I tweaked my back last weekend.
It was a muscle zinger that came out of nowhere and buckled my knees. Within five minutes a band of spasm gripped hip to hip making putting on socks a chore.
But I didn’t panic.
Over this season of jaw rehabilitation I have learned about dealing with muscle challenges. I put the lessons into practice by alternating ice and heat. I stretched, foam rolled and kept moving.
In the past, I would have coddled the area to give it a chance to heal while waiting for my next physio appointment. Instead, I used my recently-developed ability to differentiate kinds of pain and recognized that this version required action, not protection.
On Monday at the rehabilitation gym my trainer asked the general check-in question and I mentioned the back tweak. With a glint in her eyes and a lilt to her voice she asked, “Soooo, what did you do?”
I put on my best “bad girl” face and replied, “I reached six inches above my head to adjust the shower curtain!” I should have gone with “sky diving.”
She didn’t say “Oh, you poor dear. You should go home, put your feet up and wait for this to get better.” Nor did she say, “You shouldn’t be here today.” What she did say wasn’t a surprise (in light of my workouts for the last 16 months) and it struck a responsive chord.
“Okay, it sounds like your core didn’t engage properly last session which meant your lower back over-worked and became too tight. The heavier weight you can now lift is exposing compensations in your body. You’ve got to get the right muscles working. Let’s focus today on getting that core fired up again.”
I saw this day coming.
In June, 2014, one month after surgery, I first encountered the need to develop core muscles. I wrote:
There's nothing glamorous about doing core strengthening. You lie on your back and do these tiny incremental movements so slight that anyone watching might think you are cloud watching. And so it was in those waiting years. I had to learn to value the smallest accomplishments and come to terms with being okay to simply be.
Core strengthening takes time. It's an investment in a solitary activity that shows little reward for a long time and feels very unsatisfying at times. Throughout the two years prior to surgery I had a soul-level confidence that I was exactly where God wanted me to be and that waiting and taking care of myself – in all senses of the term – was my vocation. And yet, at times, it felt like crawling a marathon. Many days I felt similar to lying on that physio table asking God, "What muscles?" or, "How do you want me to live today?"
Core strengthening is actually really hard work. Now that the muscles are engaged and actively tightening, I know exactly where they are! And I have this sneaking suspicion that I won't get a graduation certificate from core work on July 14th. I'd love there to be a little ceremony where Kelly says, "Well done, Shelaine, you've finally figured out how to do this. Be free to live your life now."
Ha! I already know that's not going to be the talk I get. It's more likely to be, "Core strengthening is the foundation to the structural well-being of your whole body. Do these exercises until you get to heaven and you'll be able to move on to strengthen other parts of your body and avoid injury." I just know it.
So, back I go to the basics of firing up my core, that foundational strength for all of life’s heavy lifting.
With love and gratitude,
We can expect challenges in this life. Some come like speed bumps providing momentary jostling which fade quickly in the rear view mirror. Others threaten to remove the oxygen from our lungs. Much of life falls somewhere in between.
In a recent sermon our pastor used the phrase “glance and gaze.” I must confess, I can’t recreate the context in which he used it, but the phrase has stuck with me.
It reminds me of a passage from a novel I read years ago called Father Melancholy’s Daughter. The author, Gail Godwin writes, “After reaching the corner, he paced back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back. In the act of pacing, he would glance sideways at the ruins, then quickly look away. Then glance at them again, and look away, and pace some more. I thought I understood what he was doing, it was the kind of thing I might do: force myself to look at something painful in small doses until I got to the place where I could look at it steadily without it breaking my heart.”
When difficulty in life strikes I often find myself in both participant and observer roles. I enter the chaos and feel flooded with emotions ranging from sadness to confusion, anger to compassion, frustration to planning.
Thanks to wise counsel I am learning to sit with a messy inner world and not shut it down too quickly or just get busy to avoid the hard emotional work.
But I’m also struck with the need to not dwell in the mess too long. When my glancing becomes filled with earthly circumstances I can easily lose sight of a higher picture. So I choose to gaze on eternity and God’s ways in the midst of today’s difficulties, a focus that yields hope of forever through Jesus.
And questions help me process. “God, how do you see this situation?” shifts my attention and expands my vision. “What might this look like ten years from now?” reminds me to consider that the story isn’t fully written and I see only a fragment of the complete picture. “How do you want me to participate?” empowers and calls me to Godly action, not distraction-based busy-work.
The words of an old hymn come to mind.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
With love and gratitude,
If I had a bucket list, rock climbing would make the top ten.
Last weekend I attended our church women’s retreat at Stillwood Camp. When I filled in my registration form six weeks ago I checked the box that put me in the first-come, first-in running for one of twelve spots. I made the cut.
And then I began to wonder. I’ve put endless hours into rehabilitating my muscles, but my upper body remains vulnerable to strain and needs further strengthening. Do I want to risk another injury for the sake of a challenge? I could back out or… devise a plan.
I told myself that if my physiotherapist gave a green light, I’d carry on. He said “Go for it.” But just to be safe, I asked my trainer. She replied with enthusiasm, “Of course you can do it!” and then proceeded to instruct me on how to minimize risk of injury.
“Ask the person on the rope to keep it taut so there’s no slack and you have a little assistance. And make sure you engage your core before you reach an arm out to pull up. That will fire up all the right muscles and keep you from straining your neck and shoulders.”
Armed with my vision for a safe climb I arrived at the rock wall on Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t expecting forty-two feet!
The first few women followed the worker’s instructions and began their ascent using an automated roping system which didn’t provide the stability prescribed for me. If I wanted to follow my trainer’s counsel I would need to ask for something different.
As I watched other women pick their way up the craggy face I marveled at how they knew where to go. Rock holds and food ledges were not obvious to me from twenty feet away and my nausea grew. I better do this before I don’t.
I approached the guide and explained my need and request. He replied, “No, problem. I brought equipment to do that,” and then he geared up. After double checking his straps, he inspected my harness, cinched my waist belt and leg loops tighter ensuring I met safety standards. He hooked the carabiner onto the loop at my waist, secured my helmet, and pointed me to the rock chimney. “Go, climb!”
I stood at the base and surveyed options within reach.
Foot here. Hand up there. Engage core, reach, don’t strain. Push with legs. Feel the stabilizing, gentle aid of the rope.
My fingers curled around tiny ledges and my toes teetered on rock shelves as I ascended faster than anticipated. My body pressed into the wall as I spidered my way only looking up and around for the next grip. I felt strong, confident and safe. Focusing 100% on the task was invigorating.
About three-quarters up the wall I stopped as my hands began to cramp. I knew I could push through. I knew my life wouldn’t be in jeopardy if I slipped. But I stopped and looked down, my glance met by onlookers clapping and shouting encouragement. It’s not the first time my people have cheered me through a challenge.
At another point in my journey I would have pushed my body to summit and ring the bell. Instead, I shouted to my belayer, “I’m done for today.” I reveled in rappelling down.
Climbing is all about trusting the one who controls the ropes, the equipment, and yourself to choose a route as wisely as you can.
My entire health journey has led me to trust better now. I am more intimately acquainted with the One to whom I am securely attached, who watches over and gives strength as required. One hand. One foot. One step of faith.
There is also something about the tactile nature of climbing: the all-in-body-pressed-to-the-wall experience that engages so many senses. Anticipating it nauseated. Doing so exhilarated.
How many times have I felt nervous prior to an experience and found that once engaged it wasn’t as bad as expected? And how often would I have missed opportunities to be stretched and see God’s faithful care had I not stepped out and said, “Yes, I’m ready to climb!”?
With love and gratitude,
I have read the same book at least twelve times in the last three years, six alone in February.
I also wrote the book.
It’s shocking how many times I can go through the same pages and continue to find mistakes. Placing a comma outside the quotation marks seems to be one of my ongoing writing sins.
As I edited the document, yet again, I recalled working for a man over twenty-five years ago who asked me to go through a banker’s box stuffed with client files and extract one piece of information from each folder. I compiled the list and presented it to him with satisfaction.
His response? “Thank you. Now go back through the files and find…” I assumed he didn’t know of his second requirement when he gave me the first. I completed the task, thankful for the hours, and handed him the information.
You guessed it. He asked me again to repeat the process at which point I asked for a meeting and we brainstormed seven other helpful pieces I could pull on one final pass.
This lesson came to mind as I revisited my pages again and again and then Bill said, “You should use the Find feature on Word for any mistake you consistently make.” Brilliant.
I typed in ‘Ok’ and Word showed me thirty-five places where I spelled it incorrectly. One Replace command and voila, all of my ok’s were okay.
I’ve been pondering the incident and considering how it applies to my life.
At times it makes sense to do the hard, plodding work of going over situations from the past to gather insights and grow. Revisiting wounds to forgive and find healing takes time and can feel like files being opened, assessed and closed over and over.
But I am also learning that God is faithful to bring to my attention attitudes, actions, and beliefs that aren’t in line with His desire for me. When I genuinely ask the Lord to search me and know my heart; to test me and know my anxious thoughts; to see if there is any offensive way in me, He does. (Ps 139:23-24).
To return to the book analogy, I ask if I will use Find repeatedly and just scroll past misplaced comma after sentence fragment, muttering to myself, Oh well, that’s just how I write. Or, will I do the hard work of researching how to correct the mistake and choose Replace because that decision creates a higher quality book?
My brain has some well-worn ruts of unhelpful thinking that I can’t prevent from kicking in periodically. However, when God draws my attention to them, I must choose. Will I continue in old comfortable ways or will I take that thought captive to Christ and ask for grace to think on truth?
The book is almost done. Perhaps I’ll read it one more time, just to be sure.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst