The Hall Steps Foundation – Right Place, Right Time

I have been a runner since before I could walk. I’ve always loved running and found an indescribable freedom in running until my legs just couldn’t take another step. Despite this freedom, there was also a twinge of apprehension and self doubt in my heart. When I was little I was actually afraid to run a race unless my dad could be at the finish line waiting to scoop me up in his arms!

I eventually outgrew that particular fear, and went on to run through high school and into college. When a hip fracture ended my career in 2013, I felt pretty bitter about all things related to running, and the Steps Foundation came into my life at the perfect time.

The Hall Steps Foundation is a non-profit movement to fight global poverty through better health. As a public health professional and lover of planet earth and her citizens, this mission is super duper important to me! 😊

Steps has encouraged me to make a commitment to my own health and well-being while serving as a huge motivator for taking my own own “steps” toward alleviating suffering and helping lift people out of poverty.

Seeing Ryan and Sara use the sport to make the world a better place restored my faith in the power of running, and vowed to eventually lace up my running shoes and join the movement. I’ve spent the years since my hip surgery afraid that my steps wouldn’t matter because I’m not the runner I used to be. Much like my fear of racing without my dad at the finish line, I grew out of the fear, so here I am, ready to make the world a better place, one STEP at a time!

Stay tuned! Lots more good stuff to come about Steps, the Shamida Orphanage, and my journey to completing my first marathon, an endeavor nicknamed Operation Flying Pig 2k17! 🐷

little-mo-runs

Little Mo racing into Daddy’s arms, circa 1997

Frundraising update!

I am one week into Operation Flying Pig 2k17 and thanks to generous donors I’m 30% into my fundraising goal and very excited!

To donate, go to my crowdrise site, or email me at morgancasey813@gmail.com!

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I think this applies to you, no matter how you voted.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

Let us not forget that while some things are out of our control, we have something so much greater than hate, fear, and negativity.

Let us not forget that one man in a position of power is only one man, and in our nation has always been great and will continue to be great. As long as there are people here who have hope even in the darkest and most difficult of times, America is not lost.

Let us not forget because one man is a womanizer who boasts of sexual assault that we can and must still teach our sons to be thoughtful and respectful people who value their families and grow up to be men who use their voices not to bully, but to build others up.

Let us not forget that one man may be white and wealthy, but we are all worthwhile regardless of race, religion, SES, or sexual orientation, and we are all loved equally and unconditionally by a love so much greater than ourselves.

Let us not forget that one man rode through the streets of Boston 240 years ago to warn of the first of many battles fought to protect this great nation, and let us not forget the brave men and women who have made huge sacrifices to continue to protect us.

Let us not forget that one man came to this earth to teach us how to love one another. He came to teach us to be patient, kind, and humble in all circumstances, to befriend the friendless and embrace the outcasts. Let us not forget that this very same man died to grant us the grace, mercy, and peace we do not deserve.

Let us not forget that one man, woman, or child is all it takes to make a difference. You can be black, white, or anything in between. You can be LGBTQ or something else entirely. You can be a cop, a cashier, or a rocket scientist. You can be young or old, rich or poor, Muslim, Wiccan, vegan, Hufflepuff, or choose to wear no label at all and it doesn’t matter as long as you are willing to do something good for someone who can give you nothing in return.

Let us not forget that the sun will continue to come up in the morning, and what matters at the end of each day is that you took hold of any fear, doubt, or hatred sinking like a stone in that little heart of yours and you tossed it out to make room for what’s been yours to claim all along. Love.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7

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I’ve Got a Friend in Me

A really cool thing happened yesterday. I was rocking out to my Pandora and straightening up my room when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and something crazy happened. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be friends with the person I saw there.

There was nothing particularly eye-catching about the girl in the mirror. She was sporting my usual hairstyle, a “Katniss braid,” and my preferred clothing of running shorts and a hoodie. She wore minimal makeup and had no extraordinary features about her appearance. The girl in the mirror was a very average looking girl on a very average day. And yet, there was something about her that I wanted to have.

Now let’s backtrack a little bit. I’ve been checking out women for years now. I’m always seeing other women and thinking about how much better my life would be if I had what she has. Maybe she has long legs, perfect hair, a tiny waist, or amazing abilities with liquid eyeliner. Most of the time, the important thing she has that I don’t is probably confidence, but I’ve fooled myself into believing a woman’s confidence comes from being naturally beautiful, talented, or by receiving the love of an adoring husband or boyfriend. It had only occurred to me earlier that day that maybe all of my problems in relationships, both in friendships and definitely with men, are caused by problems with myself, and maybe I need to work on my relationship with me if I ever want those to get any better. Perhaps my lack of confidence is simply the self-saboteur within me doing her job.

This idea seems like a no-brainer after my little epiphany last night.

And that brings us back to the girl in the mirror. She had what I’ve always wanted. She had that glow of confidence and a laughter in her eyes that only comes to those who have decided to let go of all the self-deprecating bulls**t and just finally be happy because dammit that’s what she deserves!

The girl in the mirror wasn’t just happy because she had a particularly wonderful day, or got some great news, or something else happened that made her momentarily happy. In all honesty, the girl has a lot going on right now, just like everyone else. She has grad school problems and financial problems and “what the hell am I going to do with my life?” problems that a lot of other twenty-somethings have right now. The girl in the mirror is a very average girl who did one very important thing.

She let go.

She Let Go

Click the photo to order this Susan Morsek print!

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Finding Joy in Pain

It’s funny how quickly we forget about physical pain, but emotional pain latches on to us like a parasite that won’t go away.

We stub a toe on the door frame and a month later we do it again. The brief physical pain is not enough of a consequence for us to learn from it. When it is our hearts that ache, pain becomes another matter entirely. Pain becomes a dark shadow looming over us wherever we go. It can be forgotten briefly, but then it rears its ugly head the next time we grow close to anyone. This kind of pain is a demon that claims your soul, even though it was nevertheless or sake in the first place.

For me, the relationship between physical and emotional pain is all too hauntingly real. A year ago I was doing the limbo with pain, and pain finally won. I had been playing chicken with an injured hip for about a year, and it wore me out.

The doctors gave me a cortisone shot to numb the pain of my impingement, and told me not to run until the shot was in full effect. During this time I would limp to the rec, climb onto the stationary bike, and attempt to maintain my fitness. The problem was, the shot didn’t help, and my biking sessions were interrupted with white hot knives stabbing my hip socket and searing flesh and bone. It was blinding, it made me nauseous, and I made my lip bleed trying to hold back tears. Athletes don’t cry.

After six weeks of this I went back to the doctor and had an MRI, hopeful that he had news that could salvage my season. He didn’t.

I had heard of femoral neck stress fractures before. I knew they were usually a death sentence to an athlete. I let myself cry.

The emotional pain of my injury subsided with the physical pain, as the end of summer drew near and my return to running seemed evident. I convinced myself to radiate positive vibes when I returned to the doctor for my follow-up MRI. This scan was going to clear me to return to running… Return to being me.

Instead, I was stabbed in the heart with a flaming sword that burned hotter than anything I had ever known. My soul was crushed with the blunt force of his words as the doctor delivered the news.

“Career over… Surgery… Didn’t heal a bit… Serious… I’m sorry… You’re done.”

I know emotional pain. I’ve lost people I love dearly, and this was that. I know it sounds crazy calling running, a simple verb, a friend, but that is what it is precisely.

Running was fun. Running was always there when I needed it to be. Running reminded me that it’s OK not to be perfect, and was always there to brighten my day. Running reminded me that I was special whenever I was feeling down. Running encouraged me to always keep trying to be better. Running kept me honest by not always letting me win, but rewarding me when I worked hard. Running was everything a friend should be. And now it is gone.

As with any death, I moved through the grieving process. I’m at the stage where I am so happy to have all these wonderful memories with running, but saddened that running was taken from me so young. And since I’m no longer an athlete, I can cry about it as much as I want to.

I’m able to take joy in other people’s running. For that I am grateful. I’m grateful for a lot actually. I’m grateful that the death of my running wasn’t exchanged for the death of a physical breathing soul. I’m grateful that my passion for running will never die, and that someday I can coach other athletes through their relationships with running. I’m grateful that someday, if I’m lucky, I can make friends with running’s cousin, jogging.

Even though I would trade this emotional pain for its physical counterpart any day, I remain grateful for it. I’m grateful that I had something to love this much in the first place, and I’ve learned that even in the worst of times there is joy beneath the pain. Sometimes it just takes a little digging to uncover it.

Image

It’s a little fuzzy, but you can see the fracture in the bottom of the neck of the femur, and the stress reaction was spreading upward. But in the pic on the right you can see how much better it looks! 🙂

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Facing Diversity

When I was in third grade social studies class we learned the word “diversity” as a collection of different cultures, races, and ethnic groups.  The teacher brought a black boy and a white girl to the front of the room during one of those lessons and asked us to point out the differences between them. Everyone took turns listing various traits such as “she has glasses and he doesn’t” and “He is loud but she is shy.” The one thing no student wanted to say was “he is black and she is white.”

Why is it that we are afraid to point out racial diversity?  Is it because we are too obsessed with political correctness, or because of the horrors of our past in the genocide of Native Americans and the maltreatment of Blacks that mar our image of the “all men are created equal” nation we claim to be in the Declaration of Independence? Why is it that a nation that’s called a “melting pot culture” cannot allow blurred lines to exist between these cultures?

There was a diversity event on campus earlier this year, but only minority students were allowed to go. White students, regardless of their country of origin, were not allowed to attend. While I am 100% in agreement with minority populations receiving access to special opportunities, this event should not have been considered an event for diversity due to the restriction on skin color of those in attendance. In fact, it limits diversity by reinforcing standards of segregation.

According to the dictionary, the word “variety” is a synonym of diversity.  We have all heard the phrase “variety is the spice of life,” and I propose we embrace this idea and spice up our “melting pot,” stir it around a little, and allow for some blending. Right now our “melting pot” sits in layers waiting for some brave souls to confront diversity and stir the pot for our own good. I can only hope it will be this generation of young professionals who will make a commitment to diversity as something we are equipped for when we realize that sometimes our differences are the things we all have that are the same.

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Seeing ourselves in a different light

Last week was the first week of second semester classes, so I had a plan in my head to write today, because it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day therefore not only will I have some time to kill (that’s a joke), but I’ll have plenty to write about.

In retrospect, I should have taken five minutes several times throughout the week, because now there is so much good stuff that I would be better off writing a non-fiction book rather than a blog post.

But since it’s MLK Day I’ve got something specific on my mind.

JLMC 477 is a class I’m taking right now for my journalism minor. It’s called Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in the Media. (You’re seeing how this is going to relate to MLK now aren’t ya?!)

This is the first semester I’m taking 400 level courses, and I am really excited because the content of the upper-level courses is really interesting more often than not. And so far this one does not disappoint.

Assignment #1 is called “Roll the Dice.” The instructions are below. I encourage you to play along!

ROLL THE DICE

Take about 60 seconds and think about characteristics of your identity.

This part didn’t do much for me. I started the homework with the intent of just getting it done rather than learning. (Hey, I’ll admit my errors! I’m only human.)

Next, read the handout article titled “Complexity of Identity” by Beverly Daniel Tatum It’s only a couple of pages long. It is also available here: The Complexity of Identity. I hyperlinked this thing, because it was the point that I actually started to think.

Then, go to Random.org Dice Roller (you should see three dice) and click on the ROLL AGAIN button to get three random numbers. Use the lists below to determine your NEW assigned identity (at least two, if not all three, should be different than your current identity.) If your real identity is white, heterosexual, age 24, your new identity should be different in at least TWO categories. That is, only one may still be white, heterosexual, or age 24.

From your dice roll, list your NEW identity. See categories on below.

_______________________________ First Die (Ethnicity)

_______________________________ Second Die (Gender)

_______________________________ Third Die (Age/Ability/Other)

FIRST DIE: RACE/ETHNICITY SECOND DIE: GENDER/SEXUAL ORIENTATION THIRD DIE: AGE/ABILITY/OTHER

1 = Asian

2 = Black

3 = First People / Native

4 = Hispanic/Latina(o)

5 = White

6 = Middle Eastern

1 = Female Heterosexual

2 = Male Heterosexual

3 = Bisexual

4 = Lesbian

5 = Gay

6 = Transgender/Inter-sexed

1 = Up to 16

2 = 17-30

3 = 30-50

4 = 50 and older

5 = Differently Abled (blind/deaf/use a chair)

6 = Non-Christian Religion

The real me is a white, heterosexual female, age 20. So my dice are 5, 1, and 2.

Upon rolling the virtual dice I became a white lesbian adolescent. My new dice were 5, 4, and 1. I guess I lucked out by one of them remaining the same. Now back to the instructions…

Take another couple minutes and think about your new identity. What do you know about your new identity? How much of it comes from personal experience? How much from interactions with a person or persons that fit that identity profile? How much from media?

This was the real reflection part. What do I know about my new hypothetical identity compared to my real one? I’m pretty good at being white I guess. With my new sexual orientation being white is going to help me avoid a fair amount of added trouble. You can say “It’s 2013, racism isn’t real,” but you’re fooling yourself. Truth is racism is everywhere BECAUSE it is only 2013. Shoot, my dad was born only three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (And you are still a very young man, Dad, and you don’t look a day over 30.) And it’s no secret that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t exactly make the whole country to a 180 overnight.

The fact that I am now 14 years old again really stinks. Everyone tells you when you’re that age that “these are the best years of your life” and I say AS IF! When you’re that age you think you’re grown up, but really you’re still extremely awkward. Kids are mean. You are still completely dependent, a little selfish, and very unsure of yourself. Don’t get me wrong, there are very wonderful things about being that age, but high school is so far from being the best years of your life. So to all the high school kids out there: The average life expectancy in America is over 75 years old, do not believe anyone who tells you it all goes downhill after your teens! It makes up like 5% of your entire life!

And finally, the biggest change to my identity. The dice left me female, which I love being. But it also told me I now love female beings. Huh. This is the most difficult one for me to envision. I picture myself feeling very misunderstood by my family, friends, and teammates, but I don’t know to what extent they would reject me, it’s not something I have ever though about. If it was one of my friends or family members who came out gay, I don’t think I would see them any differently, but that’s just me. When I care I care deeply and unconditionally. But I can’t control how any one else feels. I must say it would take some real guts to “come out,” especially as a kid.

I’m going to paraphrase the rest of the assignment. After thinking about our new identities for awhile, we were instructed to Google them and see what we find, then type up a summary.

Warning: Think about what you’re typing in! not everything on the internet is PG! 

I found a lot of information on what how parents should deal with their child “coming out” and startling statistics about bullying, harassment, and suicide rates amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teenagers. There are a lot fiction and non-fiction novels written for girls with my new identity. I found a web-forum where lesbian teenage girls were talking about their loneliness, confusion, fears, and feelings of abandonment. It was interesting and sad to read those posts.

So why was I so moved by this assignment? Because it was one unlike any other. It required me to think, but not in the same way that I think when trying to memorize physiologic processes within the body, or math problems. I actually thought about who I am and how lucky I am to be the real me. I thought about how it would be to have a different identity and the new struggles I would face.

How many of us see a person of another race, religion, or sexual orientation and actually think about what their life is like compared to ours? Do you see a disabled person and laugh at them, pity them, or just feel glad that it isn’t you? There are no rules to how you are supposed to feel toward other people. But I must say, putting myself in their shoes gives me a whole new appreciation for who I am, and a brand new respect for the things other people struggle with on a daily basis.

And finally, it made me challenge my beliefs about how I see the real me as well.

In what ways do other people’s perceptions of me influence who I think I am? The media portrays white college females in a variety of ways. Which of these ways do I model myself after? Is that really me? People are always going to have opinions on who they think I am, but that doesn’t mean I have to act that way if that isn’t  the real me.

We are all guilty of this. We base our decisions on what we THINK we know what we want. But what we think we want is usually what has been drilled into our brains by others. For example, a little girl saves an injured bird when she is seven, so her parents decide she will be a vet one day. Years later she is in college studying to be a vet with no idea how or why she got there. Maybe she will go on to be a truly great vet, but maybe one day she realizes her passion lies in criminal justice.

Until we allow ourselves to have a fluid self image we will continue to rely on what we think we want, and who we think we are (based on what others have told us) and not what we feel. We have to let our own light shine from our soul, because when we let our own light shine, only then can we light the path for others.

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Why I love my best friend

Today is the first 13th of 2013, so I’m going to call it a good day for no reason kind of day. But in reality, this day, like so many others, has a million reasons as to why it is so great. But today my heart wants to celebrate one reason in particular, and that reason is Ej.

Ejiroghene, AKA Ej (pronounced “Edge“), has been at Iowa State for a year now. She is from Birmingham, England. (Which means yes, she has a wonderful accent.) From the first late night conversation in our hotel room in New York City I knew Eji and I were destined to be friends.

Ej is one of those people who does not have a dark side. She is always positive and full of joy, and she always knows just what to say. God has given her the ability to place His word into the hearts of others. This gift of hers has served many people, including myself, from self-destruction many times just in the short time I have known her.

If joining the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) my freshman year was a springboard into my relationship with Christ, meeting Ej was a catapult. She and I are able to chatter away like a couple of school girls over our favorite bible verse of the day and not care who hears. In fact, we hope people to hear it.

We have this game that we play, I think of it as “Where’s Waldo?” on steroids, because it’s more of a “Where’s Jesus?” type of thing. We go about our day practicing the presence of God. We see these little things in every day life that show how God is at work even in the smallest ways.

For example both of us were dying to see “Les Miserables” over our Christmas break, but the movie wasn’t playing in English theaters yet. We took that as God’s message that we should see the film together when we were reunited in Ames. So yesterday afternoon we went to the cinema to go see it at last.

Before the previews were even over we were going at our little game, and then the film itself was full of allusions to the bible.

<SPOILER ALERT>

Ej pointed out to me that Javert and Val Jean’s relationship was like that of Saul and David. In 1 Samuel, Saul pursues David almost relentlessly in hopes of killing him, but the grace of God allows David to repeatedly escape. The tables turn and suddenly David is in a position to kill Saul, but David spares Saul’s life knowing that Saul will feel no gratitude and will surely come after him when he gets the chance. In the end, both Saul and Javert take their own lives.

Did you get the chills? I just got the chills.

I won’t say any more, because everyone should see this movie and I don’t want to ruin it. (Yes I know there’s a lot of singing but it’s not the annoying type of musical, you actually get so wrapped up in the story you forget they’re even singing it!) But if you choose to look for them you will see these biblical allusions. It’s beautiful.

Ej loves butterflies, and there is not another creature  in the world to embody all that Ej is. First, Ej is beautiful and she is free. While butterflies transfer pollen from plant to plant, allowing the life cycle to continue on, Ej flutters from person to person with love and God’s glory as her pollen. Ej touches your heart and enables you to blossom.

As an athlete Ej is as tough as they come. She is mentally and physically strong with  “My flesh may fail but my God you never will” attitude that shows when she kicks my butt on hill sessions.I have no doubt that she can run 2:00 for 800. She’s the real deal.

Her and I use each other to get better together both on and off the track. When one of us (usually me) is feeling nervous or under confident the other one is there with encouragement. We both have big goals for our running, with the top priority to be to glorify God in every race and every workout that we run, as He is the one who led us here in the first place.

Although I’ll never compete with her twin, Ese, a sprinter/hurdler on the team, Ej and I have a pretty good connection, the whole ESP thing. Extra Spiritual Perception.

Last night I felt compelled to look at the bottom of an angel figurine my grandmother gave me before she passed away. Sure enough, there’s a blue butterfly sticker on the bottom of it I don’t recall ever seeing before. The signs are everywhere. It’s like that.

I could go on all day about Ej and why I love her and what God is doing in our lives, but there are plenty more Sunday blogs for that. I am so grateful God has placed this girl in my life.

Her name is Nigerian. It means “Praise God.” How fitting because that is exactly what I intend to do. Image

 

 

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