Friday, May 29, 2009

Wow! Is this how normal people feel?

I was driving home today from physical therapy and I was overcome with a sense of well being, both mentally and physically. It has been a long time since I have felt like that.

When you are not well, you don't realize how much of your body's energy and reserves are going toward the illness. Even if the illness itself doesn't cause severe fatigue, the effects of it often zap a lot of your energy. It is possible to still live a full life and get things accomplished while dealing with chronic pain, but it takes more of a toll on your body and your psyche than you realize until after the crisis is over.

This is what happened to me. All those years I lived with hip/back/shoulder/neck pain from my osteonecrosis, I simply pushed through the pain. I was determined I was not going to let it keep me from volunteering at the kids' schools, going on field trips, family vacation, and just doing normal everyday activities of a mom. I did all those things. I even excelled at some.

It wasn't until I had this last hip replacement surgery that I even contemplated slowing down. Before the surgery I was determined to be back at normal activities within six weeks, three months at the latest. After all, people were counting on me and I had a lot to do. It was only after the surgery that I realized how really stressed I was, not just in spirit but physically. My body was just stressed to the max. My heart told me to go back to work as usual, but my body said 'I won't allow it'. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, right?

This was very frustrating to me, because my normal tendency is to press on through the pain, but this times, somehow I just couldn't. It was a new experience for me to just listen to my body and actually respond to its messages to take it easy (oh, the guilt, the guilt). It wasn't until four months after surgery that I even had the energy to contemplate rehabbing my new joint.

I started physical therapy in March and it has been fantastic. I am glad I waited because I don't think I would have gotten the results that I have achieved if I had pushed myself into it sooner. Next week is my last week and I feel I have accomplished my goals.

I feel better now, and stronger than I have since...well, I don't ever remember feeling this good in my adult life. I spent my 20s as a body image obsessed anorexic. My 30s was consumed with childbirth and chronic pain from illness and over work. So, now, almost midway through my 40s I am finally feeling like a normal person.

I feel like doing things. Heck, I am even looking forward to summer with my kids. That is something that I normally would dread because it took too much energy to entertain them. But now, I feel equal to the challenge for the first time ever.

Check back with me in mid-July and ask me if I still have the same enthusiasm.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things You Learn at a Funeral

I have had a series of metaphoric ball busting things happen to me over the past couple of days. You know what I am talking about - those little annoyances in our lives that happen to chip away at our self-esteem.

It may be a co-worker who decides to go over your head to ask someone with more 'authority' a question that you could have answered. Or maybe you share a great victory with a family member only to have them tell you that they accomplished that a long time ago. Perhaps you are back in touch with some old college acquaintances and you realize that you are just as much an outsider now as you were then. These are just hypothetical scenarios of the kinds of things that happen to us all the time - things that cause us to take stock in our lives and find us wanting.

Such a week is what I have had. All of a sudden I was 16 years old again and full of all the insecurities that plagued me at that time in my life. Not really a place you want to return to at age 44. I only stayed there for a moment though, so that points to great progress. At 16 I could wallow for days in self pity. Now, I am at a point where these things don't bother me nearly as much. Progress, indeed.

I started to think of the regard with which people now treat me. I remembered the thank you notes that have graced my in box for something I said that touched the heart of another. I thought about the marvelous card I received for my service on the PTA and the fabulous gifts that were included. I recalled the kind words that were given to me regarding my children about what a joy they were to be around. I thought of the encouragement I have received about my writing. When faced with all of those blessings, how could I even spend one minute in the dumps? It was unthinkable.

Then today I went to a funeral - the funeral of a man whose life was cut short. He was only 42, two years younger than I am myself. What a horrible sudden tragedy it was. I didn't know the man well, but his daughters attend the same schools as my children do and I have come to know the family over the years. I was dumbstruck by the outpouring of love for the family. The church was overflowing with people who esteemed this man and his family.

It struck me then that the things that can so devastate our lives for a moment, or a season are really so trivial. I don't know if this man was a big shot in school. I have no idea if he won awards for any merits in his life. Sitting there at his service though, I realized that all of that didn't matter. What mattered was the lives that he touched while he was here - the people who where his friends, his family and those who cared for him. This is how we measure success.

I realized I needed to change my perspective. I try to always concentrate on the positives in life, but at times I need a gentle reminder that my mind has drifted into the negative and needs to be steered back on course.

I mourn for the loss in this family and I am grateful to them for sharing their grief with me as a remembrance to dwell on those things that bring us joy. It is in that place that we find true blessing in a life well lived.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Am What I Am

As a Christian, it is difficult to read Psalm 139 and not come away knowing that God made us who we are. He knew us before we were formed. All of the quirks and the annoyances of our being as well as the wonderful qualities we possess can be placed firmly at the feet of God himself. It is all His fault. It is all credited to Him. So why do we so often try to mold ourselves into something that we are not in order to blend in with everyone else?

Maybe it is just me, but I have been doing just that for far too long - trying to squelch my real personality so that I would be more palatable for others to be around. In the past several years (maybe hitting 40 did it) I have been less willing to just go along to get along in the world. I started studying the scripture more and I came to realize that it really is a sin to put myself into a socially presentable box like that, because it is in essence, a lie. Not only is it a lie, but it is a slap in the face of God. I was essentially telling God that he had messed up when he made me, because I needed to be 'this way' because that is the way that everyone expected me to be. If playing God in that manner is not a sin, then I don't know what is.

On one such scripture search, I came across Psalm 139 and it struck me as so profound, that I could no longer deny my authentic self. I started to examine all sorts of things about my personality and the way that I interacted with those around me and I came to understand that some changes would have to be made. Some of these changes would be painful for those who had to live with me. I didn't want it to seem like a bait and switch routine. After all, I had been living a certain way for a long time, it was hardly fair to spring the real me on them. However, in order to live my life in alignment with God's purpose, I had to be who I was intended to be - who He intended me to be.

I slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) began to make some shifts in the way I was with others. I opened myself up to the parts of my temperament that I had been stamping down. I found it so liberating on the one hand but also painful on the other as I watch those around me try to puzzle out what was going on with me. I just kept plugging along, building on my fundamental make-up as I examined and sometimes discarded things that I had been doing for years and years. I no longer felt confined by the expectations of others, but let God guide me.

It is still a struggle at times, I will not lie. My need to please those around me is strong. I cannot help but think that the need to please is somehow another God-giving inborn trait with me. Finding out how that fits within the framework of not living my life to suit the needs of others has been my greatest challenge. I really want people to like me, to accept me, to want to spend time with me. I am not sure if this is a character flaw that I need to work on amending or if I should simply embrace it.

I think it boils down to this - if I have to be a fake version of me in order to have people to like me, then it is not worth it. People are controlling me if I do that and if people are controlling me, then God is not in control of me and if God is not controlling me, then I am living in sin because I have pledged my obedience to Him.

Having a few extra friends is not worth living a lie. In the long run I am much better off staying the course that God has laid out for me. The rewards and blessings are bound to be much more bountiful than any fake friendships could ever be.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ten Things To Do This Summer

I am generally not a list maker. Lists make me nervous because I feel like there will be a test at the end of the period and I am sure to fail for not having all the items ticked off of my list. I also don't like being tied down to a list because I feel claustrophobic when I am tied down to anything. Whether it is a mental or a physical restraint, it doesn't matter; if it ties me down, then I feel like I can't breathe.

I am trying to find balance in my life right now, however, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and make a list of goals for myself for the summer. Otherwise I will fritter away the summer doing PTA work and other junk that have nothing to do with making me better or helping my family to be more cohesive and healthy. I am already starting to feel a tightness in my chest just thinking of writing the sentences down, but here goes.

  • Cook more things from scratch, using more fresh ingredients.
  • Learn how to bake bread using wheat alternatives like spelt, rice flour, etc.
  • Finish writing and editing my book that has been on the back burner for far too long.
  • Bite the bullet and send said book to a book agent and/or publisher (well, several as I am sure the first one won't buy it).
  • Pick up the phone more often and reach out to friends instead of letting them be the ones to always plan things.
  • Enjoy the heck out of my kids.
  • Join the City Rec Center so that I can continue to work out after my physical therapy time is up.
  • Implement a realistic chore list for the kids so that the house is not always a wreck and I am not always picking up granola bar wrappers and drinking glasses and socks and STUFF.
  • Make lots of cards so that I can have a stockpile for those busy times during the school year when I really don't have the time, but need a birthday card.
  • Seek God's guidance through all of this.

I think ten is a good round number. All of these things are certainly doable. Notice I didn't say - declutter the house, or anything like that. Those kinds of housecleaning goals really cut off my oxygen. There once was a time when my kids were small that I had a house cleaning schedule. I adhered to that schedule like it was my bible. It almost stole my soul. I did it because it was what was best for my family at the time, but it was certainly not something that comes naturally to me. Oh, I still clean the house regularly, but I am not tied down to my rigid schedule any more. My motto is - Clean enough to be sanitary, messy enough to be fun. I gotta have fun and I gotta be able to breathe.

So, I have now written these things down. There they are in black and white. Now I have to do something about them. I am nervous already. I hope I pass the test.

Weird Dream

The other night I had the weirdest, most amazing dream. In the dream, my family and I chucked it all and bought a farm. Not the kind of farm where you raise things to sell, but one where you are self sufficient.

We grew our own vegetables, milked our own cow and generally did everything on our own little farm that we could. In the dream, I had a wonderful sense of peace and happiness as well as a sense of accomplishment about our life. I happily donned my big floppy hat as I picked up my pruning shears to go out and cut some fresh herbs from my kitchen garden. My compost pile was a work of art I tell you. And the beeswax candles? A wonder to behold.

We lived in a beautiful four square colonial farm house with a wide front porch. I could smell the bread baking in the oven as the sun streamed in through the window above the sink. Maybe I would have a minute to sit down at the table and have a cup of coffee while I waited for that last loaf to bake. It was fantastic and wonderful.

I do place value on all of those things in the dream. I would love to live that kind of life. There is only one problem. I am a city girl. I like living around the corner from the grocery story. I enjoy having everything I could ever need within a five mile radius of my house. I am also not an outdoorsy person. I appreciate everything in nature, I want to preserve the planet in all its glory, but I get a sunburn if I even look at the sun, bees and other flying stinging things scare the pee outa me and I don't like to sweat. I love both the idea of self sufficient country living and the reality that toilet paper can be purchased around the corner.

There are a few of these kinds of contradictions in my life. I wanted a big family so that I would always have something to do and someone to talk to. Yet I also crave solitary time where I can be alone with my thoughts and peruse the latest best seller. I like to be on time, but I don't like to be tied down to time constraints. I like to drive fast but I don't like to be rushed. I don't like to sit still but yet I like to relax. I seem to sense a pattern here. I am a walking contradtiction, I suppose.

I don't know if my dream of self sufficient farm life will ever become a reality or not. I do know that it is fun to think about. I am also perplexed about these other paradoxes in my personality. I am not sure what to make of it, or if it means anything at all, but true to my introspective nature, I must turn it over and over in my mind until the next thought pops in. That is just the way I am, there is always something to mull over.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spirit of Fear

The subject of fear and anxiety has come to my mind a lot lately. With the economy the way it is and morality seeming to slip in the country, it tends to make people fearful and anxious about the future. There is also fear of intimacy, fear of failure and even fear of success that seems to pervade the lives of many people.

As Christian we are called not to be a slave to a spirit of fear (Romans 8:14-17). This is what fear does to us - It causes us to be bound into slavery to it. We are so afraid to be out of control of our emotions that we won't allow God to take control of them. This actually leaves us with less control because our hearts and emotions are tied up in paralysing fear that keeps us stuck in the muck.

1 John 4:16-18 tells us that perfect love drives out fear. There is only one being whose love is perfect and that is God. In him we are able to understand perfect love, grab on to it and finally drive out the fear that plagues us. This is often harder than it sounds to actually do.

We, as followers of Christ are asked to die to our own selves (Ephesians 4:21-24) so that we can live the victorious life that God has planned for those who belong to him. We are meant to rely fully on God to not only calm, but actually eradicate our fears. We have to put aside all our expectations and goals in favor of releasing our will fully to God, knowing that what he expects for our lives is much bigger and better than anything we could think up or achieve on our own.

So, once we give up the idea that we have to be in control, the fear begins to fade. We are slowly able to shed each layer of fear that we have built up over a lifetime of disappointment and degradation. God's love and fear cannot occupy the same space. We have to actively command the fear to leave and make a conscious effort to replace fear with God's love.

Layer by layer we replace the fear with Gods love and before long the perfect love of God has fully consumed all the fear that we once fed on and were bound to. We are then able to breath freely and live in hope.

© Kim Due 2009