Hope

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My favorite necklace is one that I borrowed from my sister. And when I say borrowed, I mean I took it from her jewelry collection when she was distracted. Then I took it home with me, and I have no intention of giving it back. So I guess really I stole the necklace, but in my defense, I think it was meant to be mine in the first place.

It’s a beaten rectangle charm of copper hung on a leather strap. The charm has the word “hope” in English, Chinese, and Braille. I love it because I’ve come to realize how much of a necessity hope is for me—not only because hope keeps my heart happy, but because without it I don’t seem to be able to maintain the basic functions of a competent human adult. Hope is the difference between driving home from work and feeling like the walls of the world are rapidly folding in on me, pushing the air from my lungs, and being able to drive home believing that good things are on the way. It’s quite the difference. I like to have the word hope hanging around my neck because, like so many of our emotions, we have to choose it, and I appreciate the physical reminder.

Trapped

Sometimes I feel trapped: I want to change, but I don’t believe that I have the power to change, and I’m afraid to even try. It’s easier to retreat when I feel like that. I retreat to mindless television, to the bottomless pit of the internet, to the endless piles of laundry, and oftentimes to an entire box of Extra-Toasty Cheez-Its. It’s hard for me to escape from these places, and I don’t want to hope, because it seems so hard. I’d much rather someone just tell me that everything is okay as is. Tell me it’s fine to keep my head right here in the warm sand until I suffocate. But that’s not what hope is. Hope doesn’t say that everything is okay, but it does propose the risky idea that things could be better.

When I first got married I moved away from my friends, my family, and my beloved California sunshine. In the cloudy, damp winters of the Northwest, the sun hides for weeks, and you start to forget what it looks like. When you’re stuck in a small apartment with nothing to do but clean house and bake muffins, the craziness starts to set in. So I baked. I baked muffins, cookies, pies, and I never even considered using an alternative to butter. So, yeah, I gained weight. I’ve heard the weight-gain associated with marriage referred to as “happy weight,” but that does not describe how I felt about the situation.

Moving Forward

So I started running. I desperately needed something to think about besides my isolation and perceived uselessness.  I started thinking about a half-marathon. I had dreamed of running one in high-school, but it didn’t seem possible for my muffin-loving personality. But I lumbered away. I made excellent use of my baggy t-shirt collection and created new personal long-distance records when I got lost and had to run extra miles to get home. I tried to speed up when I came across pedestrians, and even sometimes cars, because I was embarrassed about how slow I was going. It took me forever to pass even casual walkers. Still, moving slowly felt better than not moving at all. I signed up for my half-marathon and followed my training plan closely—not necessarily because I’m organized or disciplined, but because I was scared that if I didn’t follow the plan I would never be able to cover 13 miles.

The race was in a gorgeous park with miles of trail and big, leafy trees filtering in the morning sunlight. It was November, so everything was soggy and cold. I went back and forth about how many layers to wear and finally went with my trusty basketball shorts and old t-shirt.

The beginning of the race was crowded—a couple of hundred runners vying for space on a single-track hiking trail. The course was made up of three laps of just over four miles each, and I spent the first lap just getting my bearings. Was I going too fast? When is this hill going to end? Please, please may I not have to stop and find a place to pee!

The second lap I got to enjoy the scenery a little more, but it wasn’t until the third lap that I finally realized what was happening. I was running a half-marathon! I wasn’t training, I wasn’t signing up, I wasn’t considering one very seriously. I was doing it, and I knew I would finish. That realization didn’t come when I logged my training miles or when I paid the 60 bucks for the entrance fee, or even when I lined up at the starting line. It was in that moment, about mile 11, when there was no one around me and it was quiet except for my footfalls. Hope that I could complete the race had driven me to that point and had pushed me through the motions, but I don’t think I fully believed it would happen until that moment. Hope had gotten me to try, and then finally, with a couple miles to go, I knew I could do it. Knew I would do it—even if there were alligators and lava rivers to leap over before the finish line. The race was suddenly emotional and overwhelming. I felt my breath get deep in a way that was not from physical exertion, and my chest got tight. I could have cried. But at that point I didn’t have time for emotion. I was an all-conquering speed-demon half-marathon runner, and I had the final leg to finish like a boss.

The finish line of that half-marathon was not as emotional as that moment of mile 11. I’ve run three full marathons since that first half, and none of them were as emotional, or even as rewarding, as that first big race. In all subsequent runs I’ve known that I could make it, but that first one was fueled by hope the first 99% of the way.

Choose Hope

So, to my point: exercise and healthy living can seem hopeless. It takes such effort, feels overwhelming, and everything in life seems set up to make Cheez-Its and couch-conquering so much more doable. Walking into a gym can seem equally as overwhelming as running a marathon. Or maybe the challenge is finding time to cook, giving up sugar for even like, 18 seconds, or carving out some alone time.

Change is hard, but the first step is hope, and that’s doable. Admittedly, it can be hard to be brave enough even to hope that you can change, but if you can manage it, then you’ve begun. Choose hope. Maybe you have no reason to believe that things will change, but hope is not evidence-based, so you don’t have to have a reason. Take a breath and see what you want, face it, name it, and hope for it. Hope is not afraid to gaze off into the distance and see what could be. Hope doesn’t make a plan or sign up for the gym or even make a to-do list—those are for later. Hope is just that first moment when you look bravely at what you want, and acknowledge it, however ridiculous it seems. Hope beats anxiety. Hope lets you dream. Hope is a tiny beacon. Follow it until you find yourself crossing the finish line.

Yes, yes, there is hard work and discipline and perseverance, but let’s not start there. Those things without hope scare us off. Let’s start with hope.

I’m planning to buy my sister a new necklace for her birthday, because this one’s not going anywhere.

Katie is the Fitness Coach for Sweetest Lemonade. She loves giving clients the help they need and encourages them that no matter where they are starting from – there is hope. For more information about her workout videos, click the image below.

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