Disturbed

Unsettled, bothered, disgusted, saddened, struck, angered, outraged, confused.

This just begins to describe how I feel after spending a weekend in the Red-light district of Amsterdam. I stayed with an inspiring inter-faith community that strategically lives in the middle of Amsterdam’s sex scene with the intention of being a light in a spiritually dark place. From a window I could see sex theatres advertising “live porn” shows and the street lined with prostitutes posing in windows, and sidewalks swarming with tourists. There were an uncomfortable number of groups of men on the streets. If you only saw the tourists and nothing else, you might think you’re in any major city. However, many tourists on those streets were there for porn shows instead of museums and were buying sex instead of souvenirs. I didn’t take any pictures. I couldn’t.

Disturbed simply to be there in the midst of the scene.

Unsettled because this is not the way things are supposed to be and I don’t feel like I can walk down the street and accept any of this as normal.

Bothered at how “legal” seems to usher in “acceptable.”

Disgusted at the way the men gawk at the women, objectifying God’s beautiful creation as a quick fix for their lust.

Saddened, because the glass she stands behind looks to me like a prison wall.

Struck, because I don’t want to accept that this scene is a reality.

Angered at the distortion of God’s creation and his good gift of sex.

Outraged by the knowledge that most of the women are not there by choice.

Confused because I don’t know how to swallow this and move on. My heart cannot understand.

I’ll never forget the shock I felt when I first entered the red-light district of Chicago to walk the streets and minister to the women. I came home to my dorm in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping and sat in the lounge for hours trying to process what I had just seen. I never became comfortable in that context, but as I heard the stories of women and encountered both police and pimps, I felt like I started to understand the horror and slavery of their lives. It was a very dark place and there was a certain secrecy to all that was happening. What I didn’t realize at the time was the way in which the darkness reassures you that what’s happening isn’t right. In the midst of so much heartbreak, the darkness brought a strange sense of comfort, because when light shone, it rebuked the deeds of darkness and they fled.

Now on the train back to Paris, I find myself again trying to process what I have experienced, although it feels like a completely new experience, primarily because of how everything is done in broad daylight in Amsterdam, as simply another tourist attraction. Even the darkness of night is shooed away by the many streetlights and red lights in the windows. People swarm the streets, laughing and joking and getting wasted. Prostitution is part of a big party scene, and because it’s legal, no one is hiding. All of this disturbed me. Deeply.

I don’t have a personal solution for my reaction, and in fact, I hope it doesn’t go away. Instead, may it motivate prayer for God’s Kingdom come and action for justice. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

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The Marathon I Didn’t Run

In the fall of 2012, I returned to Paris feeling energetic and positive after a much needed time of retreat in the States. I was glad to return home, and feeling better than I had felt in a very long time. I resumed my running schedule and to my pleasant surprise, I found myself logging hundreds of miles migraine-free. That was another first-in-a-long-time.

I registered for the Paris half and full marathons the day registration opened. I was so pumped! My goal and dream was to assemble a team to run in support of As Our Own in India, but alas, the spring enthusiasm of my friends had died away by autumn and I set out on the journey alone.

My 19-week training program started officially in December, but I was building up miles all throughout the fall. I was following a program of running five times plus 4-5 hours of biking every week. For the first 17 weeks, the training went well physically. There were aches and pains here and there, but nothing that really got me down. I did start to get worried when during my two 20-mile runs, my right ankle was in quite a bit of pain. The first run of this distance was hard to finish and I was limping for the rest of the weekend. During the second run, the pain was present but not as severe. There was also the day when, almost two miles into my run, I tripped and fell flat on the ground. I got up quickly and tried to catch my breath and assess my situation. My knees were scraped up and my palms were stinging, but nothing seemed to be broken, so I finished the 5 miles. The last time I had fallen like that was probably ten years ago at a time when I was overly fatigued. I realized that I needed to focus on getting better sleep for the next few days.

There were a lot more mental challenges during this time. For one, it was a daily challenge to wake up and face the cold first thing in the morning. I prefer to run at dawn, but sometimes had to complete my entire run in the dark. I’m not sure if the snow classifies as a mental or physical challenge, perhaps it was some of both. It was also challenging to get up early and run in an unfamiliar place during my travels, when I had to spend a good amount of energy remembering how to get back. Over Christmas, I was in the Loire and thus had to train in the mountains. That was a challenge and made Paris feel flat afterwards. I also traveled to a place where it was not safe to run outside and for a week had to complete all of my training on a treadmill. Five miles was okay, but 12 miles was the ultimate killer. It’s mentally challenging to run for two hours and not go anywhere… I shouldn’t complain though, at least it wasn’t 20 miles!

Then there were all the hard calls along the way, when you have to make a decision regarding your training in light of your physical health. I occasionally took a day off if something was hurting, but usually made up for it another day. Often I asked myself, “should I run on the snow/ice?” Could have been disastrous if I had slipped out there, but I survived about a dozen runs in these conditions, including a 15-mile run on several inches of snow. I definitely need to get the right equipment for such weather by next winter. Then one night I was coming down with a sore throat and I needed to run 17 miles in the morning before catching a train to Nancy. I really didn’t feel up to it, but did it anyway. Interestingly, I felt better afterwards. I guess all that sweating did something for shooing away the virus! The days before the half marathon, I came down with a cold. I had to travel by air twice during that time, which didn’t help me feel better. On Saturday night I was feeling feverish and not sure if I would run on Sunday, nor if I would finish even if I tried. But I decided to give it my best shot and I finished within my goal time (2:14:24). However, I felt even worse afterwards and although I wasn’t terribly sore, my head hurt and I couldn’t stop coughing. I just wanted to curl up in bed for the rest of the day. So running doesn’t always cure a cold. 😦

My last hard decision came two weeks before the marathon. The hard-core training phase was over and my miles were decreasing for the last three weeks. In all that time, I had only missed 1½ runs due to being sick or needing extra rest for my ankle. So I was feeling strong and confident about the marathon in two weeks and was focusing on preparing myself mentally. I was also looking forward to doing a four-mile run the following week after running no less that five miles at a time for over a month. On Wednesday, I had run five miles and had noticed a pain in my inner thigh for the first time. I didn’t run the next day and hoped that it would be better by Friday morning when I needed to put in 12 miles. I woke up early that day because I needed to be somewhere by mid-morning. I remember feeling especially tired and wondered if I could post-pone my run for the afternoon (something I rarely did). I also wondered if it was wise to run with the pain. I paced my apartment for a few seconds debating whether to go or not. Then my inner coach said, “Stop thinking about it. Get out there. Get it done.” This was sound advice on most other days when I was simply lacking motivation, but next time I’m in this situation, I will certainly argue back.

I completed the twelve miles in pain, thinking, “I’ll go a little easier today, and maybe it will loosen things up.” By the end of the run, I was in so much pain that I was losing my stride. It hurt to put weight on it, to stand, to walk. But I thought that like my ankle, a couple of days of rest would make it all go away and I would still be able to do my four easy miles a few days later.

It didn’t go away. It was painful throughout the weekend. And it started to scare me. According to my online research, it could be a stress facture, a pulled muscle, tendonitis or a hernia. On Monday, I called a sports doctor but only got an appointment for Tuesday. When I saw him, he stretched my legs in a lot of different ways and diagnosed me with adductor tendonitis. No running for at least a week, he said, plus anti-inflammatory medication and sessions with a sports physiotherapist. “So what about the marathon,” I asked in a low voice. He shook his head and said… “Well, IF the pain is gone in a week, you can go out and run for an hour. “ If there is no pain during the run, you can compete in the marathon. Otherwise, don’t do it. You’ll be miserable and you’ll damage yourself further. I walked away with Cinderella-type hope, but now I think he may have been as confident in his “IF” as her evil stepmother. 😦

Still, I did everything possible during the following week, holding on to the possibility of “if.” Physiotherapy, medication, rest from running, stretches, ice and heat treatments, pool running, swimming, etc. But no matter how much or how little physical activity I did, the pain did not ease up. I saw my physiotherapist on Tuesday and he said to try to run the next day just to see what happens. I knew it wouldn’t be possible, but I geared up and hit the road anyway. It was even more painful than my 12-mile run and I was sort of half-running and half-limping. I lasted five minutes and then walked back home. And at that moment, it hit me. I’m not running this marathon. I can’t. I think I knew this already by Sunday, but it only hit me then when I realized that my body had shut down on me. And that was hard to swallow.

Not being able to run the 2013 Paris Marathon is a huge disappointment, but I must admit that it isn’t the first time I’ve been hindered from running a race because of injury. In 2007, I had registered and trained for the Chicago Half Marathon. Less than one week out, I walked into a pole and hit my forehead/face so hard that it was bruised and bleeding. A couple of days later, I decided I had better see a doctor about it. He ordered an X-ray. On Friday, I called to get the results and they said they wouldn’t be in until the following Monday. So I asked if it would still be okay to run on Sunday. “You have a head injury that may be serious. It would be very unwise to run a half-marathon before knowing the results.” So I sat it out and learnd on Monday that I was fine. Brilliant. Also, two years ago I was registered for the Paris Marathon but got a bad case of sinus infection early in the year, which lasted over a month. I fell too far behind in my training to be able to compete in the race.

But this one is the biggest disappointment yet because I trained so hard for it! At the same time, this strength was also my weakness and my body maxed out two weeks too early. A couple of months ago, I stopped at a bakery after a 13-mile training run. There was a man there who said he was a running coach. He started asking me questions about my running and when I said I was training five days a week, he said, “It’s too much, you should rest more.” Whatever, I thought, loads of people train this much. Then, ten days ago in the doctor’s office, I received the same verdict: you pushed yourself too hard. Humph. I had given 110% to my training regime, which pushed me over the edge two weeks too soon. I should have done more like 90-100%. I hope that my inner coach has learned a lesson from pushing me too hard all this time.

Well, I’m not going to sit around and mope. I’ve been spending a lot of time biking and swimming since I haven’t been running. These activities are easier on the joints and actually hurt less than walking at this point. I’ve wanted to incorporate more swimming (and even deep water jogging) into my exercise routine, and now is the perfect time to build up my strength and endurance in these cross-training activities. I’ll turn my focus and energy to preparing for my next goal, which I hope will be the Caen Marathon on June 16. I’ve almost reached my goal for As Our Own, but this will give me a little more time to reach, and hopefully surpass it

As for today, a friend and I met up and cheered for the entire crowd of runners as they passed in front of our church in the Marais  – from the wheelchair competitors to the very last ones where were struggling already at three miles. It seemed that there was no one else cheering on the street, so we yelled out names and good wishes until our voices were horse. I’ve never watched a marathon from beginning to end like that, and I found it to be very moving. It’s amazing how encouraged people are by a random high five or a stranger cheering for them by name. It was great to participate even though I wasn’t running.2013-04-07 09.41.43