In 30 seconds’ time

In 30 seconds’ time…tick, tick, tick 

I can remember a cool spring day in March when I was in 3rd grade. It had been raining, so the lunch ladies made us play in the elementary school parking lot for recess. I sat on the cold cement curb as I rubbed my silky pants and watched my classmates play tag and jump rope in the puddles and filth of the parking lot. I also remember how sick I felt that day. The whole day, my stomach ached, and even hearing my teacher read Charlie in the Chocolate factory made me naseous. That day was filled with 30 second increments of time that felt like eternities. When I finally got on the bus to go home, as I sat squished up against the window, I knew it would be my last 30 seconds of feeling so sick. I would soon be throwing up. While I waited, I held my hand up to the window, and looked at it as the earliest hints of green in the trees passed quickly by. I felt a chill come over me, my pulse quicken, a bead of sweat start trickling down. Sure enough, I threw up. I remember that part, but the moments before it have remained in my memory since that very day.

It takes about 30 seconds for the elevator to make its way up to the Modern Languages Division. When I must go there, I always neglect the stairs in order to arrive there without hufing and puffing. Plus, there is something about those moments in the elevator that help me collect my thoughts. In 30 seconds’ time, as the elevator door dings closed and the quiet hum of the ascent begins, I decide how I will present myself in the office. Will I be funny? Will I be serious? Will I say ‘good afternoon’ or a simple ‘hello’? 30 seconds. That’s all it takes to choose which mask I’ll wear. Sometimes, it’s all the time I need to take my masks off. I like those elevator rides the best.

Last night, I went to the rec center to run on the treadmill. I was in my last 3 minute jogging interval before the treadmill would switch over to the cooldown mode. There were 30 seconds left when I started to feel dizzy. What had simply been labored breathing before had turned to wheezing, and my heart and lungs were on fire as I sucked air. In those last 30 seconds, as my iPod played the same song I had been listening to the whole time, I began to cry. At first, it was because I was hurting so bad. It made me think, just for those 30 seconds, what it might feel like to die. I’ve always been one who’s said that death doesn’t seem so bad…just the dying. Could dying really feel anything like the way I felt on the treadmill lastnight? I sure hope not. But after the fear of dying went away, I started to cry out of resolve. I will finish these 30 seconds! I thought to myself. So I cried and wheezed my way along the belt until the clock said 0. In 30 seconds’ time, I faced the thought of death, and chose to live courageously–even if that meant not being able to breathe for a little while.

It seems to me that these particular moments in time–from the day I puked all over myself on the bus, the weekly ride in the elevator of Elder Hall, and my run on the treadmill lastnight–were some of my most authentic moments. These are the moments when I faced Jessica Dugdale. Her humanity, her identity, her aspirations. How frightening it was, in my 3rd grade innocence, to look at my hand and think, I am human. How terrifying to turn back to see the elevator door closing on the security of my I-can-do-anything mask deserted on the floor. And how bold to choose 30 seconds of dying on the treadmill while people outside walked by laughing, drinking coffee, holding hands…living.

In 30 seconds’ time, we know ourselves.

tick, tick, tick




The Adventures of Running

I think I’m almost able to call myself a “runner”. Okay, maybe not quite! But I do have to admit that it has become more important to me than I thought it would when I started training about 4 or 5 weeks ago. I honestly can’t remember quite how long I’ve been at it, but it seems like forever. I’m glad to have reached the point where I look forward to my workouts, even if it’s only for the strawberry protein shake I steal from my mom at the end of it all.

I started running on the treadmill. In fact, it’s my go to place when I’m at school. I’m not too thrilled about going outside where it’s freezing and my ears might turn brittle and fall off. When the weather gets warmer, however, I will hopefully become one of those people you see running down the road with cool sunglasses and strong legs. Well, one step at a time…I still need to get the sunglasses. 😉

Anyway, I’ve made a few mental notes to myself about running that I felt like sharing because they’re funny and the furthest thing from insightful.

1) It makes me want to poop my pants. Even if I don’t have to poop, I feel like I’m going to. So that’s fun.

2) It’s empowering! When your mind tells the body to keep going when it wants to stop, you just kind of start listening after awhile. It doesn’t really make sense to keep running when you have a cramp or your breathing sounds like Darth Vader, but it’s also equally unreasonable to stop.

3) Sweat feels really good when you earn it. There are enough times in the day when I sweat for no reason at all, and it gets a little old after awhile. It’s nice to go to the gym and earn it.

4) Squirrels run, so….

5) It makes my knee hurt, but my dad has a brace that seems to help. The brace makes me feel like my leg is going to fall off, but it also makes it feel more bouncy when I’m running–and that is a good feeling.

6) I’m going to start losing weight and inches. This is exciting. 

7) I’m going to walk/jog in a 5k next weekend….and they’re going to paint us before we start running! How cool is that?



Leaning In

Happy Saturday! It sure is marvelous to have a day to just chill out. This past week has positively been my worst week in college so far–and trust me…I had some sleepless nights last semester. This week I skipped chapel, I skipped classes, I skipped sleep, and I barely turned my papers in on time. I wasn’t trying to be a bad student. I wasn’t trying to quit or wimp out; I just couldn’t do my work. It seemed everywhere I looked people were getting everything done and excelling. So, I  froze. I froze late into the night, early into the morning. I froze in my chair at McConn and didn’t walk to my class. In short, I have felt like a failure.

To be fair, I finished the week, did as much as work as I could, and made up for all the lost sleep last night and this morning. I ran a couple days this week, and even though I had to take it easy, I still have to give myself credit for trying.  Looking back, I can see there were little flickers of grace scattered all throughout my week. Because I was able to encourage someone who really needed it, make friends with the secretary in the Modern Languages Department, see a few squirrels, and get my free copy of the Caesura magazine (where my essay is published!). On Thursday I met with someone who said something that has brought me so much relief in the middle of all of this. She said, “Sometimes you just need to lean into the Body of Christ.” Guys, I’m leaning in. I’m exhausted. I’m frustrated, and I’m leaning in. I don’t feel inclined to be super descriptive about why (because the reasons aren’t really any different from the reasons anyone else might ask for prayer!). But by leaning in, I’m asking for words of affirmation, prayer, and patience.

The Person I Am

Of late, I’ve been trying this new thing called “making myself happy”. For a loooong time, I was under the impression that I couldn’t do things for my own happiness. It seemed sinful to me. So, instead being responsible for myself, I began to look for the approval of others I thought could make me happy. So I spent years falling into and out of “friendships” that only diminished the happiness that was already nearly obsolete. My default was “door mat” mode as I was always letting people walk over me and manipulate me because I didn’t have the guts to stick up for myself–and God forbid the voicing of my opinions and preferences might cause the loss of a “friend”!

But I’m not doing that anymore. I will say it again: I am NOT doing that anymore. 

Serving others is a biblical and Christ-like thing to do. But “squishing” oneself in the process is not. I’m not trying to say that I was always serving others, but I am saying that I was always “squishing” myself, and I don’t think God is very pleased when we do that to ourselves–His creation! 

So, I’ve been saying “no” when I don’t want to do things. I’ve learned to shake off the rude or annoying things people say about how I “talk about squirrels too much” or that I’m “really strange” because I don’t believe that. I like me. And I like that I like squirrels. I’ve learned to make eye contact when I’m talking with people or walking along the sidewalks on my way to class. I’m not afraid to argue my points. I’m not afraid to choose what I want to do. I like my fashionable tennis shoes and sweatshirts. I’m not afraid to be alone sometimes; in fact, I am one of my favorite people to spend time with! I’ve learned to stop worrying that a mistake will make a person stop caring about me. I feel at peace with myself, the way I look, the way I talk, the way I laugh, the ways I fall short…I like the person I am.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” Psalm 139:14 NKJV

Beyond a table and an hour

My advisor told me when we first met that studying literature was largely about joining into a dialogue that had been in progress long before we ever existed. Someone else “spoke” and when we immerse ourselves in a text, we have the opportunity to “respond”. I haven’t taken many literature courses so far, but I can say that when I’m in writing classes, I often dwell on the idea of dialogue. Even outside of the classroom, I’ve noticed dialogue permeating my life, particularly through relationships. It isn’t really about the words themselves, but the way we exchange them. I’m not sure I can think of anything I’m more passionate about than being able to sit across the table from someone and absorb the essence of who they are. Similarly, nothing pleases me more than being able to open my heart to another. Picture a clenched fist slowly unraveling, finger by finger, to reveal the creases and palm prints within. We are like blooming flowers, you and I, and across the table from one another, we get to witness beauty. Dialogue is the sharing of our growth and stumblings. I’ve always been a vulnerable individual, constantly cracking my chest and offering my heart out to those I trust. Oh, I know it’s dangerous and painful. Life taught me that. People taught me that. Thankfully, I’ve grown wiser about what I should expose and who can touch the deepest parts of me. But the call is always the same: be authentic. And every time I risk vulnerability, the one across the table takes steps in that direction as well. It’s about dialogue, about community, and exchanging who we are and journeying together through the life God has given us. Today, I’m dwelling on an instance of dialogue that has continued to make me smile.  

Recently, I met someone in McConn for an interview in hopes that it would provide me with information for my research paper on spiritual doubt. She’s a very bright someone with a doctorate from Oxford University, a stylish red coat, a smart looking haircut, and an honest smile. I suppose I should explain that technically, our first contact had been a week and half earlier, when I (dressed in a sweater and tip-toeing along in my Airwalk sneakers—classy as ever) walked up to her to ask if she was, in fact, Dr. Toland. I remember seeing her from afar, where I was finishing a paper and drinking a cold drink on a cold night. If I had to describe how I must have appeared to anyone who may have noticed me, I would probably use the word ‘stalker’. I saw her, had my suspicions of who she was, and was determined to use her for my paper, even if that meant approaching a perfect stranger. When the time was right, I stealthily departed from my table and headed toward the little workstation she had set up, presumably for research or grading.

It was a moment of profuse sweating on my part, and I remember suppressing the deep temptation I had to gulp repeatedly in fear of the conversation I had oh-so-awkwardly thrown myself into. This was definitely one of those We talked about this, Jessica!  moments in my head. After all, the only connection the two of us had was the fact that my favorite professor is one of her close friends. Aside from that, the only other thing that would even permit conversation between us was the fact that we were in the same building. Let’s face it. I am freshman who doesn’t know how to talk to people without being awkward, and she’s a professor of history in the John Wesley Honors College—where the smart people study. So, walking up to her felt something like trying to hold the two positive ends of two different magnets together. To my great relief after my shaky introduction, I learned that she was who I had suspected her of being. Even though she did not know me, nor I her, she made time for me in her schedule and we agreed to meet for an interview the following Monday. I walked away fist-pumping inwardly. This was going to be an awesome interview; I could feel it. I had no way of knowing that it wasn’t going to be “just” an interview.

        When the Monday came, I found her at table near the Student Commons and greeted her with as much confidence as I could possibly muster. Unfortunately, I was rather chatty for the first 5 minutes or so. I began to blush as I spoke because I knew I was making her feel strange, and to be honest, I was even making myself feel a little strange. But I quickly noticed that I wasn’t the only one suppressing some nervousness. The word ‘interview’ nearly made her squirm—something I observed in the middle of my speedy monologue about “I can never figure this computer out!” and “Did you know that the bananas in the college store are only 50 cents!?” Heck, I might have even mentioned something about squirrels. By the time I finally shut up and pulled out the questions I had written down to ask her, it was almost humorously clear that neither of us was prepared for a traditional question-by-question interview. We were both relieved to toss out the questions and go instead with the autobiographical route. I love stories, and I’m usually pretty good about gleaning good ideas from them. And considering that she had lived the life she would be talking about, Dr. Toland seemed pretty comfortable as well. It was a win-win.

The more we talked, the more at ease both of us were. Perhaps we finally leaned back in our chairs a bit, let our shoulders melt down a little, and we even made time for laughter here and there. I must say that the hour we spent together is one of the fondest memories I have of my whole college experience thus far. I can remember how she was literally on the edge of her seat as she told me her story. She would lean in toward me when she spoke, as if telling me the most urgent of secrets. Her intellect was burning within her and almost singeing me as I listened and recorded notes on my laptop. Everything about our conversation was filled with life and truth and Christian camaraderie. Dialogue at its finest! It seemed as though I was meeting the Dr. Toland few students had ever known. She was opening her heart to me, and I wish my words could express how beautiful it was. She explained to me, “On a given day, I am probably wearing more than one mask, depending how I’m trying to present myself. But I am wearing fewer than I was when we first started our conversation.” She seemed relieved to be able make such a statement, and I smiled in agreement because I, too, had redeemed my vulnerability. I wasn’t afraid to show my real face with her. It was a refreshing moment for both of us as we reveled in the authenticity of the people we were and the ways God had shaped us. There was a sense in which her story and my story were woven together, and I suppose in many ways, due to God’s grandness, that they were. But it seemed that the triumphs of her past were my celebrations today, and that my current struggles were those that kept her up at night years ago. We were both telling the same story. Amazing!

            I left that conversation feeling drastically different than I had only an hour or so earlier. Had it been possible, I would have stayed there talking with her another hour. I would have asked her all about Oxford, all about the Honors College, all about her walk with God. But, life must resume, so we both parted ways, perhaps with a mutual reluctance. A few days later, I was walking directly into the wind on my way to class and wincing from the pain. I also remember being deep in thought about something probably worthy of a blog post with a catchy title when I heard someone say, “Hey, Dugdale!” It shook me back to my reality, and I have to admit being a little confused at first. The last time anyone had called me Dugdale, I was a senior in my high school English class daydreaming about graduation and wishing my friend Hannah would stop distracting me during class discussions. (For the record, she never was very good at whispering.) But, when I looked up from the sidewalk, I saw a grinning Dr. Toland. As I nodded shyly back to her and braced myself against the wrath of that headlong wind, an overwhelming reassurance seized me, and I was certain our dialogue had not ended. What a relief that the dialogues we have with people in our lives cannot be confined to a mere table or an hour.