Thursday, July 24, 2014

Being known

This blog was initially set up as a means for family and friends to get a weekly update on my life in Germany. In recent weeks, I have found myself using it for a different purpose; re-reading and reflecting on previous posts that described how I was dealing with certain situations. The most obvious example being my comparison between the post I wrote the day I left Germany, and the post I wrote exactly a year later.
Over the past week or so I have found myself reflecting on the post here that I wrote within the first three months of being in Germany. That post was written within a week of my birthday, which I am sure made me a little more emotional, as it was my first birthday in a new country. What struck me about the post I wrote almost six years ago is the way in which I was trying to voice my desire to be known. To have those around me who understand me, who know me, who get my sense of humor (whether or not they laugh is a different matter). Though it occurred almost six years ago, I still distinctly remember having a conversation with my close friend, Timmy, on my birthday about the topic of being known. I remember comparing my personality to a suitcase that is lost while traveling. In the case of the suitcase, it is still in transit, it is coming, and will arrive at some point – yet you aren’t entirely sure when it will show up at your doorstep. In the same way, I felt as though different parts of my personality were still in transit. At the time of the post, there were many people who didn’t know about my love of soccer and running. There were those who didn’t realize I use sarcasm in my humor. People did not yet fully understand me, nor did they truly know me.

The reason this particular post has recently been on my mind is because within the past week I traveled to Texas for a wedding of a very close friend from BFA. Throughout the weekend there were close to a dozen different people from BFA present, and the weekend was spent laughing, talking, sharing, and celebrating. Though I had never been to Houston before, being with those people made everything feel like home. I was with people who knew me. We cracked the same jokes we had grown accustomed to over the years. We played the same card games we played countless times before.  At the wedding reception we even had our own table reserved with the centerpiece reading, “BFA family” because that’s what we are.
Throughout the weekend I didn’t have to explain what BFA stood for, what the relationships with everyone are like, why it was such a beautiful place….those I was with knew. They knew the places. They knew the lingo. They understand the transition.

After the wedding we were scattered to different airports throughout the country and a text message chain started. I believe the following text explains the weekend so well, “I loved the trip. I felt so blessed and refreshed. It’s like I got to remember this huge part of myself that people here don’t fully get.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mantra time.

The next marathon is still 65 days away, but my mind and heart have been focused on the next one for quite some time. With the race about nine weeks away, I have landed on two terms that will serve as my mantra. In the past, I have found that speaking out about mantras adds a lot of accountability. If I keep them to myself, nobody can refer back to them, nor can anyone challenge me (in a positive way) to continue to put forth the effort that is required. Posting about the mantras is an invitation for others to join in on the journey of the training, and to offer the accountability that is necessary to train. Therefore, the two phrases I have come up with for the race in Erie are; El Decima and All In.

El Decima:
Truthfully, I stole this from the media. (Brownie points to anyone who can figure out where the term was used most recently) The translation is essentially, "number ten." This is going to be my tenth marathon, and therefore after hearing El Decima used in the media, I thought it would also be fitting for this race. On a deeper level, the context in which I heard the term came from a team striving to do something that was unprecedented and extremely difficult to accomplish. It has served as a good reminder that I am working toward something that is not extremely easy. Some runs are hard (as mentioned in a previous post) Some runs are marked by heat, humidity and hills - a painful and tough combination. Sometimes I am extremely hard on myself when it comes to my running - yet a wave of refreshment comes when I sit back and remember that I will not cross the finish line tomorrow, it will take a lot of work and dedication.

All in: 
Of all the marathons I have trained for, none of my training regimens has been as intense and difficult as this one. In previous training regimens I would peak at 50 miles per week twice. In the roughly six weeks I have been training, I have eclipsed 50 miles per week four times. I have chosen one day a week where I run in the morning and focus on speed work, usually 800m hill repeats. Then, in the afternoon, I will go out again and get a longer (and slower) run in. My delightful double-days. While working at camps this summer, I have been getting up around 5.45am in order to get my miles in before the day of camp begins. I mention none of that in an attempt to boast. Rather, it is evidence to display the motivation I have to make this my fastest marathon yet.

El Decima is only 65 days away, and I'm going all in.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

365 days. A tough place, a tough time.

Exactly one year ago today, I sat down to type up a blog as I spent my final hours in Germany (You can read the post by clicking here). It was one of the most important posts I have written, and one that I feel did a good job of representing my emotions as I was leaving what had become home. In recent days I have been keenly aware of the fact that this day was quickly approaching. With that on my mind and heart, I wanted to sit down and type out my thoughts about the past 365 days.
Before I begin that, I want to say this: Pittsburgh had a disadvantage from the very start. To sum it up; there is no place I could have gone and been as happy as I was in Germany. In many ways, it did not matter where I was, it was going to be a tough year, simply because it was not Germany.

Things are not the way you left them.
There are two common stories I like to share that describes this point to perfection. The first is in the field of technology, when I first left for Germany, the iPhone was about one year old. I know that may be hard to believe, but it was just a baby. Even though it was a year old, it was not extremely well known. The lingo of "there's an app for that" was nowhere near commonplace. Today... it is hard to find someone that has a cell phone, that isn't a smart phone. Upon my return not only did I not own an iPhone... I had no clue how to work one. It is my perception that cell phones in this culture are not merely an accessory, they are a vital part of the body for so many. Side note: for the final two years I lived in Germany, I turned on my cell phone once every three months just to see if it still worked. I used it roughly twice a year.
Secondly, when I originally left for Germany, one of my closest friends was dating a girl, Sally. Five years later, I came back and saw this friend for the first time in five years, and he was no longer dating Sally, but was married to Carrie and they had a son. I met his son for the first time on the same day I met his wife for the first time - and he is one of my closest friends. The emotions of that day were very raw and hard to describe. I had so much happiness for finally meeting the two most important people in his life - yet, there was so much sadness and disappointment for missing his wedding and knowing the mother of his child was a complete stranger to me.
Things change. Rapidly. Things are not the same as they were when I originally left. Vocations change. Locations change. Relationships change. When I left, it was not as if everyone else's life was put on hold for five years while I was gone - in fact, it feels as if everyone else's life has been on fast forward and I have to catch up on everything I missed. Things are not the same as the way I left them, and that has been very strange and very difficult to adjust to.

Not being normal, is normal. 
Shortly after my return I entered a fantasy football league. I thought it would provide a good way to build some connections with those around me. We got together for 'draft day' and I was absolutely shocked at how little I knew in comparison to the others. While in Germany, I felt as though I paid close attention to the NFL - however, I did not know anything compared to the people I was with. They were spouting off stats from college, whereas I was trying to figure out which team he played for, and what position he played. I did not feel normal compared to everyone else...and that was a feeling I was commonly in tune with.
Things I valued others had no clue about. Things others valued, I couldn't comprehend nor contribute an intelligent sentence about. In many ways, I was supposed to be American, and be on the same page as everyone around me, but it felt as though I was in a completely different book. I was back in a country where I spoke the same language as those around me, yet felt as though I could better communicate with those who spoke a foreign language.
I soon found out that not being normal, was normal. It definitely wasn't easy, as I struggled with connecting with others and feeling as though I had some sort of significance I could contribute. After about six months I finally realized this point, and it brought such a great sense of release for me. It did not change the fact that I felt as though I struggled to fit into social situations around me. Yet, it allowed me to view the transition from a slightly different vantage point.

Family is not a place, but people.
Plain and simple, Germany felt like home. It still does. Within the past month I found myself in a restaurant in the small town of Findlay, Ohio. I was with five others who I had spent time with in Germany, some of my closest friends from that chapter of my life. As we reminisced and laughed someone noted how it felt like we were back in Germany. You could take the picture of us in that booth in Findlay, Ohio, and could have easily transported us to Ryan's in Germany, or O Reilly's in Switzerland. Being back with those people made me feel like I was home. In that moment, I truly believed that home is not a place, but the people you are with.
After coming to that realization, I recognized why I have spent so much time traveling over the past 365 days... it's so that I can feel like I am at home. Truthfully, I don't feel completely at home in Pittsburgh, so whenever I have the opportunity, I am traveling all across the country to find people who will make me feel as though I am at home. Whether it is a booth in Ohio, a burger join in California, a diner in Rochester, NY, a pizza place in Wheaton, IL, IBC in Lancaster, PA, or a Culver's in Florida... home is not a place, it is the people I am with. My heart has been homesick for the past year, and I have been traveling around to spend time with people that will make me feel as though I am home.

Throughout the year, I have been so thankful for many different opportunities to see so many people. Two facts to paint the perfect picture:
- In my five years in Germany, there was only one calendar year in which I saw my brother on more than one occasion. Since last July 1, I have seen him three times.
- From my first fall in Germany until last July 1, I saw my friend Ross two times. In the past 365 days, I have seen him four times.
I have been blessed, encouraged, and excited about the many opportunities I have had to spend time with family and friends. Seeing them on a more frequent basis has brought me so much joy. Not only have I been able to see them, but simply being on the same time zone allows for more frequent communication. Within my first few months of teaching I was constantly calling my mom with questions and asking for advice - something that was not easy to do at all from Germany. The opportunities have truly been a blessing.
There are two specific people who I have gotten to know over the past year, who have perhaps been the greatest aspect of living in Pittsburgh; Jonah and Emmaline. They are 15 months and six months old - and belong to my friend Caleb and his wife, and Dan and his wife. I first met Jonah when he was about three months old, and have seen him go through the stage of crawling, and recently learning how to walk. I met Emmaline within 48 hours of her birth, and have probably seen her for 20 of the 24 weeks of her life. Being able to see these two grow up has brought me so much joy. To talk with my friends as they go through these first months of their child's life has been amazing. After missing so many weddings, so many birthdays, so many milestones... I am able to watch these two kids grow up.

Running is amazing. 
It has been a tough year. It has not been easy. I did not think it was going to be easy, and the transition did not disappoint. One of the major ways I have processed my emotions and thoughts is through running. It is certainly a healthy thing for my heart in terms of my physical health - but I think it is even more beneficial for my heart in terms of my emotional health. Running provides me the opportunity to process and work through my emotions. Recognizing the difficulty of this transition, I do not find it at all odd that I am planning on running five marathons this year. I have grown in my running ambition, but I also recognize the benefits it brings my heart and mind. The number of miles and marathons I have tackled this year, is a reflection of the difficulty.

It hasn't been an easy year. There have been some ups, and a lot of downs. Truthfully, a lot of tears, confusion, and pain. Even in the midst of the struggle, I full-heartedly believe in the lyrics of the song I referred to in last year's post, a song that has been my theme song for the past 365 days:

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me in the dawn

In your everlasting arms
All the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end
I can trust you

In your never failing love
I can trust you
God whatever comes my way
I will trust you