Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Personal and Sensitive Topic; A Window into the Spiritual Side of Runninghood

I have this itch to write.  Like I really NEED to write.  Like I have something within me that I need to process or get out.  It isn't that easy for me these days.  You know, to sit down and just write and make something come out in a cohesive fashion that actually makes sense.  My thoughts are usually interrupted several times per paragraph with kids asking for something, fighting over a toy they are having trouble sharing, spilled drinks, scraped knees, and even happy things like cuddles, funny faces to look at, tiny giggles to be heard and moments not worth missing out on.  

My 21ish mile run yesterday was much needed! My goal was simple:  To get one last really long run in before my marathon and to run it slow and comfortable.  I planned on running 60-90 seconds slower than my desired marathon pace.  Just like I always used to do ALL my long runs before I started reading running books and blogs.  I missed this LSD (long slow distance) and I am convinced that I have not been running enough of my long runs like this.  Overall, I felt great!  My groin was thankful for my slow pace and I felt strong.  Most of it was without my Garmin because it died at mile 7.  

Note to self:  Do not put your ipod in your sports bra for a 21 mile run.  It will surely not handle the sweaty and warm environment well and will mostly likely quit working before you get through your first podcast!  This makes for a long and quiet run!  Just like I prefer I guess.  

 My 21 miles yesterday wasn't just a run.  It turned out to be a reconnection of sorts.  Reconnecting with myself, my beliefs, and with God. Ah, yes, I said God.  And this brings me to a rather personal and sensitive subject.  I'm convinced that spirituality, religion, personal beliefs can often be lumped in the category of Politics these days.  At least for me.  It is a subject I don't talk about often or publicly share my beliefs about but I've decided to share a few things today.  

It isn't easy for me to talk about my faith, spiritual beliefs and certainly not religion.  These subject run deep with me and I usually keep them to myself.  A little background and bulleted points:

  • Running has always been more than just exercise for me.  It has always been an emotional and spiritual experience for me. I often find myself connecting with God in the deepest ways when I'm on a run.  
  • I have BIG issues with TRUST when it comes to religion.  Faith isn't something that comes easy for me.  
  • I'm very open minded when it comes to accepting people of all walks.  
  • Religion is definitely something I struggle with and am hesitant to want to be seriously involved with.  
  • My faith in God and my spiritual walk isn't necessarily connected to one organized religion.  
  • I was raised a Jehovah's Witness until I was 12.  I was taught to believe that there was no other truth except this organization.  I never celebrated holidays (I was the kid in the library during class parties), my birthday, saluted the flag, or had friends that were not in my religion.  I believed in this religion with every fiber of my body.  Why wouldn't I?  This is the way I was raised and what I was told to believe.  This was what my brain was "washed" with for lack of a better term.  
  • At the age of 12 my parents (mom and step-dad) basically said :"Nevermind! We don't believe that anymore!"  
  • This was seriously one of the hardest things I've ever dealt with in my life.  It was like my life carpet (everything I had known or believed in) was ripped from underneath me.  My foundation was chopped up into little pieces and I was SO CONFUSED, angry, sad, scared and LOST!  It was almost like my parents were dead to me.  In a religious way, they were.  I started having nightmares every night and I have journal entries from that age where all I did was write how scared I was for my parents.  My friends wouldn't talk to me, family who were JW's disconnected from us, and people shunned us.  
  • I tried to keep going by myself but this didn't last long since a 12 year old really doesn't have many resources to organize rides, stay connected and keep on keeping on without parental influence.  
  • Shortly after this "Everything we ever taught you is wrong" part of my life, my parents started going to a reformed orthodox protestant church in Denver.  Yikes!! One extreme to the next.  This church had lots of legalism going on.  Lots of rules. Lots of Judgment.  Lots of lessons on why only some of us were going to heaven and the rest were going to hell.  Lots of focus on The reformers like John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Knox, etc.  Very little GRACE!  Very  Little CHRIST focus.  Very little LOVE in my opinion.  
  • I went from never believing in a hell to being taught that not only was there a hell but that God didn't love everyone (only the elect) and that everyone that wasn't chosen (and there were very few who were "chosen" according to them) was going to burn in hell fire.  OH MY!  
  • I went from one extreme to the next.  A life of living in FEAR!  
  • My family had some serious struggles during the time I was going off to college (driving myself to Iowa).  Our church kind of seemed to have us marked as "The sinners".  We just got more and more buried in our sea of shame and guilt and fear so eventually my parents stopped going to church and I was on my own again.  
  • I went off to college in Iowa (far away from this Denver church) and was one lost little girl.  Confused.  Scared Shitless.  This was one reason that running was a stressful thing for me.  I knew I had to run because it helped pay for college.  I knew I had to get good grades because it did the same.  So I worked my butt off.  Running and getting A's.  But still one confused kid!
  • I eventually got a letter in the mail from my church in Denver telling me they were going to basically kick me off their church roll for get ready for it...."Unfaithful attendance!"  What?!!  I'm in Iowa.  You're in Colorado.  
  • Yep, no letter or phone call of "Hey, how are you?  We love you and hope you are well."  Nope.  Just a "you've been a bad bad sinner for not coming to church".  I think they were also pretty shocked that I went to a school affiliated with a liberal denomination not related to them at all.  
  • This letter from them was a first step to my healing from religious abuse and confusion.  I hope I don't offend anyone with this term religious is from my personal heart/mind.  I don't at all mean to judge your religions.  I just think that there are churches out there that can use their power for abuse, making people fear, feel guilt etc.  This is what I was experiencing.  
  • I wrote a letter to them explaining that I no longer wanted to be a part of their church.  I explained to the what I had learned about LOVE along the way and how I was ready to live with LOVE and not fear and judgement of myself and others.  I chose to love ME.  For the first time really.  I chose to believe that I was loved and not shameful.  
  • This was also my first step to truly exploring Christ Jesus and who he was and what he stood for.  It was my first time seeing the Christ part of the Christian faith and realizing that there really were Christian faiths out there that embraced GRACE, LOVE, ACCEPTANCE and PEACEFUL LIVING.  
  • I still had a long way to go with faith and still do.  
This is the BIG thing for ME, Amanda, Runninghood.....

My entire life, no matter what "religion" I was part of, or what I was dealing with, the God that I had a relationship with has always been the same.  The God that I prayed to or that spoke to me from a very very young age has NEVER CHANGED.  Even when I changed religions from the Jehovah's Witnesses to the Protestant church, my prayers were always to the same BEING.  This is fascinating to me really.  Even though my beliefs were changing or different beliefs were being taught to me, I never felt like my walk with "God" was any different.  And this is where my faith is strong.  I believe in God.  I believe that someone, something, somewhere LOVES ME and has been there for me all along....through my dad's death, the changes in religion as a child, losing my friends, seeing my brother almost die in a drunk driving accident, dealing with all the many wonderful and fearful moments of my life.  This relationship has never changed for me.  It is constant.  My Love and belief in God and God's love and belief in Me!

This brings me to how running comes into play with my spirituality.  I didn't really start running until I was 14.  I was home schooled during this time and I decided to get involved with the cross country team as a way to get involved and have a social life.  My brother was the runner.  10 miles a day.  He was kind of hard core.  I made fun of him.  I told him that it took no talent at all to run and that runners were stupid.  Funny that he was the one that bought me my first pair of running shoes and got me to join the team.

For the first time in my life, I had an EMOTIONAL release!  And I was good!  I was good at this thing called running and it filled my soul immensely!  As much as it was a release for me, I also brought all my fears, anger, confusion, and hurt with me when I ran and this often came out in weird ways....puking before and after my workouts and races, crying A LOT, being way too hard on myself for not being able to run the way I should have.  I would run repeat 800's at 2:45/2:50 for six to eight of them but then when it came to being expected to perform, I was one BIG HOT MESS!!!  Luckily, I had a mentor/father/friend relationship with my coach and he was also the school counselor.  He was hard on me but also patient and loving and he believed in me (this is another blog post).  I never could get myself to run the times I knew I had the potential to run but every once and awhile, I'd have break through moments where all my baggage would chill for a bit and I'd run like the wind and then be scared to death to do it again.  

During my first 8 years of running competitively, I realized that my long runs were often prayers for me or conversations with God.  I would have moments of clarity and peace.  Often I would almost hear God and come back with a feeling of having had one big long HUG and reassurance that I really was loved and that someone was watching out for me.  I wasn't alone like I often felt.  

So, yesterdays run....
It was a gift.  My Garmin and Ipod shutting down were blessings.  Once I realized that I was going to be running a very long run with only my thoughts to listen to, I began to pray.  I prayed about so many things that I've been needing to focus on.  I had a real, solid, quality conversation with my God.  And I could feel God with me, through me, next to me.  Towards the end of the run, it had been awhile since my long prayer.  I was just focusing on my breath and my visions of my marathon.  I was happily tired.  

At mile 21ish I had a half mile left.  Just then I started talking to myself but I didn't realize what I was saying really until I had tears running down my face.  I am convinced that it was God, my God reassuring me of how much I am loved.  These are the words I was whispering to myself when I finally caught what I was saying:
  • You are amazing Amanda
  • You are a child of God
  • You are good enough and wise enough
  • You have been given many gifts and you have the responsibility to use your gifts for yourself and for others.
  • You were NEVER alone.
  • You have always been loved and cared for deeply
  • All that your life has been has been for a bigger purpose
  • You ARE LOVED!
So, there we go. This is probably the most personal I've ever gotten on this blog.  I rarely write about things that I'm this sensitive about but it was one of those moments that I just felt right about getting it out and giving you a bigger window into my world, my heart, my soul.  



  1. You know from my last email just what this means to me. :) Thanks for writing about this. I just got back from my 9 mile training run and it was gorgeous. You know why...I did the same thing you did...took the speed back a notch and conversated and listened and enjoyed every single step. You are amazing. :)

  2. This is lovely. We are all limitless beings, capable of infinite love and greatness …however we choose to define that :) You have such a beautiful spirit, Amanda. I am fortunate to have met such a deep soul.

  3. Aww. Good run! Sometimes especially during those long runs you just gotta take it slow. 21 miles is a long distance and when doing it alone you think about everything. Makes for a great stress release too. At the end of the run anyways. lol

  4. hi,
    okay, sorry but now i'm chuckling at your p.s part on voting;-)

    okay back to post part. thx so much for sharing your world. wow, what an experience.

    I love how running connects us to this pure, simple and raw understanding that we are loved and are never alone.

    and that's the truth;)

  5. This is amazing. Wow, you gave me chills! So eloquently put, and such a wonderful experience for you to share. I know that it can be taboo to link running and God, but really I think that there is no better way to glorify him then to use the amazing body he gave us and put it to work.

    I can't wait until you write this book you've talked about before because your words are amazingly powerful and make my soul happy!

    You my dear are an amazing gift to this world!

  6. Thank you, thank you for sharing this!! It never is easy sharing about the most inward, personal things in our lives with others... but this was truly a blessing to read!!

    God is truly amazing and LOVES us through all of our sin and flaws... he forgives us and is with us always and wants us to be happy!! Such an amazing God!!

    I got chills reading the last part, the things you were wispering to yourself... such assurance! It's great that God can reach us in moments that are so perfect in timing!! :)

  7. I think running is very spiritual. I could turn this comment into something very long, but the gist of it is, your relationship with God is very personal, and that's something you should never be ashamed of. I'm Irish Catholic, and I pray to God every day. I'm so thankful that I have Him in my life.

  8. That was an amazing post. You are a strong woman! And I'm glad you are taking your long runs as a time to let your mind think what it needs to think. I know that sounds odd, but long runs are always peaceful in a way.

    Congrats on coming through a difficult situation. I do not attend church and never will again. I grew up Catholic, didn't like it, and didn't know why. Then I went to college, and learned a few things. I am happy with my belief system and don't need a church to tell me I'm a good person or a bad person.

  9. That's a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your experience! :)

  10. I love this, and I love you (is that OK and not weird?). Great post with a ton of courage behind it. I know that this was written for you, but I also could bet that it was written for someone else who can relate and be encouraged by the struggle and abuse (yes, I validate your use of that word!) you endured and came through, stronger in yourself and stronger in your faith in God. It takes a brave woman to talk about God and faith, and possibly a braver woman to speak of Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for sharing, and congrats on an awesome run!

  11. Amanda,
    I am so glad you shared this! I couldn't agree more. Running allows me to connect with God, to pray, to be real with myself and with HIM. I feel as if God shows me His will and his desire through running sometimes, we just have to listen. I love your vulnerability. Please keep it up.

  12. Love the P.S. at the end:))
    Great post. Such a difficult subject to talk about in public sometimes, I think because so often as individuals we don't actually "know" what we believe exactly. I like you believe in something, but have seen some crazy contradictory stuff come from within the various church walls. Be good to other people, be good to yourself in the order that applies most at the time.
    Fantastic post!
    P.S. I voted!

  13. Thanks so much for sharing this. It was amazing. YOU are amazing.

  14. Awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Wowzers! So much to comment on. Perhaps an opportunity for me to just keep it short and sweet for once.....

    First of all, I could never really express how much I enjoy your writing! You could literally make a pile of shit interesting....

    Second, I'm amazed at how candid you are and the risks you are willing to take by putting yourself out there. I SO admire that in you and perhaps that's something that draws me TO you as I'm quite different in this aspect. As obvious by your comments, you've established SO many real sincere connections with people through your blog. SO many people appreciate you and feel appreciated BY you. Amanda is a blessing and friend to many.

    I'm so happy you had a great run and such an "awakening" during it. You ARE amazing Amanda! Love you:)

  16. Thanks for sharing. I haven't had nearly as much of a religious ride, but do recall when I finally got the whole God thing in my late 20's. Once I did, I had an amazing peace come over me, kind of like the peace you get running long. That's not to say I still don't do dumb things or have stressful times, but when I step back and think about it, God is good and he is good to me.

  17. Thanks for sharing Amanda. I have had some of my best conversations with God during runs. When I get lonely, I always picture myself running with Jesus- and Jesus ALWAYS is a tall, skinny runner, lean, muscular and wearing short shorts (but not too short that it's weird).
    I'm truly sorry for your experiences, but grateful that your run was wonderful and shared with God :)

  18. I'm another who was brought up in a very religious family.We were strict Baptists - no dancing, no drinking, no bikinis, no ear-piercing, no fun! Church was a place of judgement and criticism. There was very little love. In fact I have met more people with god-like qualities out of the church than in. The problem is religion is a man-run institution and all men are flawed so how can their institutions be perfect? And I have never felt more close to God than out in nature running - a feeling that I never had in church.

  19. God doesn't change...religion does, however! Similarly, my parents changed religions several times while I was growing up. My sister and I tried to be anchors for our seven brothers, but as adults many of them harbor doubts. I can't blame them - what a confusion childhood - but I am always there for them no matter where their faith is.

  20. What an amazing experience. This post really touched my heart. Thank you for sharing. I think it is just amazing that God cares about and knows each one of as individuals! This post makes me want to be and do better so I can feel that sweet spirit that you described so beautifully in your writing.

  21. Part of a longer e-mail sent to me from a friend who read this. Loved it and wanted to share with this thread:

    Amanda, I just wanted you to know how much I loved and appreciated your blog post on spirituality. You really put yourself out there, and you did it with grace. These past few years of my life have been a spiritual awakening of sorts, and I'm continually amazed at how life keeps revealing itself in new ways. I consider it an incredible blessing to feel opened up to my own spirituality--I think it's why we're here really, to discover God in ourselves. It's amazing to sort of "watch" someone discovering that in themselves, but I think that's what you're doing by sharing your life through your writing--allowing others to "see" you grow as a spiritual being. (That, and watch you run really fast and far! Ha!)

  22. Yes, this is a sensitive topic. I get why it is, but it really should not be. Everyone should be able to construe their own spirituality whether it comes in the form of organized religion, or nature, or values, or running. Spirituality is such an important factor in mental health. I think many people stray away from deeply thinking about their own spirituality. My husband, for ex., grew up catholic and he can't even have a conversation about it with someone like me, who is a skeptic when it comes to how organized religions construe God. Many people go through life going to church every Sunday but never really knowing why. Your experiences are so touching, Amanda, and I can only imagine how challenging that time was for you. But, I always see the silver lining, and most likely those experiences allow you to grow and think for yourself, and you will be a better parent and person for that.
    P.S. I voted:)

  23. amanda, how faithful is our God that He pursues us and whispers TRUTH to us even through the upbringing like you had?! All that you were whispering to yourself was TRUTH. He died for our sins so we could be pure and blameless in His sight, loved unconditionally, saved by GRACE...He is a God who pursues us for RELATIONSHIP with Him, not religion. Thank you again, for being so open and vulnerable to a virtual world. I think many will contemplate and re-examine who God is in their life through your writing. Thank you for your boldness and honesty in your spiritual journey. Thank God that "He never leaves us or forsakes us." It saddens me that there are legalistic churches out there like the one you went to as a child that could teach condemnation. Our God is not a God of condemnation but of grace. Thanks again, Amanda. Oh, and I voted! :)

  24. Wow, thank you for writing this. I'm going to email you :) Thanks for being genuine in sharing your story, and for using your talents to glorify God - through that, so many of us are blessed.

  25. This was a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. I know I struggled with organized religion, and still do, but I talk to God almost everyday. I can't get through life without Him and wouldn't want to try. No matter what church I go to or what believers I meet, I just remember that God is love. If we love, we are succeeding in God's plan!

  26. One line really struck me (well, a lot of them did, but this one particularly stood out):

    Religion is definitely something I struggle with and am hesitant to want to be seriously involved with.

    This is really true of me in some ways that I'm not able to put out there as openly as you have. And my religious journey isn't nearly as jarring as yours has been. I will say that changing churches--something I never planned or expected to do--has definitely opened my eyes more to a relationship with God rather than just following along in church on Sunday, which is what my youth and early adulthood was...going and doing what I was supposed to do and hoping that eventually some feeling would kick in where what I was doing really meant something to me.

    So thank you for being so open and honest and sharing your path. I'm sure you'll find that you aren't alone in how you feel, you're just better at sharing it with others.

  27. You mentioned in a previous post you were raised JW as I like to call it; I was as well. The weird kid who was always singled out and excluded from mainstream events. I was, like you also home schooled for a few years in my latter years of school. Thanks for sharing something so personal.
    Although I don't goto "church", when people in my small,mainly conservative town ask what church I goto I tell them, " my church is my long solo runs on Sunday." I have also found myself talking outloud and tears on my face.. It is the closest I've ever gotten to Him. Thanks again for sharing, really, really confirms my issues of fear. Fear of failure,fear of the unknown, fear of lack of control.... Yep, anything based on fear one should be wary.
    Can't wait to hear you rr for your marathon! Go kick ass!!

  28. SO much I could write here, but so many others have put things well. We'll just need to meet in person some time and talk over coffee. :) ...while the kids play.

    Really really glad that your ipod and garmin shut down for the day. That was not an accident! The conversation was just waiting for the right time. :)

    Also glad that you found a pace that is good for your long run- I get so caught up in trying to beat my last 20 or 22...not always good!

    Hugs to you! And yes, all those whispers are TRUTH.

  29. Thanks for taking a risk and putting this out there. This post really struck a chord with me and has made me think about my relationship with religion too. It was fate that I would stumble upon your blog and be able to have someone who was experience something similar to me and willing to share it!

    Keep being your awesome self! The world needs more people like you!

  30. Wow, what a crazy upbringing! That must have been tough. Organised religion can cause so much hatred and division, it's frightening.

  31. I think it is wonderful that you posted this.
    I feel like, too often, people who don't fully fall under the category of one religion and one denomination aren't allowed to talk about their beliefs. But they are personal beliefs and the key is to find the beliefs (or even the lack of beliefs) that suits you and makes you happy.

  32. Thank You so much. I am seriously crying! In some ways I can relate to this on so many levels. I truly commend you for such a vulnerable post. I think your an amazing athlete but its post like this that bring me to your blog! Running is very spiritual and a form of release for me! Im so glad your run went like it did! Have a great week girly!!!

  33. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful and heartfelt post. Religion and God and Jesus should never make anyone feel scared or shameful or anything bad. those feelings do not come from God. You are right... it is about love.

  34. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing that with us readers. It sounds to me like you are a very smart, brave woman who has made some difficult choices. I think it's wonderful that after all of that you can still have faith in God and in yourself. Love is a sweet thing.

  35. Wow...HUGS!! Thank you being a light for Christ and sharing your journey! So thankful and happy that you know God's grace and love!! It makes me sad to hear stories where PEOPLE feel the need to make others try to earn or be "good enough".

    God loves us just the way we are and has given us the gift of forgiveness (FREE, no strings attached) and relationship!

    I love the gift of running and how it brings it close to God! I also love blogging and how it has brought so many women who love God and work every day to grow closer in their walk!

    I'm here for you and happy that you are RESTING in God's LOVE! It's all you need!

  36. Amazing post today Amanda! Everybody said what I wanted to say so much more eloquently! God was definitely speaking to you in so many ways. Happy Monday.

  37. Great post!!! It is amazing the connection you feel when you allow God in.

  38. You are such a exiquisite writer--connecting so many ideas and bringing us full circle in one post! I loved reading about your journey of Faith; it is a process and God really wanted to connect with you!

    I was thinking about you last night realizing that your marathon is approaching soon! I'm so excited for you and hope you get to run the race YOU deserve!

  39. Bravo Amanda! What a brave post. I love it and really respect you for putting it out there. Your garmin and ipod died for a reason...

  40. It's really brave of you to put it all out there like this. I know what you mean about it being like politics when it comes to discussing it with others. I think we all are worried about offending others that sometimes we don't share what we really think or feel. I'm sending you an e-mail so that I don't write a novel on here. But I admire you and your strength. I also know that all those things you were saying to yourself were from God. He does love you and you have so much to offer and share with the world.

  41. aaaaaghhh JUST read this! this is amazing, amanda! THANK YOU so much for your honesty- your journey is beautiful.

  42. I voted for your blog because of posts like this one.

  43. Wow..the power of organized religion to really mess a soul up is quite simply amazing. I grew up the non-Mormon kid in an 80% Mormon county in I've found therapy helps.. :)

  44. Amazing post! So raw and uncut! I love reading about other peoples feelings regarding their faith and whatnot. You truly have a beautiful soul :)

  45. Wow- that was one of the most POWERFUL posts that I have read on a running blog!

  46. Awesome awesome post. I was raised in church too -- Lutheran, episcopalian, non-denominational... And I thought going from episcopalian to non was severe! :) I'm still figuring things out for myself but it was nice to hear your story and ups/downs, and especially to see that you never turned your back. I have heard a few sermons about how it's "not religion, it's a relationship (with God of course)", and I think you have that down. Thanks for sharing!

  47. Running is often a spiritual experience for me too. I am not a crier, but sometimes I have pent up emotion that I need to get out--and I like to say that I sweat my tears. I usually have worship music in my playlist and sometimes I'm so moved by the release of running and the words of the music I just want to put my arms and worship while I run. It is so true that no matter what, it's the daily relationship with God that matters most.

  48. Amanda, What a very inspiring post. It is true we don't choose our religion when we are young. As we get older we learn and see more and have the choice of which direction to go!! I was born and raised Catholic but am not a strict Catholic. I believe we all come from the same God and he loves us all. He also guides us from childhood to adult.