Sunday, November 24, 2013

Filling the void


    Having recently fallen in and out of love I've thought a lot about that void.  You know, the void inside each human heart.  It's not something that we're always conscious of but I am confident we are all made with the same hole.  I know that before I fell in love I was barely aware of its existence.  I mean, I occasionally knew I was lonely...usually on holidays or when I went to weddings alone.  Or when someone asked me why I wasn't married yet.  Or when I had to rake the lawn by myself.  

     Vaguely I was aware of a longing.  I had had a boyfriend before that I thought I liked.  I mean, as far as I could tell.  But when it ended I was only sad for a day or two and more because I missed the attention (though honestly at the time I had no idea what love was and thought I was feeling much more than I was).  But really, there was no void, like a part of me was missing.  

     I had read of people who had unsuccessfully tried to fill it with money, power, lust or pleasure.  I had read of the enslaving power of addictions, drugs, alcohol, sex.  Never having experienced this need I had very little empathy and no understanding of people who went down this road.

    Long before I knew our relationship wouldn't work out, I was overwhelmed by the emptiness I felt inside.  Just being separated left me feeling that way.  My life revolved around it.  Suddenly, this void within me that had barely existed a year ago filled my every thought, word and action.  I couldn't begin to look to the future.  I couldn't make permanent decisions.  I couldn't commit to trips or events.  And I lost all desire to be with the people who did fill my life.

    There were many names I called it: detachment, loneliness, pain, aridity, desolation; but what it came down to was that I had a huge emptiness within me that I had never felt before.  And until that person came into my life and stretched that void out, I had never sensed that there needed to be someone there.  I spent a year asking God to distract me from my sorrow, to take away the pain or to return this person into my life.  I spent a year in confusion, waiting for God to act, ready to hope with the least little urging.  As many times as I said, "Lord I trust in you," I cried in pain.  

    Then everything ended with a resounding bang.  I was left holding this big, empty void inside, knowing with certitude that it would never be filled by the person who made me aware of it and quite forgetting that He was waiting patiently, the One who created it.  Winds blew, thunder crashed, rain fell and all within me clung to the raft of knowing God was there but not feeling God was there.  I have never felt so alone.

    But God is good.  And He allows things like this for His unseen purposes.  I have learned so much from this journey and count on His goodness to discover so much more.  I realize now that though I was not cognizant of this void, it was always present and until I came on this adventure I was not aware that in approaching relationships I was looking at each man as a potential person to fill this space and give me what I wanted: make me feel beautiful, loved, desired, cherished, wanted.  

   And this is impossible.  Because we each of us have a void that only Christ can fill.  When you come into a relationship, whether it be a friendship or a marriage, you cannot consider someone based solely on how they fulfill your needs.  You will never find someone who can do that.  Once you place that person in the void you will once again find yourself lonely, needing something more and being disappointed.  

    Healthy relationships are three legged stools.  If God is not the glue holding you together, if He is not the third leg holding you up, if he is not filling the voids within our human hearts, then we will spend the rest of our lives searching...and not finding...what matters most to us: true love.

"To understand its power, one must realize that love does not mean to have, to own, to possess; but to be had, to be owned, to be possessed. It is not the using of another for the sake of self, but the giving of self in order to help another. For one who lives in isolation, love becomes selfishness."  ~Fulton Sheen On Love

Friday, November 15, 2013

Es la vida!

     I decided to learn Spanish on my 30th birthday.  I remember giving myself a decade goal: I will learn Spanish before I turn 40.  I guess I was being generous with myself to give myself 10 years to learn a language.  Five months later I invested in Rosetta Stone.  Two months later I went to Asia and forgot to restart upon my return.  Two years later I fell madly, crazily, once upon a time, forever and ever, you're the only one I'll ever love, in-love with a Spaniard.  I came home convicted: I had to learn Spanish.  I resumed Rosetta Stone and upon reaching anything beyond "manzana" (apple) or "hablo" (I speak) I was completely lost.  So I researched and everyone seemed to say, "The best way to learn is immersion."  So I went abroad.  Six weeks in an immersion program.
      I learned.  Slowly.  Very slowly.  I came home and enrolled in a college level Spanish class.  Three semesters later I was still learning.  Very slowly.  Is it this difficult for everyone when they learn a new language?  Am I especially stupid?  I find it very, very difficult.  I study, I watch Spanish TV, movies and listen to the radio.  I listen to Spanish music.  I email Spanish friends.  I talk on the phone with my Spanish relatives.  And yet...I just don't get it!  I understand words.  I understand phrases.  I understand you are speaking in past tense.  Future tense.  Present tense.  But what in the world do you mean?!?!  When will it all click?  Is there a magic moment when I'll just GET IT??  :o(
      Granted I can see progress.  I have definitely come a long way from "I speak" but I want to understand!  I want to converse!  I want to find meaning in what I hear and read, when I hear and read it.  Not five minutes later when I have translated half the words in my head and left the other half out!  I want Spanish to be to my mind what English is.  And, seriously, I begin to doubt that it is ever possible.  Of course I can't give up yet.  It has only been one year.  But I am discouraged.
       Many times during this lingual adventure, when I have come across an obstacle, I have thought that God is not necessarily asking me to learn Spanish.  Rather, He is asking me to try.  And as I continue to study, I will keep reminding Him that He is the one who created all these languages at the tower of Babel and with just a little help He can help me learn just one of them.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

For Granted

"Blindness separates people from things;

deafness separates people from people.”

Hellen Keller

Sight, smell, taste, SOUND.  All things I take for granted.  As I would guess, do many of you.  So why am I thinking about being without? For two reasons really. One is my best friends is scheduled to have a cochlear implant surgery in 9 days.  For over forty years she has been losing her hearing and now is completely deaf in both ears.  Because the hearing loss has been gradual, she has never really learned sign language.  She communicates almost entirely through lip reading.  And though she does this well, there is no substitution for genuine keys jingling, clocks ticking, faucets running...

The other is I just finished reading the book she recommended to me called, He is not me - A deaf childhood. A hearing adulthood. One life. by Stuart McNaughton.  The book is written by an Englishman who was deaf until age 23 when he underwent a cochlear implant surgery.  He writes clearly and concisely (granted, he could use a good editor!) about his childhood, never quite belonging or feeling like a whole person in his effort to communicate with a hearing world.  His book ends 11 years after his hearing is restored and he has enjoyed a fast-paced career, traveled the world, and met all kinds of people. He labels himself an "in-between" not deaf but not hearing.  Most of the story is a personal journey of maturity and self discovery but at the same time he illustrates almost poetically what it was like to hear a bird for the first time, the waves, or even his mother's voice on the telephone.  Much of his book focuses on human relationships, some failed, some successful, and how the gift of hearing played a major part in their outcomes.  Inspiring but also humbling.

In reading about how the implant operates I am even more blown away with the way the human ear works!  In order for an implant to be successful the auditory nerve must be intact.  The cochlea, where the device is implanted, is the small snail looking thing in the inner ear.  Normally sound travels down the ear canal, vibrates the ear drum, crosses along three tiny bones through a window into the cochlea where it bends little tiny hairs inside the middle canal, causing an electrical current to send information along the auditory nerve into the brain.

Normal hearing aides work by increasing the sound crossing through all these conductive membranes.  However, the most common cause of hearing loss is the death of the cilia or little hairs in the cochlea.  There is no longer anything left to make electric currents to send to the brain so no matter how loud the sound is going in, there is nothing to convert it to something the brain can understand.

A cochlear implant bypasses all these things: external ear canal, ear drum, middle ear.  Small electrodes are placed in the cochlea where they act as small hairs, creating electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve.  The electrodes are connected to a very tiny implant that surgeons place under the scalp.  In order for sound to convert to electricity, an external device must be connected to the implant.  This device processes and converts sound to digital information.  This information then transfers to the implant which in turn sends it to the cochlea via the electrodes and from there the auditory nerve is able to deliver the information to the brain.

Quite complicated!  And amazing!  I am so happy to see technology at its best: working together with medicine to improve and restore people's lives.  Do I think not having hearing is the end of the world?  Of course not!  One of the most interesting topics I found McNaughton covered was that some hearing impaired people who would benefit from a cochlear implant choose not to have one.  They don't want to change.  Being deaf is a part of who they are.  And that is understandable too. My experience in life is if you are content with what you have and who you are, then most likely you are in a better place than the majority of the population!  But for those who do want more, what a blessing to have this option!  And for something that even fifty years ago would have been impossible, what an inspiration for all of us to keep looking for our own miracles in life.

Monday, November 4, 2013


So, I am a runner.  I can't tell you how long it's taken me to say that! I began running almost two years ago when I thought I wanted to join the reserves and "do something for my country." Somehow, through God's divine Will, I was led away from that adventure but running stuck.  I went from one mile a day to three and a long run on weekends.  I went from running my first 5k fun run at a local high school (and feeling like I was going to die) to training for my first marathon this month.  All of a sudden people I had known for years took up running and started running with me.  We started running clubs, ran races together and formed running support groups online.  Seriously, it was weird.  But even with two half marathons under my belt, countless other races, and running paraphernalia scattered throughout my home, I still had trouble saying I was a runner.

I'm not exactly sure why.  It wasn't that I had some elevated idea that only olympians could be runners.  One of the things I absolutely love about running is that ANYONE can do it and enjoy the experience. It's something that you do by yourself, for yourself and at the same time can share and enjoy with all those around you.  It's competitive but for me, the competition is really with myself.  Can I better my time, can I push a little harder and still feel good at the end of a run, can I go a little longer than last time, a little further than before?  And when I do, I can just be happy for me. And when I don't that's okay too, because not only is there always next time, but what the heck?! I'm running! Me?!

Which brings me to yesterday when I suffered my first real injury.  To my knee.  I spent all day yesterday and today icing, taking ibuprofen and elevating the stupid thing.  And my marathon is only 26 days away! (How ironic! For a 26 mile race...). Already it feels so much better but can I stop dramatizing the fear that I won't be able to run this race? No! That I did some real damage and may be off the trail for weeks or even months?  No!  Ay ay ay.

It's like when I first brought my beautiful golden retriever home and he started to limp. Someone suggested he had hip dysplasia and though at the time I didn't know what that meant, I knew it meant something bad and assumed that I would have to put him down (don't ask, I think I tend to over-react to bad news).  I spent the whole day fighting off tears, desolate that I would lose my beautiful puppy just after he had come into my world.  Of course 11 years later he is still going strong and runs all my short distances with me like a champ.  But for that one day in time I couldn't see anything but the bleakest of landscapes...

So to counteract this one-man self pity show (err one-woman show, I don't think men jump through emotional hoops like we do!) I'm going to focus on all the good running has brought to me thus far. Because I know even if I'm sidelined on this adventure for now, I'm still on it, maybe gimping along with my knee, but still going down this path.

1. Stress relief: Running has been such an outlet for tension these past 2 years! As I may go into at some point, life has been more than difficult at times and often the only way I could release that pent-up energy and pain was on an empty dirt road, running it off, until I was too tired to worry.

2. Clarity of thought: This goes along with stress relief.  How much time you have to just think when you are at a slow jog for hours on end! And to put things into perspective. And pray.  Many times I've started a long run confused or depressed about some issue in life only to finish with a new insight, resolution or grace to keep going.

3.  Health: Along with health of mind has come health of body.  I love that I can go for long bike rides or hikes without getting short of breath. I love that when I spend the day sight-seeing or at the beach I have the stamina to enjoy it all and take it all in.  I love that when I mow the lawn or weed in the garden, I'm not down for the count after twenty minutes of manual labor.  I love that when I'm playing with my 12 nieces and nephews I have the ability to laugh and interact whether it's the mental exertion of concentrating on toddler gibberish or playing ball in the backyard.

4.  Appearance: Since starting running I have lost 25 pounds.  I now look and feel healthy.  I like how my clothes fit.  I like being a "normal" size.  And though I don't feel like a supermodel, I am comfortable with my appearance in a way I never was when I was overweight (actually, I'd probably be uncomfortable if I did look like a supermodel, never having looked that way before!).

5. Achievement: One thing I never thought when I was young was that I would be a runner.  Those were long, skinny people who never got short of breath.  Every milestone in my running life can be summed up in one caption: I CAN do this!

6. Friendship: Running has brought some beautiful friendships into my life, whether from early morning training runs, before race jitters, after race get-togethers or just casual conversation ("You run?! So do I!") I'm truly grateful for the friendships that have sprung or deepened from this sport.

7. Perseverance: Something that has crossed over into my life from running is perseverance.  Running has taught me that even if today is a bad run, tomorrow will be a good one. Or even if this run started off bad, if I run long enough it will be a good one.  I have had so many days where I wasn't feeling the love until the third or fourth mile, but once I hit that coasting point, everything was good.  What if I had stopped at mile two? I would never know how great mile six feels.

8. Fidelity: I have also learned how difficult starting is and the fear of losing the ground I've gained.  For instance if I stop running for two weeks, how painful will it be when I go back? Or in one month?  I remember vividly how painful those first few weeks of running were!  But if I stay faithful to the little runs, I can run the long ones no problem...sound familiar? Yes, I just compared running to Mother Teresa's quote, "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large."

9. Sacrifice: It's cold, it's rainy, it's dark, I have company, I'm on vacation!!  I'm tired, I worked night shift, my throat hurts, my nose is runny, my muscles ache, I'm too hungry, I'm too busy, I'm too depressed...if there is an excuse I can make it! But some of my best runs have been when I had to overcome my self will and go out in the snow, take off in a foreign city, miss an hour of sleep, or overcome the total malaise that come with hormones once a month.  Was it worth over-coming the temptation to self-indulgence? Every time, YES!

10. Hope:  I wish I could remember exactly how he puts it but our pastor explains hope as an active virtue.  If you really hope for something, you prepare for it, you plan for it, and you wait for it.  Each small run is preparation for a long run and each long run is preparation for a race I hope to participate in.  During a race I am pacing myself to reach the end as quickly as I can without burning out beforehand.  The same thing happens in life.  My hopes and dreams are yet to be realized in many ways. But I trust that with each challenge, each trial, and each opportunity that God is preparing me for something more, both in this life and in the next.  He has a beautiful plan.  Running has shown me that it is living in the moment that counts and I am finding this to be true in life also.

So with that in mind I am going to try and un-dramatize (de-dramatize?) myself.  Who knows? Maybe in a few days I'll be up and running. Or maybe in a few months after surgery and physical therapy I'll be back on the trail. It doesn't really matter. Because I am a runner. And I know I'll be back.