I’ve been especially fragile this weekend, feeling like a strong gust of wind or the wrong insult could shatter me like glass into a thousand tiny pieces. Some of it was what I mentioned in my last post, and some of it has to do with a series of horrible dreams full of so much death and ugliness that I woke up more than once feeling exhausted and shaky, not sure if the gasping, body-shuddering tears were real or part of the dream.

I was in such a bad place that even my husband knew that I needed to run. “Go,” he said. “Work it out of your system.”

And run I did – six miles of sweat. At the gym again because the streets and sidewalks, with their hidden icy patches, still scare this newbie runner.

Usually I run with my iPod, with music or podcasts that make the miles go faster, but today I knew I needed silence. My mind was noisy enough on its own and I needed to create some empty space for God to show up.

Staring at the black TV screen on the treadmill, the reflection of my face stared back at me. It looked haggard, closed, and even a little bit frightened.

Suddenly, the face staring back at me was not my own face, but the face of the young hooded person in The Wilderness Downtown, running through the streets of my hometown. Running, running, running. Past the school where I was sometimes tempted to hide my brains because nobody flirted with the nerdy churchy girl like they did with the one who knew how to flip her hair just so. Past the church where I longed to fit in with the youth group but always felt like an oddball. Past the park where the team bully sent me home from a baseball game crying when I fumbled the ball. Past the grain elevator where construction workers whistled at junior high girls passing by, but I was always convinced they must be whistling at my friends and not me.

Past all of those old stories that cling to me like glue. Running, running, running. Sometimes circling back and passing the same stories again and again, but always running.

And then… the exhale. The body refusing to let me hold my breath. Refusing to let me hang onto those old stories. The desperate craving for oxygen that forces the exhale.

I started to imagine all of those old stories – and a hundred others that came after them – leaving me one by one with each exhale. “I am no longer defined by the failures of my youth.” Exhale. “I’m not the fat kid or the nerdy kid or the awkward kid.” Exhale. “I’m not a failure or a bad friend or an absent-minded dreamer.” Exhale. “I have not been rejected just because someone disagrees with me.” Exhale.

And then the inhale. New stories to replace the old. “I am loved.” Inhale. “I am worthy.” Inhale. “I am good enough.” Inhale. “I am strong and can handle rejection and failure.” Inhale. “God loves me.” Inhale. “God loves me.” Inhale.

The face looking back at me in the TV screen changed. Now she was softer, more open, and glistening with sweat. The hint of a smile tickled at the edges of her mouth. The reluctant sun peeked through the window and touched her hair with light.

Maybe the ugly dreams were about the old versions of myself that still need to die. Maybe it’s about surrendering – getting rid of the old breath – so that new things can grow, just like the trees sprouting all over the streets of my hometown at the end of The Wilderness Downtown.

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p.s. If you want to see the streets that hold my old stories, enter “Arden, Manitoba, ROJ OBO” into the box at The Wilderness Downtown. If you want to be reminded of the old stories you need to exhale, enter your own home town.

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