She is 84, but she will tell you she’s 49.
I met Bert my first day at the rehabilitation gym in November 2014. She stands five feet four inches and weighs 99 pounds with her shoes on. She was on her tenth training program, which meant she had been working out for over a year.
My showing up at a fitness center especially for people recovering from serious accidents and operations assured me that I’d have things in common with patrons. But, I doubted I’d encounter anyone who had received two new jaw joints. Even the staff hadn’t worked with a history like mine before.
So, I arrived feeling vulnerable and afraid of hurting myself. I desperately wanted to strengthen muscles weakened from surgery and years of misalignment from jaw to toes, but my ability to differentiate workout pain from damaging pain felt tenuous. I had pushed through physical restrictions for many of my 50 years, adopting the “suck it up, Buttercup” philosophy and felt committed to doing this process differently - slowly and carefully. But how? What did that look like in a rehabilitation gym environment? This was completely new to me.
And then Bert arrived. I observed her confidently approach her trainer and give an overview. “My hip is a little tight today and my shoulder hurts. I’m not sure what I did to it but it aches.” No whining. A simple update and then onto the workout. Later I heard her stating that a particular movement didn’t feel good. With the activity adjusted slightly she finished strong and without incident.
Note to self. Reporting how my body feels and how it is responding to the demands of particular movement and exercise is beneficial. Clearly I could learn much from Bert, so I kept watching.
Bert admits that she does everything fast, something I observed as she whipped dumbbells up to her bicep and back down as if extinguishing a fire on her upper arm. She raced the stationary bike with vigor worthy of the Tour de France yellow jersey. And apparently she flies around her house, too. Well, she used to.
One day at home she picked up a wet carpet from her deck and quickly shoved her feet into slippers as she hoisted the soppy mat. On her way to the garage she grabbed a bag of insulation she had earlier stuffed. Why make two trips? Somewhere between the step down and the slip-on shoes she lost her grip and hit the concrete floor hip first, cracking the ball of the joint. “But if it wasn’t for the bag of insulation, I would have broken my arm and maybe my shoulder, too. God was looking out for me,” she declared--not a surprising view from a woman of faith.
And so she ended up in rehabilitation to strengthen her injured leg and catch the vision for increasing bone density through weight-bearing exercise. And can she bear weight! For months I watched this sprite hoist a barbell with poundage I only dreamed of lifting. And she does it with flare.
When a trainer handed Bert a metal bar with an elongated M-shape and asked her to curl it up to her chest she brightly replied, “Time to wrestle the steer." And if she isn’t pushing her butt far enough back in a squat the trainer will remind her to, to which she often says, “Oh right, you want me to sit in my pants.” When told it is burpee time she politely responds, “Excuse me, I need to go burp.” I now also “feed the chickens” with a cable-pull like her and we’ve even “chopped wood” together.
In my early gym days the anesthetic fog from my eight-hour surgery messed with my memory so I repeatedly asked how many reps to do or which leg to extend with which arm. One day, my face must have shown my embarrassment when I got wrong the foot/hand combination, again. Bert grinned and said, “Don’t worry. Just use your other left foot.”
Inspired by this spry woman’s approach I tentatively found my way with new training programs among unfamiliar machines and safely pushed my body beyond any goal I’d dreamed possible. I’ve seen her pedal a bike hard to the target distance and slump over the handlebars breathing heavily, accepting her exhaustion, then pop her head up with a smile and announce, “Okay, I’m ready for the next thing.” She often catches my eye and winks asking, “We’re having fun, aren’t we?” Yes, indeed we are. Who knew exercise could be such a delight?
Each Thursday I watch the door as I begin my routine in hope that Bert will trot in sporting her black Lulu Lemon-style tights, gray sweatshirt, lightly salted black hair styled perfectly and two gold chains around her neck. She isn’t afraid to show up with rings on two fingers, one symbolizing her 53-year marriage and the other just because it’s lovely. Her pretty bracelet jangles over her practical watch. I suspect the gym is not the only place this classy woman is hardworking.
Sometimes Bert forgets her hearing aid which hinders our treadmill conversations, but she’s not shy to ask for a repeat if I’m not speaking loudly enough. We agree it best to hold onto the rails while talking since neither of us want to be that person who sails off the end of the track. She routinely asks about my children and I inquire of hers. And her grandchildren.
Once our shared warm-up is over we part ways and take up our individual programs. At times I sit on the stationary bike willing one leg to drive the pedal down. And then the other. I’m tempted to quit and say I’m too tired today. And then I look over and see Bert back on the treadmill, running. She has turned the pace up and could be rounding the third curve of an 800-meter race. Yes, I can push to my goal.
Sometime heroes wear capes and fly. Sometimes they perform great acts of rescue or service. And sometimes they simply show up in life, being who they are and inspiring others to be better human beings. When I grow up, I want to be just like Bert.
With love and gratitude,
I don’t usually write about people without first asking their permission. If need be, I’ll ask forgiveness later.
Last week Bill and I and two sons spent several days in Manitoba helping my parents move from their country home of 28 years into a senior’s living complex in town. We sorted, packed, hauled, and then sold five pick-up truck loads of their personal belongings at a yard sale.
There are stories of laughter as we encountered photos of “young grandpa” in his underwear and grandma’s glamour head shots. We sat in reverent awe after discovering a small envelope of century-old taxidermy glass eyes my great-grandfather used in his bird sculptures. Our hearts ached periodically as we said goodbye to an era of farm adventures.
But my takeaways from the experience go beyond the work and uncovered treasures. I learned something about aging well.
My parents would tell you that deciding to leave their homestead has not been without challenge. They have wrestled with the idea, recognized the need, and moved toward this new home for 20 months. It’s hard to let go of a place so full of memories.
And yet they did it, with grace.
Numerous times as we sold off item after item I wondered if they would balk and change their minds. They didn’t. They let us negotiate with the garage sale bargain hunters and embraced the attitude of “just get rid of it.” They parted with myriad earthly possessions while recognizing that punch bowls and lawn sprinklers had served their purpose for a different season of life. They no longer need them.
I must confess I do not like garage sales, particularly the idea of hawkers poking through belongings and haggling over price so they can turn around and sell it for a buck more at the flea market. God and I had several conversations about this aspect of helping my parents.
And He gave a beautiful, unexpected gift. The town where mom and dad now reside is home to a large immigrant population. By far the highest percentage of our customers was young families new to Canada from the Philippines trying to furnish homes economically. We gave great deals to grateful people. It’s lovely knowing my parent’s things are appreciated and will be put to good use.
But the bigger lesson to me is the value of letting go graciously. I want to hold my stuff loosely and be ready to part with it willingly. I long to celebrate and be present to each stage of life, not clinging to the past or fearing the future.
I suspect it will take some time for mom and dad to settle into their new apartment and that the transition won’t be without trials. That’s normal. But I take my hat off to them for embracing the change and not fighting every step of the way.
Well done, you two. Take the week off.
With love and gratitude,
Transition is curious.
Last month I flew to Calgary for work. As the plane descended, the dried-brown landscape registered a sharp contrast to emerald BC of one hour prior. Driving around the unfamiliar city left me with a sense that the signs could be changed and I would not know the city I had just dropped into. I felt disoriented.
This week we drove to Calgary (and beyond). We wove around mountain curves absorbing vistas and glorying in majestic peaks. Construction west of the city provided ample time to survey the now-green rolling hills as we travelled 18 kilometers in 45 minutes. Signs alerted us to multiple exits as we approached the much-anticipated city greened by recent luxurious rains.
I’ve been pondering the similarities this experience shares with other life transitions. There is simply no straight line through change.
When a change is thrust upon us unexpectedly we can reel from the shift required to adapt, seeking solid footing on the ground that seems suddenly unstable. Our blood pressure may soar, adrenalin rush, and energy surge and crash. It’s a wild ride that many find frightening.
But not everyone.
The charge of excitement arising from unexpected twists and turns works for some. In fact, a predictable, routine life feels dull.
Not all transitions come out of the blue. How about those “road trip” experiences in life where you anticipate the change for days, months, even years? These provide opportunity to mentally and emotionally prepare as plans are put into place and details considered. There is a calm, predictable nature to these transitions as you soak in sites along the route.
But let’s be clear. It takes ten hours to drive to Calgary. And while all the advance planning can be in place, if there are paving crews or accidents or inclement weather, the trip length increases. And even without delays, a body feels cramped en route and longs for the destination. Sometimes the joy in the journey is lost because it takes so long to arrive.
And isn’t that the point? To enjoy the road, the scenery, the rest stops, the conversation, the Creedence Clearwater Revival cranked while prairie fields roll by? I sure hope so because it’s also a long drive home.
With love and gratitude,
Last Sunday, May 29, 2016, our pastor made an announcement about a full-day workshop I’m leading today. As he shared the details, my mind drifted.
On May 29, 2014, I lay in a hospital bed with my teeth wired shut and bandages wrapped tightly around my face covering four fresh incisions in front of my ears and under my chin.
Much happened in the 731 days between.
On that post-surgical bed I had no vision for my current life. In fact, it took great effort to stay conscious after the eight hours of anesthesia required to replace my severely damaged jaw joints. All I recall is an intense gratitude for being alive.
Life remained narrow for months, moving from celebrations over a solo trip to the washroom eight feet away, to opening my mouth 40 mm, to twice weekly workouts at the rehabilitation gym, to climbing a rock wall. The work of recovering challenged my fiber and taught me the power of gratitude, perseverance and perspective.
But perhaps the most lasting take-away from receiving a bionic jaw is absorbing that God only calls me to do that which is before me…nothing more, nothing less. I could have lost countless nights’ sleep worrying about my future but, by God’s grace, I am learning to trust Him at His word:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27
Practically speaking, this meant disciplining my mind to the present moment, asking God for strength to squeeze the jaw-widening mechanism in spite of the horrific pain it caused. I couldn’t know then that two years later I would whip through those same exercises in less than thirty seconds, pain-free.
Nor did I know if I’d ever be able to work again given the significant mouth-involvement of being a coach and instructor. I engaged in the hard work of healing, took steps God led me through to clarify my vocational desires, built a website and waited for my consulting business to grow. Little did I know God’s plans.
It all leaves me asking, “Lord, what do you have in mind for me today?” and “God, please increase my faith so I can entrust my future to you.”
Today I will facilitate my first Poverty Revolution Book Camp, one role in my half-time work for Food for the Hungry. On other days I delight in coaching private clients and leading seminars.
Never in my wildest, post-anesthetic dreams…
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst