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I like church. I like the buildings – giant gothic cathedrals, gargoyles, pipe organs, gold crosses that seem to glow even in the absence of light. I like passing through Little Italy by Canal Street and seeing all the Marys-in-the-half-shell.

I was raised in a church. Literally. My house was literally in a church. With a crypt. And gargoyles IN MY HOUSE.

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And bats. So many bats. You don’t appreciate real masculinity until you see a 300lb linebacker cover his head and scream like a school girl from a 14 inch bat. There were secret tunnels. Iron gates. Towers and secret rooms and underground chapels and did I mention the crypt? I explored every square inch. I know all the secrets. I’ve seen the most beautiful craftsmanship only accessible by ladders and rope.

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One time a cadet asked my father if he could spend the night in the chapel before graduation. Let me tell you a few things I learned living in a church:

  1. Gothic cathedrals are magnificent and really freaking scary.
  2. Everything, and I mean everything, is creepy in the dark. I don’t care how beautiful it is during the day. At 2 am even white fluffy kittens start to resemble gremlins – hungry, angry gremlins.
  3. I encourage everyone to try it. You really do get close to Jesus while the wind howls and moans through the belfry and you’re cowering in the corner of the choir vestibule in the fetal position singing “Nearer My God To Thee.”

I don’t remember the cadets name or what spiritual development he was looking for but I remember the look of panic marred with twitching exhaustion that comes from real, sleepless fear.

My father is a minister. One of my favorite Aunties is an Italian Catholic from Jersey with gorgeous skin and a hearty Long Island accent. My “spiritual well” is a Reformed Jew from NYC who outlived both her Rabbi husbands. I have a kid who thanks Jesus for her My Little Ponies.

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My spiritual journey has been rich and varied. Every year I host a Seder dinner. I have a 14th century menorah that is among my favorite possessions. I also think Jesus is real.

Religion can be really beautiful. It can also be really divisive. I know you’ve experienced it. My God is a God of LOVE. Don’t dismiss God because organized religion failed you. Don’t let the state of the church deter you from the phenomenon of Faith.

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“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about discovering who God wants you to be.”

Exercise and Edification. Running to Win. Wine and Wisdom –  (oh wait thats next year…..)

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Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day. Confusing the two is like eulogizing Grandpa when he’s going in for a dental cleaning. Right audience, wrong occasion.

For the most part, holidays are joyful. (Enter tacky reindeer theme sweater here.) Living near DC is especially fun during major holidays like Veteran’s Day, Forth of July, and when Congress is in recess. I took my tiny tot to the parade to cheer for the men and women marching in the humidity, sweating shoulder to shoulder with thousands of strangers eating mysterious meat on a stick from the rows of food trucks nearby.

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But first I went for a run. It was a 5k in Baltimore. I came in third in my age group. Not bad for having to wake up at 5am and drive 75 minutes in the humidity. (I hate being hot.)

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I always run for my dad – for Parkinson’s – for people struggling so in the 26, 27, 28 minutes it takes me to run a 5k, I’m carrying their burden. This run was my 22 push up challenge. I get it. A bucket of ice water, 22 push ups for 22 days, posting a cancer awareness post on social media. They’re all ways that we can feel like we’re doing something. And it is something. I’m not sure people covered in ice water saved a life from ALS but I’m sure it made them feel – however briefly – lifted up. I don’t think a veteran will seek help with PTSD because they saw their neighbor in his yard doing 22 push ups. But perhaps it reminds us to look out for one another, to put others before ourselves, to sacrifice a little bit of our time and talents for our community.

Nate Self, USMA ’98 wrote a book called “Two Wars: One Hero’s Fight on Two Fronts – Abroad and Within”. (grab a copy on Amazon). The book is an interesting first hand account of a battle in the Afghan mountains and Nate’s internal struggle back home with PTSD. I have never been to war. I have struggled with depression from time to time like the typical teenage angst, going through a divorce, my father’s disease. We can all relate to anxiety, depression, fear.

On the 9th of July 1990 one of my all time favorite people died. West Point class of 1988, the biggest person at the Camp Thanksgiving kids table, my quiet champion. My daughter is learning to play the piano on the same baby grand he taught me. I have boxes of music – some he has played, some he wrote – that I can’t bring myself to open.

On the 4th of July he left a message on our answering machine. He said, “I can’t reconcile the person I am with the person I want to be.” A few days later he took his life. I was 12 years old.

I don’t think running a road race or doing push ups or dunking myself in cold water would have saved him. He was a thousand miles away in Texas and we were all busy doing our things – unaware of the extent that he was suffering.

16 years later I still think about him every time I play our baby grand. There have been other people I’ve lost – other friends that have died in the decade of war our nation has endured.  Their loss is a reminder to be vigilant and intentional in our relationships with one another. In this age of social media and video chat, we don’t have any excuses not to stay connected. Friends, colleagues and classmates have the ability to know what is going on in each others’ lives and have the resources to meet needs in real-time.

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So do the push ups. Run the road race. Come alongside someone. Lace up your sneakers and run with me, virtually, even if we’re thousands of miles apart. And if you’re struggling, reach out. Have hope. God isn’t through with me and He isn’t through with you yet. Run to Win.

Appropriately, for our John,  John 15: 12-13 (from The Message)

“This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends”

There is something magical about New England. Home to Norman Rockwell, the Kennedys, quaint towns like Hingham, MA where my father had a church for several years when my siblings were young… It’s warm and inviting even on the coldest days. And there are some very cold days. Like last week in Vermont – May in Vermont – when I ran in 1/4 inch of snow. My friend and adventure co-pilot Cherie said,

“I think it’s snowing but perhaps if we don’t talk about it, it will go away…”

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Thankfully our New Hampshire hosts had the things big old farm houses have – wool. (Hats, gloves, scarves and enough down feathers to fly south for the winter). We looked like Wookiees but we survived the impromptu snow storm and our girls learned to suck it up.

I had no idea why my friend would want to go on this trip with us. Grueling schedule, erratic temperatures and my budget was so tight we were rolling pennies for gas by state 5. (Rhode Island had the wind chill of the North Pole.)

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But she came. She made 2 very powerful statements.

  1. “I wanted my daughter to see what sacrifice looks like – your running for a cause, the dedication to what you’re doing…. I wanted her to experience that.”
  2. “I don’t really remember my mother having close girlfriends when I was growing up. I want my daughter to see what adult girlfriend relationships look like.”

There is something significant about girlfriends, boyfriends, old friends, best friends. It changes over time but it never loses its significance. When we’re kids, our friends teach us sharing, conflict resolution and behavior modification. When we get to college our friends are our conscience and our guides. They’re our support system when we fail, succeed, when we change paths, change boyfriends or girlfriends, when our hearts get broken or when the pregnancy test comes back positive. I’ve held the product of someone who chose life and the hand of someone who didn’t.

I’m working hard at relationships so my daughter knows the importance of investing in others.  I have an incredible group of ladies who I’ve gotten to know over the past few years here in Maryland – women who have rallied around me and each other in celebration and heart break. Loss of jobs, homes, dreams, pregnancies… They’re all women of faith which makes our bond even stronger. We believe God has a plan for us and for our children. There is great power in that.

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People ask me why I’m running for Parkinson’s all over the country. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. It usually involves arranging child care or hauling a stroller around Des Moines. For me, there are three benefits. First, I’m honoring my father and lifting him up in his battle against Parkinsons. Second, it’s a great way to keep myself motivated to stay in shape and make my health a priority. Third, I’m able to connect and reconnect with people who have held a significant place in my life over the years.

New England was significant because it brough back memories of childhood vacations, college road trips and crisp autumn evenings. The coziness of weather beaten shingled homes with candy apple red doors warms the spirit even when it snows in May. Like a Nantucket landscape, a Norman Rockwell painting or an old friend, it gets better with time.

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