Positive Affirmations

“I am strong!”
“I will run because I love it!”
“I can set a new personal record!”
Sitting on the field in a circle, each of us took turns making bold, positive statements. It was the ritual my high school cross-country team performed before every race. “Positive Affirmations” it’s called, and it helped us get fired up to run our best.

Christmas came and went here in the village with little fanfare, and I found myself at a low point, feeling as homesick as ever. I had set up a Christmas arrangement of sorts with care package items beneath an adorable little tree and cardboard manger scene sent from home, but it wasn’t the same. I wanted nothing more than to be home, and I began to dwell on all I was doing without this holiday season. I realized I had to do something to turn things around. Perhaps writing New Year’s Resolutions would help?

I started to do just that but felt even more discouraged as I looked over a list of things yet unaccomplished. The next day on my morning run I began thinking about the race I was training for in February – a marathon. Prior to coming to Benin, the longest run I’d ever done was about 8 or 9 miles. Am I capable of running a marathon? I wondered. Yes. I can do it. I love running, and I will persevere! I told myself. It felt good, and pretty soon I was chanting a whole slew of positive affirmations in my head.

Then a funny thing dawned on me: a marathon is 26.2 miles – Peace Corps service is 27 months. Maybe I should think of Peace Corps as a “marathon” of sorts – it’s much longer than anything like it I’ve ever done before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I’m training for a marathon because I love to run and want to push myself. I’m in Peace Corps because I love to volunteer and want to push myself in that regard, too.

When I got back from my run, I had an idea. I scrapped the New Year’s Resolutions list and started writing positive affirmations instead – one to read for every day in the new year. At first they came quickly and easily, but 365 is a lot of positive phrases, and I started to run out of steam when I’d only written about 50.

Fortunately just then, the neighbor kids came by to see what I was up to. I tried to explain what I was doing. “Oh, I’ll help!” said Toussaint. “Me too!” said Florence. But I don’t think they really got it. Florence began writing all sorts of words and phrases on slips of paper and depositing them in the container I’d labeled for the purpose, and Toussaint just flipped open a magazine I had sitting out and started copying random titles from articles and advertisements. So one of these days I’m going to pull a slip of paper out that reads, “The Great Pie Crisis” and another that reads, “Do you have credit card debt?” But at least it will make me laugh!

As marathon day approaches, I’m slowly increasing my weekly long run. Recently, I made the run from my village to another about 12 miles away. When I got there I stopped at a house to see if I could get some water. “Where did you come from?” asked a woman sitting on the porch, clearly confused at seeing a random white person come running through the village.
“From —– !” I exclaimed, “I ran here!”
“No you didn’t,” she replied plainly.
“Yes, I did!”
“You mean you biked?”
“No, I ran.”
“With your bike.”
“No, with my feet!”
“Oh!” she said, finally getting it, “You must be thirsty!” So I sat down with her family for coffee and bread. After a little while, she asked again, “Did you really run all that way?”
“Yes,” I replied, laughing.
“Well,” she said, offering me another cup of coffee, “You are strong.”

Happy New Year :)
– H

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18 Responses to Positive Affirmations

  1. Noelle Chaine says:

    Some day you will have to put all these posts into a book and add to them over the years. A Chicken Soup for the Soul in a way. In any case, I love reading your posts, both for what you have to say and how you say it. In particular, I liked how you brought your first line back around in the end. Seemed like a reminder of how connected things are in life. Thinking of you :)

  2. Mary Kluver says:

    Heidi, You are making more progress than you probably realize in more ways than you probably know … one step at a time; one foot in front of the other. Enjoy each new sunrise and what it brings! Best regards, Mary

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Mary! I may have a chance to come back to Minnesota for a vacation in the summer, and hopefully will get to come up to Ponto Lake for a bit!

  3. Dana says:

    You are awesome.

  4. Marty Siegel says:

    Your personal fortitude and determination are an inspiration to all of us…and the traits you exemplify in your mental and physical challenges in Benin will carry you through every all of the “ups and downs” for the rest of your life. You are the Rocky Balboa of Benin!

  5. Elizabeth Dudenhausen says:

    I loved reading this blog post and the responses to your post from your family and friends. As a PCV parent (Sarah Allred) I understand their feelings and their immense pride in all that you are accomplishing. Gosh, it is hard to put those feelings into words because they are so big and so emotional. We are all smiling with pride and thinking “WOW!”
    Run like the wind!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks for your support! I keep thinking about next year’s group, to be coming in June as we did, and trying to think what advice and encouragement will be most useful for them as they get ready for life in Benin. Then I realized, oh – and the parents! I’ll have to post some sort of note of encouragement on the facebook group for the parents, too! Cause Peace Corps is a family affair – there are go-ers and senders in this experience but we all need support.

  6. Holly Anderson says:

    I hope you are not too homesick. It is tough to be away at the holidays and we really missed your smiley face around here. You are tough, Heidi, and one of the most amazing people we know. You can do this marathon! And you are making a difference! Stay strong! Love, Mom

  7. Gail says:

    I often wonder if what we do in high school matters much beyond – and how interesting to note that the CC training continues to inspire you to this day. The same characteristics that made you a CC runner – personal discipline, strength of mind, ability to complete difficult tasks – make you successful as an adult. There are far too many of your peers who never learned to flex their “determination muscle” and their lives show it. One foot in front of the other …

    • Heidi says:

      I agree – it’s crazy to look back and realize what things have made a big difference in my life so far, and it’s not always the things one would expect. I’m loving the longer runs and just hoping I stay physically strong and healthy for the upcoming race day!

  8. Dan Anderson says:

    Oh how I love to read your postings. The interaction with the woman in Agoua, like the interaction with a taxi driver in Porto Novo or Cotonou that you wrote about in an earlier posting, are written about in such an ‘alive’ manner. It’s like I’m there listening and smiling the whole time during the conversations.

    Please remind me later as you pull out the funny affirmations. Mom and I laughed out loud when you described how Touissant and Florence helped you. Tell them thanks from me.

    I’ve known for over 24 years that you are strong. The strategy of thinking of a challenging time like running a marathon – when you are actually training for a real life marathon – is wonderful. I’m sure that your strength makes all others around you stronger and that your whole community is stronger by seeing and experiencing your strength.

    I’m so proud of you. You’ll make it and set a personal record !

  9. I hope you will let us know when you get one of the goofy ones! I thoroughly enjoyed your post especially with the incredulous woman. I, too, would have tried to feed you.

    But know that we are thinking of you and appreciating your service. You are one courageous, generous young woman and I am proud to know you!

  10. What funny stories about the clippings and the run! I know you will make yourself successful at both the run and your whole stay in Benin. Keep up the strong work!

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