don’t want to share, can you guess what my mission might be?

10 Life Lessons I learned in Peru

Machu PicchuWe took a bucket list trip to celebrate my chapter 2’s 40th birthday – a milestone that my husband, Steve, did not get to experience. I expected to see some Inkan ruins and learn a little about the Inka culture. What actually happened was an experience in life lessons weaved throughout the history and culture of Peru.

Most people will not have the chance to visit Peru in their lifetime, so I wanted to share the top 10 things I learned about life on this trip.

1. Explore the world around you.

I love to travel. Love it. Peru was never a place I thought I would go, but I am so glad I did! Machu Picchu exists today (as well as most of the world) because people were not afraid to step away from their comfort zone. They were willing to not only take the road less travelled, they created the road. By doing this, they created a history worth remembering.

Create the opportunity to learn about the journey of others – seek it out – you will be surprised what you can learn.

2. Walk

When was the last time you walked somewhere new in your town? We walked an unbelievable amount and by walking we discovered delicious places to eat, neat souvenirs, participated in the local market, and saw incredible Inkan ruins. In Peru, everyone walks – children as young as two can walk longer distances than many American adults. Peruvian adults with children carry them on their backs using a blanket tied around them. People young and old carry items from the market or field to their homes – heavy stuff! The human body is amazing. I am thankful to have a choice whether to walk or not, and just how much I am willing to carry at a time. I’m committed to walking and exploring my new hometown as a family this summer.

3. Find God in your heart

One of the most profound messages I heard from our tour guide was said in passing. In Peru, the Spaniards came and destroyed many Inka structures in an attempt to bring Christianity (Catholicism) to the people. Many Peruvians today practice both Inka traditions and catholic traditions (including our guides). When asked about the blending of cultures, our guide stated, “when you find God in your heart, it does not matter how you worship him. When you truly find God, you will have peace and love in your heart and you will live your beliefs.” The Inka Gods are different than the Christian Gods, but they do not compete in the hearts of Peruvians.

I am a Christian that has struggled to find a church “home” and this perspective was a great reminder that it is much more important to live your life as a reflection of your beliefs than it is to focus on what you need to do to fit a certain mold.

Many people question God when they lose a loved one – believe me, I did! What I quickly realized was that in order to see Steve again I had to believe. If I didn’t believe in Him, then there was no chance of seeing Steve again. I also continue to receive signs that he is around me – these signs have solidified my faith that Steve is always with me. He continues to give me strength and guidance on how to live my life post-loss.

4. Give thanks for the good in your life

The Inka culture uses Shamans (healers) to help them give thanks for what they have in their life. The culture recognizes that everyone has challenges and struggles in life, but there are also many opportunities to give thanks. When a new house or building is constructed, the construction company must have a Shaman blessing with the family or owners before it can be used. If a family purchases a car, they should also have a Shaman blessing for their good fortune. The Inka culture requires a form of meditation (taking the time to reflect) when blessings occur in your life. This could be a house, a child, a job, a new animal or any number of things.

We were able to participate in a Shaman healing ceremony during our trip. The blessing includes gifts to the Gods (these are very small items, but tokens that represent significant beliefs in their culture), but the most profound thing was the 3 coca leaves that each individual receives from the Shaman. There is a leaf that represents a prayer or blessing for oneself, a leaf that requires a prayer or blessing for someone you love, and a leaf that represents a prayer for the pacha mama (mother Earth – this could be something as simple as rain for the crops, clean water, or could be as complex as peace in the world). You breathe life into these prayers by giving a breath over each leaf as they are given back to the Shaman.

Take the time to give thanks for the blessings in your life. When I was at the depths of my grief, the one thing that could bring me out of my black hole was finding something to be thankful for. This takes practice, but practice becomes habit. I plan to focus on developing this more with my daughters. I already ask them “what was your favorite part of today?”, but I have added, “What is one thing you are thankful for today?”. This has led to some adorable dinner discussions!

5. Add Value

In Peru, the expectation is that every person provides value. They have an unemployment rate around 28%, and yet I only had one person ask me for money. One. When was the last time you walked around a US city and only saw one person begging? We have millions of people that plan their lives around government assistance in the US – it is not the same in Peru. Peruvians expect that even those with nothing will add value. These individuals can sell small trinkets and Peruvians will pay more than necessary to help the family. People shine shoes for 1 sol (about $0.32), they wash windows, they knit, they clean. The point is that they must sell or provide some value to the person that is spending the money. Anything less is considered laziness and is seen as disgraceful in their society – they will not contribute to that behavior.

This is one trend I wish America would learn. Life isn’t about handouts. It isn’t about what is fair. Life is what you make it. Everyone has setbacks, challenges, and losses. Some hide it more than others, but we all have struggles. What we do with our time on Earth is what matters. Focus on what you can do in this life to add value to your family and your community. This may be in the form of time, talent, or treasure, but please, please, add value! You are here to make a difference, you are here for a reason – don’t waste it!

6. Help your neighbors and friends.

In Peru, if a person needs help (like a new roof on their house) they will bring bread and some beer (the amount is based on the size of the request) to their friends and family to ask for help with the project. By accepting the bread, the individual commits to providing assistance. Neighbors, friends, and families work together in the fields, in markets, and in their homes.

These practices made me realize that I need to put more effort in to developing these relationships in my new town and be willing to help and be helped when needed.

When Steve died a group of our co-workers (both Grotberg Electric and John Deere) came out to my house to help me finish our barn, repair the horse arena, and help me winterize my house. Their presence meant so much to me as it reminded me of how much Steve was loved by so many, and it lifted a burden off of my shoulders.

Jon and I are planning to pursue opportunities to devote time to local charities along with our children in the Quad Cities. We want to teach them to contribute to the community by being good examples ourselves. Stay tuned – there may be some posts about these adventures!

7. Teach children to contribute

I was amazed at the children of Peru. They are beautiful souls that work hard alongside their parents and relatives. Our guides explained that everyone is expected to contribute (see #5) and it is the parent’s duty to teach children how to work, farm, sell, and buy items. If a parent raises a child that does not contribute, the child is deemed lazy, and the parents are to blame.

We saw children with alpacas on leashes (running around town laughing!) or carrying lambs to allow tourists to take pictures with them for money. We saw 2 and 3 year olds working with their families all day at the markets (and they were very well behaved). We met a 9 and an 11 year old that cleaned the graves at the cemetery for money for their families. I was able to give the children in the cemetary bread as a gift for their families and it was truly humbling to think that bread means so much to them.

Children, especially those from the poorer families, must contribute to the overall success of the family. This in turn teaches the children how to work and survive in the real world. At 5 they know how to safely cross streets alone. They can find their way home. They learn the value of money.

My take away from this is that my children are capable of much more than I ask of them. I need to teach them to contribute to the family more and give them a sense of pride in doing so. They are not too young at ages 4 and 6 – I just need to give up the idea of perfection, and be thankful for the contribution.

8. Honor life with celebrations and remember those that impacted your life

We visited a cemetery to understand the Inka traditions surrounding the loss of loved ones. On the outside of a cemetery was a mural with a celebration. Our guide stated, “Of course we are sad when a loved one dies, but it is our duty to celebrate their life and be happy that they have gone to be with the Gods. We owe it to them to continue to live our life.”

The trip to the cemetery in Peru was hard for me. I missed Steve. At 29, I saw my own headstone – the place that someday will be one of my final resting places.  I worked my way through the grief and sadness the best I could in that moment. I was reminded that my love for Steve is reflected in the way I live my life, how I raise our daughters, and how I remember him every single day. He is with me no matter where in the world I am, and he is always in my heart. I visit Steve in a different way, but just like Peruvians, I take the time to remember and that is the important part.

9. Have fun!

We happened to be in Cusco, Peru for the final day of Carnival. And, wow, what an experience! There are parades and music, dancing, laughter, and fun. Carnival involves people spraying each other with squirt guns, throwing buckets of water on people, covering each other in silly string, and even some shaving cream. There are drive by squirtings…I have never seen so many people having so much fun – adults, children, tourists, and locals. I will say as a tourist *most* of the locals did not try to “get” us. However, it didn’t take long on our walk to get covered in shaving cream, have a water balloon popped by my head and all over me, and get squirted with a water gun. And I laughed, giggled, and just took it all in. What a pleasure to be a part of an event where people genuinely have fun together no matter who you are! It was a great sense of community and it was so humbling to see the people of all societal levels enjoy the camaraderie of each other. Carnival was one of my favorite memories on this trip.

10. Do the unexpected for others.

This trip was humbling in many ways. Our tour guides did so many little things that made a huge difference in our experience, but there are two specific stories I would like to share.

We opted to have a traditional Peruvian supper at the home of a local Peruvian family one night. During the dinner, the question was asked about why we made the trip, and we replied that we came to celebrate a birthday. Raul (one of the tour guides) immediately leaned over to me and asked how to spell Jon’s name. He wrote it down, finished his food quickly, and got up from the table. This was not unusual as he was translating for the host family and us due to the language barrier. Between the main course and the end of dessert, he was able to find a cake, get it personalized, get candles, and communicate with the host family what was going on. How he found one at 8:30pm I will never know! The host family sang the Peruvian version of happy birthday and we sang happy birthday in English immediately afterward. Once the candles were blown out, Raul informed Jon that he had to bite the cake – like bite into the side of it before it could be cut! When he went to do that, Raul pushed his face into the side of the cake – and it was all caught on film. Jon got him back by kissing his cheek with his cake covered face. It was a celebration to remember and my absolute favorite memory of this trip!

The second story was when we left at the airport. Raul pulled us aside and said he wanted to give the two of us a gift. He gave us each a necklace with the cross of life. He stated that he could feel that our hearts had been through a lot of pain (we did not share any part of either of our pasts with people on this trip), and stated that surviving that type of pain makes the heart stronger. He said that he could feel the love that we had for each other, and that a love like ours was a blessing that should be treasured. He gave us the cross of life to remember that when one part of life ends, another begins, and we have an opportunity to still live a great life.

What amazing and profound words from someone that has only known us for a few days – someone that had no clue what either of us has gone through.

There are times in life when you feel blessed, humbled, and thankful for the angels that walk this Earth. I believe Raul was sent to make a difference in our life, and give us a message focused on the strength and power that we have together. There are people that still don’t understand our journey, but that is OK. It isn’t their journey it is ours.

My take-away from this is to look for opportunities to go out of my way for others. I also need to step out of my comfort zone more often and encourage others to live life to the fullest. The day I returned, I recieved an email from a widow looking for someone to talk to. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Peru was a beautiful country – I can’t even begin to describe it in words and the pictures do not do it justice. The country is safe, and the people are very nice. Our experience on a very quick 4 day trip was excellent, and I learned an incredible amount about the Inka culture, Peruvian people, and most importantly, I learned more about life.

What are some lessons you have learned through traveling? What is the best place you have ever been, and why?