Tag Archives: struggle

Pain-ini

Last week I whined about the juice bar in our gym on base selling what I presumed were pizzas at lunch time during my workout.
I’m all for unhealthy food choices as an exercise motivator. We used to celebrate Push For Your Pie Fridays at work, where we’d have a goal of total push-ups performed by the office team, with a pie to share at the end of the day as a reward. (I may re institute this plan in my next job.)
I’m the Spin Instructor who confessed I was only turning the pedals so I could justify a Caramel Macchiato later.
But at the 45:00 point in an hour on the elliptical, the aroma of fresh toasted panini is over the line of what is reasonable!

The political side of me says this is smart and this is capitalism. They have a perfect crowd of hungry customers.

But my rage will not forgive this affront.

It’s the Anti-Thin, the Abomination of Dietary Desolation. It is a wrong thing, a trap for the unwary. And there is nothing but despair within.

This is why I can’t come in here with money.

I want to burn that place to the ground.

I guess I’ll go eat my stinking can of tuna with some steamed green beans instead. And it will taste like ash, as my heart seethes with hatred.

They should know better than to mess with people on a diet.

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Counter-Productive

After Physical Therapy this morning, I hopped over to the base gym to put the rest of my body through some paces.

Having not eaten breakfast, going just before lunch time might have been a mistake.

The gym at some point opened a lunch bar. I walk in to the area with all the exercise equipment and immediately smell all manner of deliciousness. Is that pizza? I heard folks talking about gyros. This on top of the smoothies and shakes they already offered?

Whose side are these people on?!

I guess it’s no worse than me a few years ago as a Spin Instructor, bringing doughnuts to my class as “added motivation.” Maybe this is karma.

Self-control won out over hunger, at least for today.

If you go to a gym or fitness center, do they serve food and tantalize their customers with the aroma? Or do you find yourself tempted when you jog or bike past some restaurant in the local area?

Share a story in a comment. I need some company in my misery. ūüėÄ

Grinding Gears

This morning I forced myself out of bed to honor a commitment.

My swollen Frankenstein foot is healing. I’m attending physical therapy sessions to strengthen it. But my whole body needs exercise. My speed has to improve, and my waistline must shrink so I can pass a fitness test.

Time to move.

The first hundred feet powerwalking feel like running a motor with no oil. Like trying to get my tires out of mud or gravel, and they’re spinning with no traction.

It’s like my old 10-speed after a long winter. I’d pull it out of the garage once the snow melted, and spray WD-40 over the chain and gears. But it still took a few minutes of pedaling to shake everything loose. Grinding metal. Sudden jolts as the chain stuck and snapped loose. Frequent rattling. Then finally, it became reliable.

Even then, when I shifted speeds, the chain would sometimes slip off. I’d have to stop, put it back together, get the chain back on track, and start up again.

Effort is the oil in the engine of greatness.

The Chinese understand this. Their word for “to add oil; lubricate” ( Śä†ś≤Ļ / jia you, pronouced “jah yo”) has the figurative meaning of increasing effort, pushing harder, stepping on the gas.

With this foot, I’m never going to be a marathon runner. I’ll probably never sprint very fast. I won’t be an awesome basketball player.

But I will regain and surpass the speed I once could achieve on this foot. And I will be able to shoot hoops with my daughter again. And who knows, maybe even I’ll go back to running a fitness test instead of merely walking.

Because I will wake up on cold mornings, spray some “oil” on that ankle, suck it up, and start walking. I will get on the bike, strap my feet in, and turn up the resistance. And when it gets easy, I’ll add another level or two.

What matters isn’t where you’re at now. Where you were before doesn’t matter either. What matters is where you’re headed, and what you’re willing to do to get there.

Writing–really, any creative effort–is similar. I used to say writing was a hobby. But I’ve put in effort and study to improve my craft. I keep doing so. I call myself a writer, because writing is what I do, what I will continue to do.

In fact, I call myself author, because I’ve written numerous short stories and devotionals. I’ve put over a hundred thousand words into a manuscript and I have composed over 150 songs. Maybe soon I will self-publish. With some hope, maybe I will one day have work printed in a publication or published by a professional company.

All I know is that today I will sit down at the keyboard and turn words into sentences, phrases into paragraphs, passages into chapters. Then I’ll edit and revise until it’s the strongest work I can produce today.

And I won’t be content with that, so I’ll make myself do better tomorrow.

I’m not saying I’m great. I’m saying I’m not satisfied.

What commitment to yourself are you going to honor today?

Sheer Willpower

Sort of related to the last post…

When on a strict diet, and you’re willing to go to the Pho restaurant down the hill to get the wifey a delicious cashew chicken, knowing you can’t partake in the fabulous Mongolian Beef, but instead have a plate of vegetables and maybe some Weight Watchers low-calorie pretend food waiting…

Well, that has to be true love.

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Cue the Montage

If I try to structure my blog posts at all, then Saturday is when I post a “Storyline.” Usually it’s a piece of creative writing or something related to the books bouncing around in my head.

Today, I’m going to share a bit of my story. It’s late, but it’s still Saturday. And I’ve backed off from rigidly following that daily structure in these posts. And it’s my blog so I DO WHAT I WANT!

Specifically, I’m thinking about the upcoming surgery I have scheduled on March 5th, and the recovery process that will follow. And I ask myself if this is really necessary.

Gonna get very familiar these once again!
Gonna get very familiar these once again!

For almost twenty years now, I’ve noticed occasional stiffness and pain in my ankle after high-impact activities. It was usually a short ache or a feeling like the joint locked in place and simply needed a good pop. I’d pop the ankle and massage the joint, and move on with my day.

About 2000, I realized it was gradually but steadily getting worse. I soon learned that some of my favorite sports were out of the question. No basketball, no racquetball, no volleyball… I had to quit doing anything that called for pivoting the ankle or making fast movements and changes of direction. I was never very good at any of those sports, so it didn’t feel like a big loss.

Not long after that, the Air Force revamped the fitness program, pushing for more running. Squadron fitness sessions followed suit, and I spent two or three days a week pounding pavement around Kadena. The next day following the run would be full of stiffness, constant aching, and sharp stabbing pains. My ankles would sometimes give out, and I’d stumble. Or the pain would be such that I would slowly work my way down the stairs, eliciting comments and questions from my coworkers.

Imagine you’re walking along and someone raps your ankle with a hammer ‚Äď not hard enough to break anything or make you fall over, but enough to grab your complete attention for a minute or two until the pain subsides. That’s how it feels most days after I run.

I tried checking with the military doctors, but they were convinced I was not stretching enough. Or I weighed more than I should, and the problem was just the excess weight. They taught me exercises to mitigate the effects of plantar fasciitis, and they suggested diet programs. But the answers boiled down to “Live with it.”

So I did.

I’m not the doctor. I don’t have the medical degree on the wall. I assume they know what they’re talking about.

This went on for a few more years, until the day that I had to crawl around my house rather than put weight on my feet after a simple walk through the Commissary for a grocery shopping trip. My wife got me to re-attack with the doctors, and this time, I got a referral to a podiatrist who ran a CAT scan.

He pulled me into the office and pointed out several noticeable problems with my foot and ankle structure. Then he called attention to the various shadows in the ankle bones, and explained, “That’s advanced degenerative arthritis. It’s much worse than it should be for someone your age.”

Way to make me feel old.

The good news was the doctor had a plan.

The bad news was, so did the Air Force. It took nine months to align dates so that I could get surgery, but I finally got it. We had to work around military education, mission needs, a new office, and squadron deployments. The plan was to get the right foot fixed, then give me time to recover and return to flying duties. After a few months back on flight status, we would get the left knocked out.

I had surgery on my right foot in 2010. The surgeon went in through the right side and carved off some excess bone which was pushing other parts of the ankle out of place. Then he stuck a titanium screw up through my heel to fuse together two of the bones in my ankle.

The recovery process took about five months. By then, increased demands on the squadron got in the way of the original plan. First I needed to fly local sorties, then I was sent on a deployment. By the time I returned, it was time to start preparing to move to a new duty location. I did not want to try to move my family of six across the world while on crutches wearing a cast. Needless to say, the left ankle never got done.

Sadly, the bones didn’t fuse like they were supposed to, so now instead of fixing the left ankle, we get to revisit the right and try to do it “right” (Ha ha). The doc has to take out the old screw, graft in some bone, and put in a new screw. Second time’s the charm, or so we hope. We’re going to help the odds a bit with an infusion of vitamin D and an ultrasonic device meant to stimulate bone growth and recovery.

I know this is going to be a long and difficult process. I have to watch my diet while in a cast, because I will not be able to exercise or be anywhere near as active as I am now. I have to throw myself into physical therapy and personal exercise as soon as that cast comes off, because I will have my next fitness test coming due.

Where's "Eye of the Tiger" when I need it?
Where’s “Eye of the Tiger” when I need it?

I need a sweet action-movie montage where the hero gets into shape for the big battle against the forces of evil (or the fitness testing cell). I have a story to write in the next few months, but not with words. It’ll be with sets of push-ups and planks, hours of spinning on a cycle or elliptical, weeks of tracking every calorie consumed or burned, every pound gained or lost. It’ll also be dealing with the looks or unspoken judgments of those who don’t know all the details ‚Äď accepting that some people will assume instead of ask, ¬†condemn instead of encourage.

I know I can write this story, because I did it three years ago.

But I’m not looking forward to it.

Stories resonate so well because everyone has one of their own. There’s a drama going on in every life that you and I may not be privy to. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion, but just like any good book, if you do that, you miss the most important details.

The movie montage seems so nice because it shortens all the hours of suck into a few minutes of hard work, set to a driving beat. Of course, life has no such short-cuts, and achievements do not come so easily.

I know I’m not the only one who has a similar story of long, hard work to recover from injury or achieve a difficult goal. What kept you going when it would have been easy to quit? What did you find inspired you to push harder, work longer, and succeed?

Everyone has a story, and I’d love to hear yours.

The Mirror

For a Monday Morning Snack, here’s a short piece about mercy and judgment.

The Mirror

I looked out the window at the world, angry at all the injustice.

Then I looked in the mirror, ashamed at all of my own.

I looked out the window at two men in love, and my religious beliefs rose in offense.

I looked in the mirror, saw how little I love, and I was humbled.

Outside I saw greed ignore need and I was enraged.

Inside, I saw my own selfishness, and I was appalled.

I looked out the window at passion paraded and praised, and I stood in judgment.

I looked in the mirror at my lust and desires, and I cried for mercy.

I looked out and saw people reject God’s word, and I thought them foolish.

Then I saw my life contradict my professed beliefs, and I was disgraced.

I looked out the window at everything wrong, and asked, “God, what are You going to do about this?”

Then I heard Him respond, “I gave you a mirror.”

An Off Day

Sorry for the late FitnessFriday post.

Today has been a bit of an off day. I don’t mean a vacation. I mean crazy schedules.

Nonetheless, I still have to work out, so I walked into the gym today, feeling stiff and sore from my last workout, knowing I was about to make those same muscles cry once more. But I had a day to rest in between, so I had a chance to recover a bit.

That’s the kind of off day I want to talk about.

Last week, I recounted a mantra one of my favorite Spin instructors would repeat almost every class. “Your mind gives up before your muscles do. Be strong.”

I would always give another reminder at the beginning of class. “If you feel discomfort and¬†soreness in muscles from being challenged, great. That’s where we want you to be. If you feel pain and discomfort in joints, stop pushing yourself. That’s not safe.”¬†¬†Sometimes you get people who are new to cycling, or people who are so eager that they are pushing themselves too far¬†beyond their present limits.

There’s a balance between these two statements, an comfortably uncomfortable and somewhat challenging place where you are pushing yourself beyond your present fitness level, while maintaining your overall health and wellness. You’ve got to be strong at times, breaking through the “I give up” in your mind. You’ve also got to be smart, able to identify when enough is enough for a day or two.

Your body needs time to recover, to adapt to everything you’ve done to it. Your muscles need to repair themselves¬†so you can¬†get stronger. This is of course why you see people rotating through major muscle groups when they go to the gym. “Today is legs, tomorrow is arms, next up is abs and core,” and so on.

Cardio exercise is similar. Repetitive motion with no recovery leads to those joint issues I mentioned earlier. Sticking to the same exercise over and over with no breaks is a risk to your body.

You’re not a robot. You need a rest day.

You’re not physically made for long durations of constant repetitive motion every day like¬†some automated factory machine.

You’re not mentally or emotionally made for repetition either.

Give yourself a rest day from the menial tasks, the unending cycle of mundane labor. We are not made for monotony.¬† Take time to let go of the mental weight of responsibility now and then. If you’re in a position where¬†playing hooky is not an option, like¬†a single mom or a caregiver for a close relative, then see if you can at least coordinate getting a break from a friend who can help. You’ll come back fresh, renewed, ready to take on the challenges once more, stronger than you were before.

I’ve had coworkers who simply will not stop until all their tasks are accomplished, no matter how overwhelming. My friends and I have tried to explain our concerns,¬†to no avail.

Discipline is great, but be smart about it. When you work constantly at a task – physical or mental – you begin to slow and tire out. You start missing important steps. Your form becomes sloppy, if it’s physical activity. If it’s mental, your product ends up with flaws. This all starts small but builds up quick.

A boss reminded me about this today:

“Slow is cautious, and cautious is fast.”

It takes time to do a thing right. It takes even more time to go back and fix something when you’ve made mistakes. In physical exercise, you risk hurting yourself and derailing your efforts to improve. In mental exertion, you may end up creating more work for yourself, or failing to accomplish the goal you set out to achieve.

Stop, catch your breath, grab a cup of coffee. Take some time off from that particular task. Then jump back in, ready to give it another shot.

You’ll probably have less of those chaotic off days once you schedule some restful ones.

Yes You Can

Maybe
Sort of…

Oh, I know, the Democratic National Convention is going on. And last campaign was all about “Yes We Can.”¬†I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s the case.

I’m not going to weigh in, because it’s time for Fitness Friday.

And that means no politics, just pain (with eventual gain).

Speaking of weighing in, I punched 15 pounds of fat in the face over the last 5 weeks. Yay!

So what that means is I had way too much on me already, and so a slight diet change and a lot of plain old boring exercise got the job done. Now that the easy part of getting started is done, I imagine I will have to push it harder to make more progress.

My body rebels at the thought.

Good thing my mind is here to tell my body to shut its mouth. (Shut it, mouthbreather!)

Bikes that go nowhere? LOL.

I’ve mentioned before that I spent a couple years as an indoor cycling instructor. I had a friend who was a regular, and he told me the Spin class is awesome and challenging. I said something along the lines of “Psssh… you’re sitting in a room riding a bike to nowhere. Is that even a workout?”

I went to one class and got destroyed. But I fell in love. This is a workout, more than any other, where it’s all up to you. You’re only working out as hard as you make yourself work. You’ve got the resistence knob. No one (usually) comes and turns up your resistence for you. You’ve got to bring it all by your lonesome. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and you might as well have stayed home on the computer (in my case) or couch (if computer doesn’t work for you).One of the instructors that inspired me to pursue that certification had a favorite phrase. Every time he told us to spin that resistence knob to the point that our legs started screaming, he would growl out this sentence:

You can do this. Be strong. Your mind gives up long before your muscles give out.

Also, “We love the hills!”

This is nothing new. The concept of willpower is not a recent discovery to the world of sports.

But sometimes we need reminders.

It’s not always what you don’t yet know that defeats you. It’s what you know but don’t live out.

This is true in many areas of fitness. It matches up with everything I’ve heard from distance runners. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because you know you can keep going.¬†I know sprinters probably get tempted to quit when they’re getting ready for their next interval. I’m sure that lifters hit a moment just before muscle failure where it’s easy to think, “I’ve worked pretty hard. These last two reps probably don’t matter.”¬†Or is that just me?

Apart from physical therapy, no one’s going to come move your muscles for you. No one’s going to run behind you and push you along. You might not have anyone around when you hit that wall and feel like giving up, so you won’t hear an encouraging shout or a friendly challenge. All you’ve got is the little voice in your head saying, “Your mind will give up long before your muscles. Be strong.”

This isn’t just an athletic concept. This applies to all of life.

When you are learning somehing new – piano lessons, perhaps, or economic theory, or whatever floats your boat – you have the choice. You can apply yourself and push hard. Or you can take the easy way out

Emotionally, when life is hard, you can follow the path of least resistence and sulk about how unfair it all is. Or you can rise above, and remember that your mind wants to give up before you really get to the point where you can’t go on.

Spiritually, you can be content with where you’ve been, with the comfortable, with whatever you’ve done before. Or you can pursue the something more that you know is out there waiting

Building any form of discipline will take work. Good news! You are up to the task. You are strong. Yes, you can.

Fitness Friday

Welcome to the new category, Fitness Friday. This is the first such post, and here’s what to expect: I am no fitness guru with a wealth of information about how to squeeze out that last little bit of performance or lose that last percentage of body fat to meet your goal. I was a certified indoor cycling instructor and taught classes for a couple years, but I’m no expert.

We love the hills!
Good times. Bring a gel seat.

However, I have lots of time in the gym spent thinking about exercise and how it relates to the rest of life. There are lessons that apply not only to physical fitness, but to mental and emotional health, and even spirituality. And the first lesson is:                Fitness is about me, not anyone else.

No one runs my race for me; no one else can push me to my maximum effort. How fast or slow another person runs means nothing for my fitness. I am only competing with myself.

When the Air Force gives me a fitness test, it doesn’t matter how well everyone else can do push-ups. It doesn’t matter if someone next to me can’t do a single sit-up. If that guy over there has a bulging waist that causes him to fail, that doesn’t affect my test.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† I’m up against me.

Competition can be healthy, don’t get me wrong. It can spur a person to new heights of performance. It can push us past what we might have thought of as our limit. Athletes strive to be the very best, with good reason.

But when I exercise, it’s not about everyone else’s condition. It’s not about how strong the next guy is or how fast the woman is doing sprints. It’s not about how much better I am, either. Comparing myself to others is silly, because everyone has a different fitness level.

Challenge yourself. Push your limits.

I have to find my motivation and push myself. I have to make my workout worth the time I’m spending. What matters is this: Am I challenging myself to be better than I was before? Am I running my race with 100% effort? Am I lifting weights that challenge my muscles and make me stronger? Am I straining against my personal limitations?

This applies to mental fitness as well. Am I always learning? Am I growing, developing my skills and my awareness of the world around me? Or am I content to remain ignorant?

Spiritually, am I pushing myself toward intimacy with God? Or am I stagnant, content to rest on what I’ve done in the past? Am I like a former Olympian, sitting in the gym, thinking and bragging about the glory days of what I once did, but growing weak through present inactivity?

Paul wrote to one of his churches about “some of those who commend themselves.” He said, “when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12 NASB).

What he’s saying is, when we look at each other and say, “I’m faster than him, I’m smarter than her, I’m more patient than him, I’m more spiritual than her,” we miss the point.

Sprint it out!
Let us run with endurance the race set before us!

It’s about living at our personal maximum potential. At the end of his life, Paul looked back and was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 NASB). He wasn’t concerned with declaring himself better than anyone else, or claiming to be the best. He was concerned that he had given his all for the cause.Whatever your cause, give it your all. Don’t hold anything back. Your race isn’t against me or anyone else. It’s against a version of yourself that is content with mediocrity and being less than all that is possible.

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NASB).

The stopwatch is ticking.

Start running.

Morning Snack #3

Monday Morning Snack

(Note: I‚Äôve created some new categories for posts. One of these is the ‚ÄúMonday Morning Snack,‚ÄĚ which will contain thoughts from whatever Scripture I happen to be reading. These were going to be random and occasional, but now I aim to post them each Monday.)

OM NOM NOM
A little bite to whet your appetite

My Bible app gives me a verse of the day, and it sparked a thought this morning:

but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 1Pet 4:16 NASB

This made me consider what it might mean to “suffer as a Christian.”

The Bible tells us often that if we’re true to the faith, the rest of the world isn’t going to like us. No one really likes having their sin pointed out, or being told they’re not good enough based on their own merit, or hearing that they are born in sin and naturally at enmity with God until they come to saving faith in Christ Jesus as their Redeemer.

It’s not a popular message. God obviously didn’t read¬†How to Win Friends and Influence People¬†before coming up with this plan of salvation.

The problem is, in my experience, believers are often too quick to assume that¬†any¬†opposition is based on the offense of the Gospel. If someone doesn’t like me as a Christian, of course I’d rather believe that they’re upset because of the counter-cultural message of my faith. But maybe they’re just mad because I’m inconsiderate or lazy at work.

A good example is Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A fame. Whether you agree with him or not, the statements he made (which sparked the whole controversy over same-sex marriage) were a simple declaration of what he believes based on the Bible. He wasn’t spewing blatant hate or disgust. He was merely professing his faith, and I submit he did it in a respectful way. The withering criticism came because of what the Bible says and how the majority of Christians in the West interpret Scripture on the subject of homosexuality.

If only all the Christian responses to that controversy were as calm, respectful, and precise.

Peter writes in this passage that “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” and “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (vv. 13-14). But he also makes the point that there are other reasons why one might suffer: “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (v.15).

Certainly I hope none of those are true of any of us! But the meaning is clear: it is possible that we suffer not because of Christ or the Gospel or our faith, but because of our individual flaws.

I have to ask myself:

Are people upset by what Jesus taught and what the Bible says, or how I am saying it?

Are people irritated by my sincere acts of faith in Christ, or by my hypocrisy in other areas of life?

Is the message the source of the offense, or is the messenger?

These are questions we definitely want to answer.