Ramblings of a Middle-Aged Mom

(I was going to name this post, “Midlife Crisis,” but it sounded too dramatic; and anyway I’m not sure that’s accurate.  More like a “Midlife Awakening.”  I hope I’m not being too navel-gaze-y here…)

Not long ago I realized something about myself:  Whatever I happen to be doing at any given moment, I tend to throw myself into it with my entire being (except housework) . I’ve been this way most of my adult life, and I guess I never realized it.  I’m not sure if this is a virtue or a vice, because I think it’s caused me to burn out in some cases.  My first job after college was as a teaching assistant working with special education kids.  I loved it.  I was in a small school, a tight-knit community of mostly low-income families.  I bonded quickly with the kids and the other teachers at the school, especially the special education teacher who I worked closely with.  I took on a second job for a few months that year as a checker at a grocery store, which (to my surprise) I enjoyed.  The following year I was hired as a kindergarten teacher at the same school, and went on to teach first grade the year after that.  My job was my whole life.  Sure, I spent the weekends with my family and went to church, and even started teaching Sunday School (which I also loved and threw my whole self into), but it was teaching that consumed me.  I met my future husband during this time as well, and since he lived in another state, every other weekend we made every effort to be together.  Oh, and this was around the time I got it into my head that I wanted to join the Peace Corps (I didn’t, and frankly I’m glad; because if I had I wouldn’t be married to the man I love or have given birth to my boys.  And I probably wouldn’t be Catholic, either).  For a while I wasn’t liking my job much, and when I moved to Maryland to be closer to Joe and got a teaching position there, it took me a few years to find a good balance between work and my personal life (and life was pretty stressful at that time too–what with getting married and starting a family and all).  Just when I was starting to enjoy my job again, I had a baby and stepped away from teaching for nine years.

I threw myself into raising my kids,  and those are years I will treasure forever.  For the last several years (to make a long story short) I have worked part time in various school settings, and looking back I realized I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into that as well.  This time, fortunately, I haven’t burned out.  Perhaps because the hours have been short enough that I can devote some time to my family and myself and stay relatively sane; or maybe as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to manage my time, to trust in God, and not to worry so much about certain things beyond my control.  And I’m learning to say “no.”  I think that’s a biggie.

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I’m not sure why I am telling you all this.  Six years ago I started blogging, and whenever anyone asked me what my hobbies were, it was the first thing on my list.  My family bought me a DSLR camera one year for Christmas, and I started to develop a passion for photography.  Of course, I’ve never done anything with my photos except post them on my blogs and on social media (and occasionally print them for Christmas cards and calendars), but that’s about it.  Yesterday I downloaded eighty-four pictures from my camera, and every single photo is of the kids at the preschool where I work.  There was not one of my own family, or anything non-work related.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but I do know I tend to take pictures of people and things that I love and find interesting and beautiful.  (Not that I don’t love my family and I haven’t seen beauty in other things; but for some reason I haven’t felt inspired to take a photo of them in the last month or two.)

A couple of years ago in the third grade religion textbook I was teaching from (something I’ve had to say “no” to recently–teaching CCD, which I love and hope to do again eventually), the question was asked, “What makes you feel alive?”  I don’t remember the objectives of the lesson at that time; perhaps it was the chapter on how God made us and gave us life.  Maybe it was about how he made us different from the animals by giving us a soul and the ability to reason and wonder and love.  Anyhow, I asked the kids to write or draw pictures of something that made them feel alive.  For some, it was playing soccer; for others, it was helping Mom cook dinner.  Ever since, I’ve been asking myself that question: exactly what makes me feel alive?  And what does that mean, anyway?  An activity that is exhilarating or exciting?  Something that gives me a great sense of accomplishment or satisfaction?  Something that gives me a profound sense of calmness and peace?

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Not long after I started pondering these things, I started a series of lists (I’m not sure why, maybe I’m entering my midlife crisis and feel a need to rediscover myself) of various things that I enjoy doing, things that make me feel “alive,” and things that I want to accomplish.  That last one is a doozie because they’ll require work on my part to make them happen.  I find myself looking at them from time to time, occasionally adding and deleting things, and moving things from one list to the other.   Here’s a small sample:

THINGS THAT MAKE ME FEEL ALIVE

Teaching others about the faith, especially children

Learning new things, especially about my Catholic faith

Being out-of-doors, especially when moving

Attending a live performance (play, concert, etc)

Reading a good book

Time spent with friends and family

Being at Mass.  Seriously.  At least most of the time, except maybe when I’m tired and want to sleep.

THINGS I ENJOY (Am I less passionate about these things than the ones on the first list?  I’m not sure.)

Cooking

blogging/writing

geocaching–this involves being outside and moving (see alive list)

skiing–also involves being outside and moving (see alive list)

taking photos and sharing them

My job at preschool.

(About that last one…I was somewhat surprised at myself for putting my job on my “enjoy” list instead of my “alive” list, and I made ANOTHER list–which I’ll spare you the boredom of reading–of things that would help my work make me feel alive instead of just something I enjoy; first and foremost “Love each as a child of God,” as well as among other things, “convey a sense of wonder for the world around us and for God.”   Oh, and update the school’s Facebook page more often.  I think it’s just about ready for that promotion, to tell you the truth.)

My passions have tended to wax and wane over the years.  A passion for blogging and photography became something I enjoy doing from time to time.  A loathing for running became a passion–although, the funny thing is, sometimes I still loathe it.  Just not enough to quit just yet.  I hope that one sticks.  Fortunately my passion for Jesus and all things Catholic hasn’t diminished–even though my efforts to deepen my relationship with God are often pretty pathetic or even nonexistent.   My passion for life at all stages and my desire to do more to promote the dignity of all human life is as strong as ever–even though I have never done enough.

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So, my dear readers, I guess my point is this:

My hopes and dreams are many, even more numerous than when I was younger, I think.  They’re constantly evolving and changing; some dreams growing, others fading into the background but not entirely vanishing.  When I’m blogging,  I’m sharing the snippets of my life–or in this case, my rambling thoughts–about things I hold most dear, the things I enjoy, and that make me feel alive.  When I’m not blogging, I hope I’m spending my time on things that nurture my passions.  (Or maybe I’ve just read something that makes my blood boil, or brings tears to my eyes, and I’m at a loss for how to put those feelings into words.  Or I just don’t want to start an argument–which is a cop-out, I know.  I’ll try and do better.)  Anyhow, perhaps someday I’ll share with you the lists I made of my hopes and dreams and goals–and how I hope to achieve them.

Now if only I could develop a serious passion for housecleaning…

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7 Quick Takes: Speed (or the lack thereof), snow days, and Sherlock

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–1–

For Christmas Joe gave me five one-hour sessions with a personal trainer.  He wanted to give me more but since I’ve never really had one he wasn’t sure how I would like it.  I’ve had two sessions with her so far, and she rocks.  She’s been helping me with exercises to improve my upper and lower body strength as well as my core, and ways to improve my running form.  I might just have to go over my five sessions…

–2–

On Sunday I ran my first 15K race, a lovely route that went through some wooded neighborhood streets and a beautiful park in Richmond.  I’ve been training for it, of course; I was nervous about being able to run 9+ miles, even after running eight the previous weekend.  My trainer gave me a wonderful piece of advice:  Don’t feel like you have to run the whole thing.  If you have to walk some, that’s OK.  Just finish.  I think knowing that it was all right to slow down and walk gave me the strength to keep on running.  And I did walk a little bit, especially toward the end, but I finished strong.  Near the back, but strong nonetheless.

There were people taking photos of the runners along the route; here I am at Mile 3.

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Looking good, huh?

Well, this was Mile 7.

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Yeah.  I was so sore for the rest of the day that I could barely walk.

When I emailed my trainer with my results, she excitedly told me that I should have no problem finishing a half marathon in two and a half hours–which for a beginner is a great result.  (After running 9.3 miles I was thinking there was no way I could ever do 13…but maybe…)  If and when I sign up for a half, I’ll let you know.

–3–

It snowed on Tuesday, so no one has been to school this week.  On Wednesday I had planned to attend the March for Life, but decided to stay home because a) roads were icy, b). they were calling for below-zero wind chills, and c).  all the boys were home.  I’ve been mostly puttering around the house this week–catching up on my thank-you notes from Christmas, putting away my Christmas plates and mugs, doing laundry, and watching episodes of Sherlock one after the other.  Tuesday I taught the boys how to make my mother-in-law’s homemade pasta sauce, and Joe has been eternally grateful–we had lasagna Tuesday night and fettucini last night.  And there is still some sauce left!

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The boys haven’t been completely idle; even though there have been plenty of video games played and Doctor Who‘s watched, they have done some cleaning and organizing and driveway shoveling and sledding.  They’ve already canceled school for Larry and Curly tomorrow (Seriously, we had three inches of snow!!) and they’ll be doing chores.  Whether Moe and I are at home or at school remains to be seen…

–4–

Speaking of Sherlock, did you see that Season 3 premiere on Sunday night?  I was afraid I would fall asleep like I usually do when I try to watch anything on that late, but I stayed awake for that one!  Recently Larry convinced the rest of us that we would love the show, and we watched the first two seasons on Netflix.  Since then we’ve been counting down the days until Season 3.  I just wish there were more than three episodes to a season, and must they make us wait two years between them?

–5–

Last week I ran across this article about Sherlock and detective stories in general, and it made me realize that perhaps what I find endearing about the character of Sherlock Holmes (on the show, at least; it’s been years since I’ve read any of the books) is the fact that despite being somewhat of an arrogant jerk who doesn’t seem to care about anyone except himself and the thrill he gets from solving complex murder mysteries, he does in fact have a heart.  His friend John Watson and a handful of other close associates recognize this, and stick by him even when he’s not exactly pleasant to be around.  (Kind of like Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, come to think of it.  Abrasive and often downright rude–but his friends love him anyway.)  When he’s caught up in a puzzle–or when he’s bored, or really wants a cigarette–he tends to say and do things without any thought about how it might affect someone else.  He has no clue that a remark to a female friend that she has put on a few pounds might actually hurt her feelings.  (Not to mention that if you fake your own death and disappear for two years, your friends might be sad and miss you.)  But on the few occasions when he does realize that his words or actions have not been stellar, he feels bad and awkwardly tries to make amends.  Once in Season Two, after a spectacular blowup at Watson, he sheepishly brings him a cup of coffee, much to John’s surprise and amusement.

–6–

Do you know what I find particularly annoying, though?  The way Sherlock habitually turns the waterworks on and off to suit his own agenda.  If Sherlock Holmes must shed tears (must he?) at least let them be genuine.  And that last episode?  (ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT!! If you haven’t seen “The Empty Hearse,” SKIP TO #7!!!)  When Sherlock and Watson are in that subway car trying desperately to disarm the nuclear bomb that’s about to go off any second, and Sherlock is all like, “I can’t, I don’t know how, it’s too complicated, oh boo hoo, I’m sorry I got you into this, blah blah blah…” and suddenly it’s “Ha ha, I fooled you, I flipped the on/off switch, you should have seen the look on your face when you thought you were about to be blown to bits, HAHAHAHA!!!!”

If I could have reached through my television and choked him, I would have.

–7–

If, like me, you missed the March for Life, here is a link from the official March for Life website to all kinds of photos and tweets and more links about the March; and here’s one that the head of the Woodbridge chapter of Life Runners sent out to all its members.  And if you were there, AWESOME, God bless you!  (And I’m jealous.)

Have a great weekend, and be sure to visit Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

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From Fine Cooking: Creamy Tomato Soup and Sandwiches

Unless  I want to change the name of this blog, I’d better do some posts about food already.

I’ve been getting Fine Cooking magazine for years (my dear mother-in-law just renewed my subscription as a birthday gift, yay!), and I think my favorite section is the one called “Make It Tonight.”  I’ve posted a number of those recipes here already.   Here’s a super-easy and delicious tomato soup I made one Tuesday night in November:

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TOMATO-CHEDDAR SOUP WITH HAM TOASTIES

3 oz (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened

1 small sweet onion, such as Vidalia, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 large sprig fresh thyme

1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)

2 14-oz. cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes and their juice

2 cups lower-salt chicken broth

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 slices deli ham, preferably Black Forest

2 Tbs Dijon mustard

1/4 cup heavy cream

4 oz. sharp Cheddar, finely grated (2 cups using a rasp grater)

Position a rack in the center of the oven.  Put a baking sheet on the rack and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt 2 Tbs. of the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium high, add the wine, if using, and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes to meld the flavors.

Meanwhile, make 4 sandwiches with the bread, ham, and mustard.  Butter the outsides of the sandwiches with the remaining 4 Tbs. butter and transfer to the hot baking sheet.  Bake, flipping once, until golden-brown on both sides, 6 to 10 minutes.

Remove the thyme sprig from the soup and blend the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Return the soup to the pot, stir in the cream, and bring just to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cheese, a handful at a time, until melted.  season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup with the sandwiches.

–Julissa Roberts

From Fine Cooking No. 125, October/November 2013, p. 19

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(Not sure why the fork.  Most likely I served a salad with it.  My sandwich is on gluten free bread, of course.)

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(MMMMMMMmmmmmmmm!!)

Hmmm, I have some cream left over from the oyster stew I made for New Years’ dinner (I posted the recipe here a couple of years ago).  I think I just might make this soup for dinner one night this week!

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Random Ridiculosity: Theme Thursday (on a Saturday)

We’re supposed to be in Indiana tonight, celebrating my cousin E’s wedding.  When Joe and I were married, she was seven years old and she was our flower girl.

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(Here’s E. at our wedding with my cousin S., who was four years old at the time. My grandmother made E’s dress.)

Now she’s all grown up and married.

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(S. is all grown up too. I had to get a picture of them together when we had my parents’ 50th anniversary party this summer.)

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(Here she is with B, the man she married today. The other girl in the picture is E’s younger sister.)

Instead we’re home.  Yesterday’s flight to Louisville was cancelled due to all the ridiculous weather; and to make a long story short, we weren’t able to book a flight that would get us there in time that without having to spend tons more money, not to mention the price of a hotel for the night–assuming we would even be able to get a room.  Even getting to the wedding in time would have been challenging.  And it’s supposed to snow a whole bunch in the midwest on Sunday, so we may well have ended up stuck.

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So we left Dulles airport, and had a nice dinner at Clyde’s in Reston Towne Center before heading back home.  (And I was this close to talking my marathon-running cousin J.–aunt of the bride–into going for a run with me in the freezing cold.  Dang.)

I did go running today in the cold–seven miles, my longest to date.  Ridiculous?  Maybe.  I’ve signed up for a 15K in two weeks.  Yikes!  Now if I can run more than three miles without needing a potty break I’ll be in business.  (Note to self:  Cut the coffee.)

This afternoon we went bowling, something we haven’t done with the boys in a long time.  It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

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(Curly just returned from a sleepover with some friends.  They slept only half an hour.  Ridiculous.)

And I just have to show you the ridiculously cute display they have at the bowling alley:

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I think my next post will be a recipe for a delicious tomato soup I made back in November. So easy it’s ridiculous.

Tomorrow is Epiphany Sunday.  When I returned from my 7-mile run today, Joe and the boys had taken down all the Christmas decorations.  I’m a little sad that Christmas is just about over, but I’m looking forward to getting back into a regular routine again.  So let me say one more time,

Merry Christmas!

(Check out Clan Donaldson for more Theme Thursday ridiculousness.)

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Why I Run With John

He ran to the tomb on the day of the Resurrection.  Peter ran with him, but John (no doubt much younger) ran faster.  He waited for Peter to arrive before entering the empty tomb.  Perhaps he was afraid to go in alone, but maybe he waited for his friend out of love for him.  When I’m running, John is often running beside me, especially on those days when my legs are begging for me to stop.  There have been times when he’s taken my hand and led me, sometimes running backwards and smiling at me, saying, “You can make it!”  I’m usually praying the Rosary, and he’s with me in almost every mystery (including the Joyful Mysteries, even though those events likely took place before John was born.  I’m running with Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and the shepherds who ran to the stable to see the infant Jesus.  But John is there.)  When Jesus is carrying His cross through Jerusalem, John and Mary are right with him–and me.  They’re beside Jesus when He is nailed to the Cross, and stay with Him until the end.  When the risen Jesus takes His disciples to the mountain just before he ascends into Heaven, John is running with me, urging me to hurry lest we miss it.  And he’s with Mary at the end of her life, when Jesus takes her into Heaven.

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Sometimes I imagine that there is a whole host of saints accompanying me on my runs.  Our lady is always with me.  The disciples of Jesus come with me, as well as St. Francis and St. Therese and John Paul II.  Perhaps next time I’m running with the Glorious Mysteries, I’ll run with St. Peter and together we’ll try to catch John–ha!  Sometimes St. Paul is there, encouraging me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus while running with perseverance the race that lies before me.  (That’s from Hebrews. I don’t think anyone knows for sure who wrote those words–perhaps it was Paul, perhaps it was someone else.  But Paul encourages me anyway.)  St. Pio, the patron saint of Life Runners, comes with me, too.

Today is the Feast Day of John.  I am not planning to run today, but my running buddy will definitely be with me while I’m puttering around the house, running errands, and whatnot.

Merry Christmas! (Yes it is still Christmas.  But you already knew that.)

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Five (ahem, SEVEN) Favorite Geocaches, Fall 2013

It’s almost Christmas and I probably should be posting about Advent wreaths and Christmas trees, but today it’s all about one of my current obsessions: geocaching.  Since September 1 I’ve found 78 geocaches (DANG, do I need to get a life or what?), and just for fun I’ve picked out seven of my favorites to highlight here and link to Hallie’s Five Favorites and Jen’s 7 Quick Takes.  Here they are in more or less chronological order:

1.  Coward’s Critter Cache #1

When I ran my first 5K in September (I mean the first one I actually ran) in Richmond, I wanted to find a few geocaches before heading home.  I found this one in a wooded area in an office park, and when I approached the hollow tree that was the hiding place, I found this.

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I was more amused than freaked out.  Tucked inside the rubber rat was a little metal tube containing the log sheet.

2.  Street Art in the Alley

When we visited my parents in Blacksburg for a weekend I went for a run, stopping to find a few geocaches along the way.  (I took so long that eventually Joe called me wondering where in the heck I was already, as my mother had breakfast on the table.)  This one was hidden just a stone’s throw away from the Baptist church I attended every Sunday from birth until I moved out of state.  (And then I became Catholic.)  One of the nearby businesses has a colorful mural painted on the back wall.  This is what I found:

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The little tube with the log sheet was stuck up the bug’s rear end.

3.  Living in a Van Down By the River

This one wasn’t really all that exciting–just a tube attached with a magnet to an electrical box on a traffic signal pole.  I found it in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, when we visited there for the Bloomsburg Fair.  I took an early Sunday morning walk to find it, and when I got there I was kicking myself for not bringing my good camera with me.  The blurry photo I took with my phone does no justice to the lovely scene before me.

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Nearby were some new businesses, and I expect if we return the fields and meadows will be replaced with more businesses and parking lots.

4.  BOOM ShockaLocka

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Just for the cuteness factor.

5.  Tow Mater Without the Tow

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It took me two tries to find this one.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked so closely at every inch of an old truck.

6.  Night Cache #19

One local cacher has placed a whole series of geocaches specifically for finding at night.  I didn’t take a photo here, but finding this one was kind of exciting in my own little nerdy way.  Here’s what I posted on the cache page:

That was way easier than I thought! Dropped off the boys at Massaponax HS for their dress rehearsal for Stage Door Production’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe this weekend. Arrived within 30 meters of GZ and almost chickened out at the thought of poking around in the dark, but then I noticed something shiny in my headlights. Is that the cache? Well there’s only one way to find out. I got out of my vehicle armed with my smartphone, a pen, and a flashlight, walked right to the shiny object that turned out to be the cache, and signed the log. I hope I have time to search for more of these over the weekend! TFTC!

That’s the only one of those caches I’ve found so far.

7.  Along the River

I took a short walk one afternoon to find this one.

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I need to take walks like this more often.

Be sure to check out Moxie Wife for more Five Favorites, and Conversion Diary for more 7 Quick Takes!  (Jenn asks her readers to tell her their favorite Christmas song.  Mine is “O Holy Night.”  Why?  Because the first time I heard it, my mother was singing it on Christmas Eve in church.  I might tell you more about it sometime, but it might make me cry.) Have a wonderful weekend!  Hopefully you’ll hear from me one more time before the 25th, but if not, have a very blessed Christmas!

 

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Life Running

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Catholic high school up the road holds an annual 5K to support their special education program.  Last year’s race was the first 5K I’d ever participated in.  Granted, I walked for most of it, but I had a great time and it made me realize that people who do these things are NOT looking down their noses at those of us who are slow and out of shape.  Everyone is there to have a good time and to support a good cause.  Everyone cheers for each other.  We applaud the ones who finish first, and applaud the ones who don’t.  We encourage the ones who are struggling.  Some run for speed, some not; and some walk.  We’re all there for one purpose.

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This year I took a young friend with me (My goddaughter, A.  She and her mom ran in the Turkey Trot with me in Williamsburg) who is on the cross country team at the school.  We headed to the chapel for a pre-race Mass, where I met some members of the Woodbridge, Virginia chapter of Life Runners.  I joined that organization recently, mainly because a). it is a good way for me to be more active in the pro-life movement; and b). it gives me a reason to keep running.  Who better to run for than Christ and the Unborn, after all?  I met the director of a mobile pregnancy resource center, who told me that when she was in the Legion of Mary, she was assigned to sidewalk counsel at an abortion center–which was something that she would never have dreamed of doing.  I don’t know if I would be up to that task, frankly.  Later she felt called to volunteer for a pregnancy help center, and ultimately to start one herself.  The local chapter of Life Runners actively supports that particular center, as well as Save the Storks and other national organizations.

After Mass (where Father told us about Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro, whose feast day we were celebrating that day, and who cried “Viva Cristo Rey!” at the moment of his martyrdom–WOW)  we gathered at the start line where we prayed the Life Runners Creed:

We believe in the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. We run as a Prayer, that children in the womb may be protected, so that they may be born and welcomed into the Christian community by baptism. We run to build Endurance, for the race is long and we must keep our eyes fixed on You Lord. We run for Awareness, that the eyes of all people may be transformed and see every human life as a reflection of Your glory Lord. We run for Charity, to provide Truth for mothers and fathers tempted to abort their child…and healing support for post-abortive women, men and families. We run to End abortion, for Christ has destroyed the power of death, and therefore the power of abortion. Guard us all, born and unborn, with Your PEACE, Lord.  For in You, life is victorious. We pray and run in Your name, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (source: liferunners.org)

I told myself I would make a point of memorizing that prayer, and pray it while running and before every race I do.  I still haven’t memorized it, and I think I prayed it once before one of my runs.  I did wear my Life Runners t-shirt in the last two 5Ks I ran, though; I think it will be my standard racing attire–”racing” is used here loosely, of course.  I’m just happy to finish!

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