she said i love you

Two days ago my family did what most American families do on July 4th; we celebrated Independence Day. As I put on my red lipstick, I thought of how just a year ago, I would have done that with my daughter. Kelley’s love of holidays matched my own. (Her love of make-up greatly exceeded mine.) She would have approved my patriotic cosmetic efforts. Any chance to celebrate was always grabbed hold of with both hands. If one can dress up for the occasion – excellent!

Even without my partner in beauty products, I enjoyed celebrating with my family and friends. I find myself in a strange new reality. I cry so often I have pretty much given up wearing eye make-up. Yet I can still laugh, play games, enjoy good food and great company. I can carry on a conversation with a friend uninterrupted even while tears roll unapologetically down by face. This duality of living a life of both grief and joy is perplexing to me. It’s not what I would have imagined.

It takes no imagination however, to predict that my pain would open doors to ministry opportunities. I know God never wastes the difficult experiences in our lives, but uses them to further the spread of his love, his kingdom.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

I don’t ever seek to use my experience. I still find myself resentful of anything that smells of consolation. In my mind and heart, nothing can ever be worth the loss of my precious daughter. But opportunities do come unbidden onto my path whether or not I seek them. One such opportunity took place at a conference in May.

I was searching for nothing more than a seat when I found a woman who looked up at me from her phone. Despite not knowing me she shook her head, sighed heavily and proceeded to tell me in an exasperated tone that she had just about had it with one of the women in her church to whom she had been ministering. It seems this tiresome woman had lost her son and just couldn’t “get over it.” When she revealed that this had happened almost two months ago I repressed the visualized urge I had to do a fancy karate spin ending with my swift foot to her teeth and said a mental prayer for wisdom instead. I was able to share how I had lost my only daughter in August and assured her that at two months, this woman had not even begun to grieve. I talked to her at length and encouraged her to be compassionate. I shared what little wisdom I had through my recent experiences and she left with a changed heart.

And now one more heart has melted, just a bit.

Our church rents space from another business. One of the women who works for that company is kind-hearted and thoughtful. However, during one of our earliest conversations, in an attempt to preempt any spiritual talk, she told me flat out, in no uncertain terms that she did not and could not believe in God. Yesterday as I was praying, for some unknown reason she approached and asked me about my children. Normally, I talk about my three boys and do not mention Kelley to those I don’t know well. After telling her about my sons, I felt a nudge in my soul to talk of Kelley. As I talked smoothly and calmly, seemingly disconnected from the tears that started to flow, she was moved emotionally. She shared that she too had lost a child. Her only son had been killed at the age of seventeen. We talked for only a short time. In that time, we connected. As she walked away after a brief hug, this woman that I had only just begun to get to know said, “I love you.”

While nothing is worth the loss of my Kelley, I thank God for his mercies in allowing me to use my grief to reach others, to connect on a deeper level and impart some level of blessing.

May you too find hidden fruit blooming from the soil of your sorrow my friends. Until next time, be blessed and be a blessing.

happy birthday Kelley

Today would have been Kelley’s sixteenth birthday. Naturally, this is a day of deep reflection for me. I decided that I might as well share some of my thoughts with you, my online friends.

As I sit here at my desk, I have had the pleasure of watching multiple Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flitting around just outside my window. (Yes, I had to look up the official identification so I could impress you all with my knowledge of insects.) There are many more than I am used to seeing. I’ve decided to take this as a special gift from God today. He is so kind and generous to me. Butterflies reveal life transformed. This is how I think of Kelley. She is alive in a way I have yet to see, beyond my imagination. She now exceeds any man-made beauty or cleaver costumes one could design.

These thoughts bring me hope and even a small smile to my lips. Yet I still grieve. I mourn the loss of this day as it should have been. We had talked of an elaborate sweet sixteen party with a white tent in the back yard, Eiffel tower vases with white ostrich feathers on the tables, music and friends. I love all the friends Kelley and I made together through the years and I am truly happy when they have opportunity to celebrate life and its milestones. However, it is still painful to see all the birthday parties and proms and graduations posted on social media. I mourn the lost times that never were.

IMG_0617

Kelley’s 15th Birthday

I know there is no earthly celebration that compares with her joy in Heaven. There is no dance performance that matches the exhilaration of dancing before the throne of God. But there is one thing lacking in these experiences, the ability for me to share it with her. The lack is felt only by me as there are no tears in Heaven. I have not been able, no matter my efforts, to put aside my selfish desire to be with her. I miss her smile and her laugh. I miss getting up early and driving her to school for jazz band. I miss singing in the car to the radio. I miss making up dance moves to songs while playing board games and I miss twirling around the dance floor at weddings or wherever the opportunity arose. I eagerly anticipate the day when we will dance together again in Heaven. Until then, Happy Birthday Princess.

IMG_2385

Our Last Dance

spiritual nutrients

I have not written in some time. Truth be told, since I last wrote I have not done most of the things I had planned to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I have not been well. Despite my best efforts to face my grief in a “healthy” way, it seems there is no scheduling the grieving process. Grief refuses to be confined to time slots on my calendar. It will not be crafted or controlled. It seizes me at the most inopportune times. I cannot get around it or short cut it. Oh I can tuck it away at times. Other times it proves too strong an adversary. Perhaps “adversary” is the wrong description.

Logically, I know that grief is a necessary companion to me right now. I know this process is both normal and healthy. I have been told that the grieving process should take a “normal” person six to eighteen months and that the death of a child is not something anyone ever truly, completely “gets over”. This knowledge helps a little in making me feel slightly less frustrated with myself and my lack of progress. I am re-examining my approach to the “life-giving activities” I talked about in my first blog.

Those planned parts of my days are good. My legalistic approach is not. Keeping track of success and staying accountable is useful, but judging myself for failure is harmful. When wise plans and principles are used to guide my path, it keeps me on course, keeps me moving forward. When those same principles become law, it restricts my freedom, suffocating my ability to be creative, to be led by the Holy Spirit. It crowds out spontaneous encounters with God meant to bring back both rest and joy to my life.

So what does that mean for all my carefully laid plans? It means I hold them loosely. I will continue to pursue them when I am able, and will let them go when I am not. I will press in to the Holy Spirit, asking him to guide my day. This leads me to the one area of health I haven’t yet written about, spiritual health.

In order to cultivate a healthy spiritual life, I need only to nurture a deep and meaningful relationship to God. I am so grateful that Jesus made possible reconciliation between me (a deeply flawed and sinful being) and my beloved Father in Heaven. I am so grateful that he is even now interceding on my behalf, working for my good. I would be lost without his presence here with me, lost without the Holy Spirit that he gives to all who call him Lord and who accept his forgiveness. But that is what He has done. How do I contribute to the development of this relationship?

I grow my relationship with God in the same way any relationship is developed, through talking. In other words, I pray. I could write a million blog posts and still no human being will ever fully understand me. But my God knows me.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139)

There is something about being truly known that makes this relationship so special, so intimate, so edifying. Talking to God and listening for his quite voice with the ears of my heart is life for me. Feeling His presence and solicitous touch comforts me and quiets my spirit. And when I feel too wrapped up in myself and my pain to hear him, I enter into worship. It is difficult at first as Self attempts to monopolize my attention. Eventually though, worshipful song lifted as a sacrifice to Yahweh opens the door of my consciousness to allow a two-way flow between me and the God I love and by whom I am loved. Worship and Prayer together are the nutrients that feed my spirit and bring back health and vitality.

While I do schedule time for this on my calendar, it is often most rewarding when it is interwoven in the fabric of the ordinary activities of daily life. It pairs well with physical exercise as well as mundane errands. It is threaded into times of journaling and Bible study. I invite his conversation to my writing times and praise him for his contributions to the words. My spirit needs these interactions as my lungs need air.

So I will continue to pray and offer up worship as an element of “life-giving activity”. I will continue to pursue the other activities I have previously described. I will continue to use my calendar and daily schedule to direct my path for the days ahead. But I will do so in a mindful state of grace and pliability, ready for the Holy Spirit to mold and shape my days and my development as He sees fit. I invite you to join me. Let’s be healthy together!

one foot in front of the other

“We can be certain that God will give us the strength and resources we need to live through any situation in life that he ordains. The will of God will never take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.” – Billy Graham

I thank God for his grace. I need it. I am lost without it. These last weeks I have felt that every step I take forward is followed by two I take back. I am encouraged that “His mercies are new every morning”!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; 

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

I am struggling to accomplish the goals I’ve laid out for myself. (I give myself 2.5 out of 5 stars) However, I’m trying to embrace my own advice and press forward rather than look back, no catching up, just living in the moment as best I can.

When starting this blog I told you I had a plan for healing and improving my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. I figured if we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind’ (Luke 10:27 NIV) I want those aspects of myself to be worthy of the task.

I am seeing lately how integrated all four categories of health are. As depression creeps in, the motivation for physical wellness activity wanes. When I am weak physically, I don’t have the energy to face the mental activities. When that happens, my overly emotional state overpowers the spiritual connection to a good and loving heavenly Father. He is still there. I feel his presence but cannot hear his voice. Breaking the cycle is hard. Taking thoughts captive is challenging. Even prayer can be a struggle, like walking up a river against the current. It seems strange the portion of health I least value, physical health, is the easiest way for me to take hold of the downward spiral and funnel my life back into a more productive and pleasant place. Something about putting one foot in front of the other on the treadmill helps bring order to my thoughts, stability to my emotions and breath to my spirit. The rhythms of life restore themselves when I take back what I can most easily see and direct, my physical health.

I’ve written already about my plan for physical health. I told you also about how writing this blog and working on my book helps exercise my mental health. This week I want to share how another kind of writing helps me maintain my emotional health. While mental clarity comes from a more ordered and formal approach to writing, my emotional needs are better served by an unencumbered pouring forth of thoughts in a journal. I take the thoughts swirling in the chaos of a mind lost in the storm and allow them to gush onto the pages of my journal. Here, no thought is off limits. Why does this help? I’m not sure but perhaps I can illustrate with an analogy.

Do you know the annoyance of having a song stuck in your head? I do. Oftentimes I don’t know all the words or the entire melody, which only makes it worse. It’s like having an obnoxious vine video on loop in my brain. Sometimes it helps to just listen to the whole song. When the song is brought out of my mind and into the airwaves I can listen and move on because the song has been externalized. Journaling is like that. It takes internal thoughts and emotions and externalizes them on the paper. Oftentimes the act of writing reveals thoughts that I didn’t even know were there so lost were they in the chaos. Once written, I can then move on without dwelling on them. The looping track that monopolized my brain is silenced.

But journaling, for me, isn’t done in isolation. I am not alone in this expulsion of internal thoughts. I journal in the presence of the Holy Spirit. He alone has my permission to take in every word and even to guide my words into snippets of revelation. Viewing my thoughts without the lens of God’s truth is not a picture I want to see. His truth is critical to my emotional wellbeing. Because of this, journaling my thoughts is only part of my emotional health exercise. I also journal through the Bible. As I read his words to me, I write down my reflections. This personalizes His truth and gives me the perspective on life that stabilizes my emotions. My thoughts reconciling themselves to God’s Word on the pages of my journal keep me strong, grounded.

As I’ve walked through the grief of losing my baby girl at the tender age of 15, caring friends have given me several books to read. I am so blessed by this. However, none of them have helped me the way Bible study has. I have hungrily devoured God’s word in this season with a level of passion previously unknown to me. John 6:68 voices my sentiments exactly. Where else can I go? Only Jesus has the words of life.

So then this week, I will put one foot in front of the other. I will submit my thoughts to the Lord in journaling. And I will drink in the words of life through Bible study. Will you join me?

bringing order to my thoughts

Good afternoon my friends. As I write to you today I am enjoying a quiet, sacred time my church offers called “Sanctuary”. I love this time when all is still in the house of God. It is a time to reflect on my life in the presence of my Savior. This blog is largely just that, a reflection on my life.

I told you in my last blog that I have spent time recently rearranging my schedule. While evaluating the rhythms of my life, I noticed that I had developed habits over the past months of distracting myself with shallow, interruptible tasks. I was able to keep going on the busy work of church and home. I could handle bookkeeping, web updating, event planning, shuttling people around, cleaning, shopping, cooking, etc. But in the quite times when I would try to study or write I found my thoughts scattered and oftentimes dark. Some of the “busy work” I engaged in was important while some things were just time fillers.

When Kelley died, those things that kept me busy also kept me sane. It kept me distracted enough to limit my grieving to shorter, more manageable spans of time. The shallow work kept me from drowning in an ocean of grief I was not yet strong enough to swim. While this season was important to my mental survival, it is now time to leave the shallows and dive into the deep. So I have made some changes in my schedule. This was done in order to better accommodate larger blocks of time for reflection, study and writing.

Here’s me trying to organize the “blocks” of my life.

 

Previously, I had split up my tasks in such a way that I worked a little bit, every day on each of the things I had determined were necessary both for work and my overall physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. But chopping all of these tasks up and sprinkling them daily throughout my week made it difficult for me to dive deeply into the more cerebral endeavors. While I was beginning to see this on my own, my thoughts were helped by a book I’ve recently read. (Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Calvin Newport.) In order to fully engage in “deeper work” I needed time to immerse myself in the activity. One-hour blocks of time are not conducive to this. So I rearranged tasks to make those deeper activity panels a bit bigger for larger blocks of uninterrupted time.

This uninterrupted, deep work is necessary for my mind to explore, process, engage with and articulate new thoughts. Some of these thoughts are encountered outside of myself as I read articles and books, listen to a podcast or study the scriptures. Some thoughts originate within my own mind as I think, meditate and pray. Most thoughts are overlays of my imagination and evaluation on top of my research.

Articulating these thoughts in writing not only helps me sort through what I believe to be true; it exercises my mind and brings health. This blog is one of my outlets for articulation. I am truly grateful to all of you who read it. However, even without an audience, I would write. Writing is crucial for me to maintain a healthy mind; a workout for my brain. It is the exercise in which I bring order to my thoughts. In addition to blogging, I have also started to write a book. The project is still taking shape but I believe I know how it will unfold.

As a way to enhance my emotional health, I also write in journals. One journal is set aside for processing my grief and loss. One journal is for processing daily Bible readings. I’ll write more on journaling later.

I am hopeful in my newly formed plan. I enjoy the extended times to write, to stretch and exercise my mind. And so far, I am off to a good, though not perfect, start. I give myself 4 out of 5 stars this week.

4 stars

Tune in next week to see if I can keep it up. After all, this is all just an experiment being refined by trial and error. Peace be with you all.

bending, not breaking

Hello again my friends. I am mortified to see it’s been an entire month since my last post. This was not the plan. I was hoping to post weekly. But then, sometimes I fail. I am coming to terms with this and will cease to worry about it now that it has been acknowledged. I am learning to give myself grace in this season as so many of my dear friends have been reminding me to do.

I’m not going to “rate myself” this week, as I’m sure I wouldn’t even earn 1 out of 5 stars. I will however pick up on last blog’s theme of the tension between a firm schedule and the need for flexibility. Even the strongest and tallest of structures must incorporate some flexibility or they risk crumbling when the earth decides to shake. I’ve been working these past weeks on modifying my schedule in order to make it more stable in the storm. And believe me; the waves have been rising and the boat has been rocking of late!

A friend recently compared grief to waves on the ocean. I think that’s a fair description. Always some churning under the surface but interspersed with moments of calm and stormy swells. The last few weeks I’ve had quite a few tidal waves. This makes it difficult to keep life on track. That is where the blessing of the flexible schedule comes in.

I told you last post that I see my ‘to do’ items as residing within a time block that hangs like a panel from a frame. This visual serves me well. If I spend an hour crying in the corner instead of accomplishing the scheduled task, I simply remove that panel from the frame of my schedule. If it’s a panel containing a daily activity like exercise or personal study, I discard it entirely. I will pick back up on it when the item is repeated the next day. No “catching up”. Playing catch up is a schedule destroyer. If it is a critical work task, then I may take that panel and move it to a new section of the framework. Here’s were the built in flexibility I was talking about comes into play.

Any schedule with any hope of maintaining its framework must have MARGIN built in to it.

Think of the margin in a book. Imagine taking that out. With text running continually from top to bottom, side to side with no white space. Our eyes would be tired and our brains overwhelmed. We need margins in our books. And we need margin in our lives too. Without it, we will not only be exhausted, but one line of life would spill into the next and any unforeseen addition to the story would cause a terrible, illegible, overlapping jumble. The whole framework of schedule comes crashing down without margin.

Margin means padding the schedule. If something usually takes an hour and a half, schedule it for two hours. That means if an unexpected need comes up, you have wiggle room. Margin means having an occasional blank hour on the schedule, maybe not daily but certainly within the week. As a pastor, if I don’t have margin and a congregant requires my attention, I run the risk of looking at people as interruptions rather than seeing them as they are, my main reason for ministering.

Margin solves most small hiccups in the plan. But sometimes the interruption in schedule exceeds the margin. Then I have to do the hard work of prioritizing. The critical time block item must go somewhere, so I may have to discard a less crucial panel. This requires grace for oneself. Those of us juggling too many pins at once will have to occasionally let one drop. An occasional drop happens to us all. We must acknowledge our humanity and imperfection and move on. If we find ourselves dropping pins frequently, its time to remove some roles from our repertoire.

There was a time in my young adult work life that I was expressing my difficulty covering all my bases of responsibility. An older, wiser man asked why I didn’t just quit one of those tasks. I looked at him with what must have been a comically puzzled and shocked face. Surely he knew how much I was needed in my role. Reading my mind, he plainly said, “Nobody is irreplaceable.” Ouch! It stung at first. But it was true. Not only that but it was freeing! Doing too many things is nothing more than an exercise in our own pride.

That brings me to my next point. Why do so many of us think the world will stop spinning if we take a day off? I’m talking about SABBATH.

If margin helps us maintain flexibility in the schedule framework, then Sabbath helps us maintain the vigor with which we engage it.

Simply put, we must rest if we are to have the energy to keep going for the long haul. Sabbath allows us the opportunity to recharge and gives time for needed reflection. It puts life and our place in it into perspective, reminding us that we do not hold our world together. That’s God’s job. Let’s exercise our faith by allowing him to do what only he can. Again, it is prideful to think that we cannot take a day to rest.

Margin and Sabbath have become critical to my survival. Occasionally though, I need something more. There comes a time when I need a SABBATICAL. Strictly speaking, a sabbatical happens every seventh year for a year. Modern use is more flexible in application. It simply means an extended break from one’s career. I am applying the term even more loosely.

I use the word sabbatical to describe a season where I hit the pause button on a certain course of action in order to contemplate how to best proceed in the future.

For example, taking a month off of blogging allowed me the time to determine how it would fit into my already full schedule. Originally I had scheduled blogging on my Sabbath day, reasoning that it was a quick and easy task and wouldn’t really interrupt my day of rest much. During my blogging sabbatical I realized that though I try to keep my posts on the short side, it really took me much longer than expected. Because writing is a type of self-healing for me, I spend a good deal of time in thought on what I write. Do I believe it? Do I live it? Why do I think this is important?

During a sabbatical, I answer the following questions. Is this is a task I should even continue? Should it continue in the same form or does it need material changes? When is the best time to accomplish this task? If I am adding a task to my to do list, is there some other task I need to remove in order to make room? Not every good idea is one we need to personally take responsibility for doing. But we often miss seeing that until we hit the pause button, back up and look at the whole picture. Sabbatical allows us the opportunity to do that.

So there you have it. Guard the schedule, but allow it to flex and bend to prevent a total break. Margin, Sabbath and Sabbatical are my tools to build in flexibility and continued maintenance of the ever-important schedule. Next blog I’ll share more on some of the changes I’ve made and why. Until then I pray for rest and peace to you all in the midst of your busy lives.

straining forward

Happy New Year! I haven’t written the last two weeks. Forgive me please. I was on vacation. I hope you too took some vacation time over the holiday season. I hope you had time to laugh, love, and reflect with friends and family. This was my first vacation since Kelley passed away, the 31st my first Sunday off since August. Originally, I had intended to blog during my time off. However, I quickly realized that I needed a total pause of as many self-imposed responsibilities as was possible. If “all the world’s a stage” as Shakespeare says then we all need times of intermission. I needed to slip backstage and recharge in the stillness and quiet of rest and privacy.

Now that I am easing back into my schedule, (alas, a horrible head cold is preventing me from whole-heatedly leaping back in full force), I am realizing the importance of time off from structure. A schedule that cannot bend with flexibility is bound to break completely. That’s really what I wanted to dedicate this, my third blog to addressing – my schedule.

As you now know, I evaluate myself weekly in five categories; physical health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health, and following my schedule. It’s important to note that I am not rating myself on how healthy I am or am not in any of these categories. Rather, I am rating myself on whether or not I spent the allotted time “feeding” these areas of my life. Clearly then, the entirety of success or failure hinges upon the schedule. Speaking of success…

The week prior to my vacation was better than its previous week. I give myself 4 out of 5 stars. (I may be generous in my grading at this point in life. I will expect more of myself as time progresses.)

4 stars

I credit this improvement to an examination of the question posed in the last blog. “How do I contain failure in one place and move on into success in the next?” I think the way I perceive my schedule is the key to the answer.

I tend naturally to have a ‘to do list’ mentality. I see never-ending lists of things that need to be done in my head. And while there is little more satisfying than crossing something off that list, it can be difficult to ever be truly satisfied with myself know that the list continues to grow. The ‘to do list’ is never complete. This is where I am attempting to alter my perception.

Rather than seeing the activities on my schedule as lists needing to be checked off in order before completing my day, I am looking at each item as residing in a block of time. If the schedule is a framework, the time blocks hang like panels from the frame. Lists would look more like build blocks. Pull one from the bottom and the whole thing topples. But pull a panel from the frame and the other panels can remain safely in place.

I have blocked off on my calendar time to feed my spirit, soul, mind and body. These time blocks are allowed to float forward or back only slightly, not enough to sabotage the next block. For instance, if I fail to get in my full time allotment for exercise, I do not allow that time block to invade the next. If I did, I would again run into the domino effect and every part of my schedule for that day or even the week would be impaired. If I accept my lack of perfection for that one block of my day with grace and move on to the next block I can salvage the rest of my day and even end feeling okay with my progress.

It’s really all about looking forward, not back.

“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward
to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the
upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13–14 ESV

I cannot continue to try to ‘catch up’ when I don’t finish a given task on time. I must “strain forward”. Letting go of what I wanted to get done, letting go of defeat and moving forward can be difficult, thus the need to “strain.”

With regard to my mental health exercise of writing, if I don’t get anything on paper one day, I need not even attempt to make it up. Instead, I will see that panel as having been removed, gone forever and I will move on with the next time block for the day. Nothing falls apart, I can still move onto my work as scheduled. When my workday is done, I do not stress about the tasks not completed. I have addressed as many time blocks for the day as I was able and there is nothing left to do until the next day. Seeing ‘to do’s’ in terms of time blocks on a framework rather than building block lists means that failure in one does not lead to failure in the next. The foundation doesn’t crack as long as the framework of schedule stands. It also means that there is no such thing as catching up. One cannot relive an hour that is past.

This then, is the one element in life that must be guarded. The framework of schedule must stand.

This may all sound quite rigid to many. I started this post off by talking about the need for flexibility in the schedule. There are ways to soften the rigidity, bring flexibility and thereby preserve the long-term integrity of the schedule. Three ways I know of are margin, Sabbath and sabbatical. But I will leave that for the next post. Until then my friends, keep looking forward!

the first week of the rest of my life

Here we are on a brisk Monday afternoon in Bellingham, Washington. The weather app says it’s sunny. I’ll have to take its word for it. Where I live amongst the trees the sun doesn’t rise high enough to visit us in the winter. However, the frost-covered scenery is quite lovely. I hope you also have some beauty to view from where you sit.

Last week I told you I was making a plan to take back my life. That plan included scheduling time in my day for “life giving activities”. The categories are as follows: physical health, mental health, emotional health and spiritual health.

Behold my first report card… But first, I need to tell you something about myself. I love star charts. I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. I home schooled my kids for eight years; I was a children’s Pastor for ten years and I worked as a para-educator for four years. I am fated to always see my progress or lack of it in the form of gold-foiled star stickers on graph paper charts. There’s something so gratifying about seeing all those shiny stars lined up in a row! Don’t despair; it won’t all be self-aggrandizing. As I am quite prone to failure, there will doubtless be weeks of utter humiliation. This week, I suspect, will be the typical showing.

3.5 stars

Three and a half out of five stars. I measured my follow through in the four previously mentioned categories plus an added evaluation for how well I stayed on schedule. Keeping up with the schedule was by far the lowest evaluated line item followed by emotional and mental health. I fared pretty well on both physical and spiritual health. However, there was not a perfect score on the paper.

I plan to elaborate on each of the categories over the coming weeks. This week, I’ll pick an easy one to explain – physical health.

I’m not a fitness nut, quite the opposite. I like to sit and read. I enjoy studying in solitude. I am a fair weather walker and hate to run. I used to like hiking moderate trails but I fear I would struggle to do so now. Oh, and I like food. I really, really like food. I’m 47 years old and overweight. How much overweight? I do not know, as I refuse to step on my scale until I can take my wedding ring on and off without some sort of lubrication. Once my fingers (that part of my person I see most often) don’t look like swollen sausages, I’ll brave the scale. Baby steps. I’m all about the baby steps.

Step one; walk on the treadmill for one hour six days per week. I’m sure most of you are rolling your eyes right now. “That’s it?” you ask. Yes. For now, that’s it. I don’t judge by how fast or how many miles walked. I just want to be moving continually for one hour. Why six, not seven? I take a Sabbath. I’ll write about that more later.

Step two; sleep eight hours per night. I’ve just been listening to podcasts about the health risks of too little sleep. Scary stuff. Look up “Eyes Wide Open” on the Hidden Brain by NPR podcast. I dare you!

Step three; drink more water. I’m starting off trying to get in eight glasses (64 oz.) and plan to work up to ten (80 oz.).

Step four; diet. I hate the ‘D’ word. To me, diet means portion control, several small meals throughout the day, no pasta, bread, sugar and very, very little potatoes or white rice. Ugh! It’s torture.

Right now I am only evaluating myself on step one, walking. Once I have that well established in my life, I’ll add step two then three and sadly, finally, four. This week I walked five out of six days. I’m fairly pleased with this. However, in evaluating why I failed on that last day, I’ve learned something valuable.

Each category has a direct bearing on the others.

My weekly foundation started to crack on day three with my mental health exercise. I was writing about the day Kelley died. It was too soon. I am not ready to go back there. After tears turned to convulsions I stopped writing and I didn’t return to writing until today. But that’s not where it ended. Those cracks in the foundation spread. They destabilized me and affected my pace, making it hard stick to my schedule. That in turn made it hard for me to fit in other exercises. My emotional health exercise is my personal Bible studying and journaling. That got knocked out on day five and six. Walking got taken out on day six. All this to make room for work not done during my day of despondence. One area of failure caused a domino affect, toppling the entire experiment.

I can see the problem clearly but I confess the solution evades my vision. I will have to continue to work on this, try new techniques and get back to you. I know failures are to be expected at times. What I need to find is a way to minimize the damage and stop the fault lines before my whole week crumbles and falls. How do I contain failure in one place and move on into success in the next?

Thank you my friends for exploring these questions with me. Share with me your thoughts. I’ll talk to you next week and perhaps, I may have some answers.

climbing out of the darkness

Here I sit. Writing my first ever blog. I know. I’m a little late to the party. I have thought about and rejected the idea of blogging for years. Mostly, I have avoided blogging because I know myself too well. I know I struggle from a lack of discipline. And I’m vain. There, I said it. My own vanity has kept me from attempting to start a blog these past decades because I don’t want you all to see me start something and not keep up with it. I fear public failure. I dread the shame of falling on my face yet again by my lack of follow-through.

Putting those fears aside, I’m diving in. Something stronger than fear is motivating me. I need to make changes to my life. I need to bring myself back to a state of health. I’ve made a plan to start a journey toward physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fitness. And I need accountability to stick to it. This blog is my form of accountability.

Why now? Well, I’ve recently been blindsided by a family tragedy strong enough to knock me to the ground and leave me gasping for breath as the world spins out of control and I descend into the darkness. (I’ll write more on that later.) What little I was doing to maintain a healthy life came to a screeching halt. I stopped caring about myself. I stopped following healthcare plans. I stopped maintaining a disciplined work schedule. I didn’t care whether I lived or died.

I’m now ready to climb out of my hole, out of the darkness. I’m read to live life in the light.

I’ve made a plan. It starts with a schedule. I tell my kids often, “If it’s not on the calendar, it isn’t real.” So to the calendar I go. In order to address each of the four areas of health I’ve mentioned, I’ve blocked off times in my day for life-giving activities.

For physical health – exercise.

For mental health – writing.

For emotional health – personal Bible study and journaling.

For spiritual health – worship and prayer.

Each week, I will blog on my progress. I’ll share what I discover in my travels towards the light. I’ll confess when I stumble in the darkness. And I hope, that in this exercise in transparency, I can bring encouragement and light to others like me, to those who stumble in the darkness.