Ironman – One Year Later

One year ago today, I became an Ironman. One year ago today, I put my body through the most grueling 16.5 hours of physical labor. One year ago today, I ended a long soulful journey of hope, endurance, and faith.

In some ways, I remember it incredibly clearly, and in other ways, it’s a foggy recollection. It’s been one year already and it still feels like yesterday. Or last week. Or at least last month.

I was in the best shape of my life. I swam with thousands and carved a 2.4 mile path for myself in a lake of determined strokes and kicks. I biked 112 miles of Wisconsin countryside hills and wanted to pee, die, and laugh the whole way. And then I SLOWLY made my 26.2 mile “run” to cross the most epic of finish lines. I battled the fear of dying from my aneurysm erupting the entire way.

I earned my Ironman title- it’s tatted on my foot as a constant reminder of all that I endured.

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It was one of the most difficult, liberating, and inspired journeys I have ever been on. And one that I hope to repeat again in the near future.

Today, I’m cheering on my friends from across the country. Tracking each of them and saying little prayers as they make their way through various points in the race. The fear is real – even though each of them have trained their little hineys off – so I’m praying for peace, safety, speed, and endurance.

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Therapy.

Listen.

Before you start throwing shade at me for becoming one of those annoying people who posts pretty pictures of a fake life on social media.

Hear my heart.

Two months ago we moved away from the only world I’ve known. The entirety of my 34 years of life that I can remember has been spent no more than a couple hours drive from my parents and my brother. I moved away from my family, my soul friends, my work, my gym, my triathlon teams, my house, my streets. We moved away from the home that housed our two little precious girls.

We moved here knowing not a soul in our town.

It’s been hard.

I am reminding myself daily that I am not living this life alone. We have 2 little budding souls to nurture, to encourage, to grow, to love. For me to do that well, I need to get out. I need to force myself to run. I need to find beauty in this new world by taking pretty little pictures of flowers and trees. I need to show the girls that this house, this place, is just as fun and great and exciting as our old house. Because when Olivia asks to go back to Chicago at night, I need to have a good answer as to why this place is awesome even though there are a lot of nights that’s all I want to do too.

So for the time being, if posting photos of me running gets me outside and running, that’s what I am going to do. If posting photos of the palm trees and amazing succulents in our neighborhood reminds me of the goodness of this place, I’m going to do just that. If posting photos of my once a week actual real clothes I get into makes me feel better about myself? That’s what I’ll be doing.

Go and throw your shade on something else.

Because this is what therapy for me looks like.

And, you know, if you want to follow along my pretty picture therapy life, here’s my handle: @alice.w.here. IMG_9062

Graduation

Today’s an enormous day in our family. ENORMOUS. After seven years. Count that. SEVEN. YEARS. Sean is graduating from his general surgery residency program.

And you guys, he’s not quite done yet.

So after four years of undergrad. Four years of medical school. He is finally on his last day of seven years of residency. Today. Today is his last day of residency. (HIGH FIVES ALL AROUND!!) In some ways, it’s flown by so quickly. Over the last seven years, Sean has grown as a human being, a husband, a father, a surgeon, a researcher, a presenter, and an author (Sean will be embarrassed, but I don’t care. Go ahead and search his name on pubmed.gov. Those aren’t even all of his publications.). Over the last seven years we have been challenged – a lot – but we have managed to come away with more insight and love for each other, our girls, and our world.
I remember when we started on this medical journey 11 years ago at Rush University. The end seemed like a lifetime away – some of the best parts for me have been watching him fall deeper in love with this field. I’ve heard his stories, watched him agonize over very sick patients. I’ve seen him study countless hours – for exams and procedures. Many people have asked, why surgery? Sean always says – because he wants to be there for patients when they need it most. And he is. He is there. I can tell you that – he sleeps, eats, drinks very little so he can be there. There are big and small sacrifices he makes so he can be there. Even our small little family makes sacrifices so he can be present for his patients. There are times when it’s hard. It’s hard to see our girls sad when we’re on day four of not seeing daddy this week because he’s left before the sun and come home after they’ve fallen asleep – even after they’ve tried to stay awake to catch a glimpse of him.
The sacrifices can be big but the celebrations are big too. The days Sean gets home at least one hour before bedtime – those are the best days. Those nights are reserved for a quick dinner and then an hour of princess make believe playtime. If you didn’t know, Sean makes a really pretty princess – probably how the girls got their adorableness. The girls cling to their dad and scream and belly laugh in joy.
So, today. Today’s a big day. It’s the culmination of all the sacrifices we’ve made. It’s the celebration of failings and accomplishments. It’s a sign that we’ve made it. We persevered. We endured. And we did it together.
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In two days we start our long road trip to our new home in California. For the most part, we are pretty excited for this move. We’ve been planning for this move for over a year. We finally found a home that we think will work really well for our family. And seriously, we’ve been living out of one suitcase each for the last month and with our parents (WHO HAVE BEEN AMAZING) so we’re ready for bit of permanency.
So even though tonight is residency graduation, we’re not done yet. Seriously. Two more years of thoracic surgery fellowship. This guy. Overachiever is what that is. But he promises that after these next two years he will officially have a real job (haha, he hates when I tell him he’s never had a “real job”). I love him so. And I am so incredibly proud of him.

Taking a moment

I forget. I forget sometimes how hard it is to try to do it all. To try to do it all – and well.

I have worked since early years of high school. I have been a cashier and a waitress at restaurants. I have sold clothes and sunglasses at boutique and big retailers. I have worked in child welfare, in supportive housing, in healthcare. I have held seemingly important titles in my field. And for the last 4 years, I have worked part-time overseeing two housing programs.

About 4 and a half years ago, Sean and I made the hard decision for me to step back and work part-time. Child care costs were/are outrageous, I wanted to stay home with my first babe as much as possible but I also wanted to continue working as a social worker. I was excited when this perfect part-time opportunity at one of my favorite organizations fell in my lap. We are so grateful – beyond words grateful – for the ways I have been able to continue to work in my first passion while still being present for our sweet girls – my ultimate passion.

I have learned a lot about myself these last 4 years – both programs I oversee, I was part of creating them. I loved that part – flushing out the details, the policies and procedures, creating workflows, contracts, scopes of services, testing and perfecting program implementation. I love these parts of program administration. What I don’t love so much? Is after everything is set up – doing the same thing every day for 4 years. That part is tedious and a bit mundane. Of course when you work with people, there are unique situations that come up that require some strategic problem solving. But overall, I have done the same thing for the last 4 years. It became habit, I figured out a way to run the programs pretty efficiently – working in the office 2 days a week and about 10 hours from home the rest of the week. My files are pretty impeccable (patting myself on the back). But let me tell you – no one warns you how hard it is to be a working outside-the-home mother. There are days when I feel completely inadequate in all areas – mother, wife, social worker, athlete. It’s hard juggling all these roles. There came a point when I felt like I wasn’t meeting my full potential in any of these roles.

I realized a long time ago I was no longer invited to the brainstorming meetings for new programs. I wasn’t privy to the details of new contracts or grant applications. Of course I don’t blame them – I was only in the office 2 days a week and had lots of in-office things to get done. Ask anyone – where’s Alice? Oh, at her desk with her headphones in and working. There was no “moving up” or climbing any ladders in this position. 4 years. I have done the same thing every week for the last 4 years at work.

Today, my boss’ boss – (who 4 years ago, was my peer) came into the office on his way to the airport for a conference – to say thanks and goodbye. He wrote an amazingly thoughtful card. There are lots of nice things in it, but this stood out to me: “You are an impressive mother who prioritizes family while successfully balancing the life of a modern woman.” First, let me tell you, this card had me in tears (I literally ran back to his office and cried in gratefulness). Second, the love of a mother – regardless of whether you’re an out-of-home working mother or in-the-home working mother. The love of a mother – it’s fierce. It’s strong. It will do anything for her children – even sacrifice her career and her ambitions. Because the love of a mother pushes for her children’s ambitions. While I am at peace with the stall in my career – it still makes me sad to think about all my peers or even people I supervised over 4 years ago who have now far surpassed me.

Today’s my second to last day of working outside-the-home. When we move, I’ll be full-time at home with the girls. I’m both excited and terrified. I was never the girl who dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom and wife. My examples of strong women were my mom and aunts who have worked ALL of their lives while providing everything for their children. Those were my goals. But here I am, ready to leap into this new life. I am even homeschooling (we’ll see how that goes. Seriously.). I’m ready – but I’m taking a moment of silence and saying goodbye to this life. This life of this very particular and efficient part-time social worker who has housed hundreds of people experiencing homelessness. Who has connected hundreds of people to necessary healthcare services. Who has taken part in writing grants and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for the most vulnerable people in the city of Chicago. Hopefully one day I can fully decide without barriers or regrets to work as a social worker again. But for now, bring on all the people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Silicon Valley (eye roll). Olivia, Lucy, and I are ready to befriend you.

I run this city

It’s my birthday and I turn 34 today. Age is just a number and has never really meant much to me. A year seems to go by faster the older you get though.

This year has been so full. Full of good. Full of love. Full of joy. Full of accomplishments. Full. But life isn’t life if it’s not also full of disappointment and frustration.

The world keeps turning; sometimes in directions I don’t understand. But it keeps going. And I do what I do to make my way around the sun.

IMG_5280 2.JPGI went for a run outside this afternoon hoping to beat the next round of showers. Once I got going along the lakefront path, I just didn’t want to stop – so I kept going. These streets. I’ve been running this lakefront path for 11 years. It has been my sanctuary. It’s felt my tears and my triumph. I have swam along the lakeshore, I have biked on the path, and I’ve run these streets. I have fallen, I’ve cried, I’ve laughed. I have met and made new friends. I have been scared of failure, I’ve limped my way home. I have prayed. I have crossed start and finish lines. I have raised thousands of dollars for causes I am deeply passionate about. I’ve watched the sun rise and the sun set along this path. I’ve been alone and I’ve been one of thousands. I’ve stood in awe of the beauty and juxtaposition of nature and city. I have made commitments here. I have walked this path with my family. Friends. Sean. My girls. I have reached goals here. I have been proud of myself here. This lakefront path. It has been my sanctuary.

IMG_5276 2.JPGWe are officially less than 100 days out from residency graduation. It’s no secret that I am excited. I am ready for Sean to be done with this residency journey (7 years, yo.). I am ready to start new adventures. But the things I will miss are many. Among them is this lakefront path. Seems silly, but through all of the changes in the last 11 years – from newly married, fresh graduate school degree, new jobs, new houses, having babies, new churches, new friends. This path has consistently been a part of my life. It has never judged me – never judged my mismatched outfits, my too old shoes, my slowness, my pregnancies, my un-showered being. It has never judged my thoughts or my points of view. It has only welcomed my tired legs to pound out the miles and gain new perspective. It has only provided a safe space for me to be me. And I will forever remember the literal blood, sweat, and tears that have been shed along this path.

 

So, we love.

carry your candle, run to the darkness
seek out the helpless, deceived and poor
hold out your candle for all to see it
take your candle, and go light your world

Sometime in college, I learned this cheesy song. It stuck. I think S and I even put it somewhere in our wedding program. I think. I mean, that was almost 11 years ago. Pre-kids, I would have known, but post kids? I’m lucky if I remember what I did over the weekend.

But, there was a time when S and I were very green. We looked forward to the future in a way that’s a bit embarrassing to think about now – with eyes wide open, with our palms up, with our hearts broken for others. We dreamed about being a doctor and social worker without borders. We believed that with our love, kindness, and empathy, we could change the world. We thought as long as we carried our hearts on our sleeves, no one could dampen our passion for people. No one could make us second guess what we thought we were created to do. With everything we were, we stood firm.

Along the way, pieces of these strong convictions started chipping away. Looking back, I see two incredibly naive 20 something year olds. Sometimes, I feel embarrassed for them. Because everything that is happening in our world today? In our country. In our community. It would appear that we can’t survive on love. It seems to me, that at every turn, we’ve been told some way or another, that love is not enough. That compassion is not safe. That kindness is too much work. And equality? Might cost too much.

We question how we can raise our daughters in this environment. Where we laugh at peoples names that are different from what we are comfortable with. Where we draw conclusions on a person’s character solely based on the color of their skin. Who they praise. Who they love. Or how they identify themselves. Where we fear what we do not understand. Where we draw lines – us versus them. Legal versus illegal. Good versus bad.

It takes everything within us to continue to love. To continue to pursue our naive dreams of changing the world. To continue to have hard conversations with each other. With our friends. With our children.

The good thing about growing up and developing calluses is being ok with what people think of us. Good or bad. Lots of bad lately, it seems. Though sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s devastating. And I wonder – who is with us? Who is against us? And we may never know. But in the end, does it really matter? Because we are living out what we believe to be true. What we believe whole heartedly:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart. with all your soul. with all your mind. This. is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37 – 39)

So, we love. Even when it hurts. Even when we are fearful. Even when it’s ugly. And especially when it’s hard. We love.

Holy Anger

Acceptance. Acceptance of me. Acceptance of who I am. Of who I was created to be.
If I believe that we are each made equally. If I believe that we are each made in the image of God. Then I must believe that this part of me. This part of me that has always made me feel different. Feel misunderstood. Feel like I never could fit in. This part. This is a reflection of him. So to hate it. To want it gone. Wiped away. It’s to hate that part of who he is.
But honestly? I’ve been wanting that, praying for that often. Hoping and wishing it away.
I distinctly remember talking about equity (with much smaller words) when I was very young. Talking about “fairness” in terms of how people are treated, how people are accepted, how people are perceived. This stuff has been running through my head since I was little. I know a lot comes from being raised by immigrant parents who worked more than half the hours in a 24 hr day and ends seemed to still not meet. I know a lot comes from knowing what government cheese is, and thinking that it was a treat. I know a lot comes from English being my second language. I know a lot comes from doing every. damn. school. assignment. on my own. I know a lot comes from working at a young age and paying for everything by myself. I know a lot comes from paying my own way through college. I know a lot comes from managing bills and healthcare and all those other adults things for my family beginning at a very young age. But. I also know that this part of me is God given.
I’ve made a career-ish out of it. I’m a social worker. I’m pretty good at it too – since it’s innate, seeing and hearing and believing comes easily. It’s in Olivia already too – I can see and hear it from her. And I love it in her. But truthfully, I know it’s a burden too.
Because I cannot not see. I cannot not feel. I cannot unsee. I cannot unfeel. I cannot compartmentalize injustice and move on with my life. I feel every bit of it. I sit in it. I am overwhelmed with it. And it can become debilitating.
I see every single homeless person on every single street I travel down. I try to meet every single one of their eyes. I wonder about their life. Their childhood. Their family. Where they stay at night. If they are receiving some sort of health and mental health care. What they eat. When was their last meal. When they last showered in a private bathroom. Who pays attention to them. And for what reason. What they think of me and the girls chatting with them. I see my parents in every single elderly homeless person. I feel a personal connection to all refugees and immigrants I encounter. I feel a deep connection to ethnic minorities almost instantly.
Break my heart for what breaks yours.
This is real life for me. My heart is broken. Because I believe in a God whose heart is broken for these very same individuals. I believe in a God who suffers when we suffer. I believe in a God who created us in his image. I believe in a God who created us to be equal. So when we aren’t treated equitably, I believe it breaks his heart.
And to justify injustice BLOWS MY MIND. To pass off racism as not a real problem pisses me off. To say that refugees and “illegal” (OMG. NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL) immigrants shouldn’t be here as if each of us documented people earned our place here is infuriating. To discount people who believe in any other religion that is not our own is detestable. To hate people solely based on who they love is abominable. And I believe that this anger I have is God given. I believe whole heartedly it is a holy anger and I am to reject oppression and work for justice and peace.
I write all this for several reasons. Because I am coming around to finally accepting this large piece of me that has ostracized me from so many communities – a lot of them Christian circles. Hopefully this giant purge will allow me a full night of sleep and I’m sure S would love to get a break from me crying about it to him (he is just the best). To encourage others who think and see and hear similarly. And to say to those who are angry. It’s ok. It’s ok to be angry. Stop telling us otherwise. Anger can be justified and it can start revolutions for good and for love. And to encourage others to be respectful. I try. I try hard to still be respectful because who knows why people think the way they do. But don’t take that respect for agreement or approval. It is neither. But I believe you are also made in his image.

If you feel anger and frustration, don’t let that be diminished – maybe that is God’s image reflected through you. And when you feel a connection to someone different, someone the world tells us doesn’t deserve love, don’t dismiss it. Don’t ignore it. Love.