Self-Improvement Makes Me Cry

My life, at the moment, is one huge self-improvement project. I seek to sweep out the clutter, not just in my physical environment, but in my internal one as well. I’m currently in an adult project with my homeschool commonwealth, and I’ve decided to share a paper I recently wrote for that project. We read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and our assignment was to write about what we would need in our life to bring about change, in the same manner that the three spirits brought about change for Ebenezer Scrooge. Well … here it is.

Flower_Buds

If one were to ask me what is the most important change I need to make in my life, I would respond that I need to be more fit. I need to improve my level of fitness because I have chronic aches and pains, I lose energy midday, and I still carry around the baby weight from my last pregnancy – TEN years ago.

There is a disconnect, however, between knowing what needs to happen and having it happen. I have tried many programs of exercise, but none have had staying power. Something inevitably happens to derail me – either my back starts to hurt me, or my sinuses clog up, or my schedule gets crazy and I miss too many days. So, what would need to happen for me to make a change that is lasting?

In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits of Christmas, and in showing him his life from a new perspective, they are the catalyst of life change in Scrooge. They changed him because they helped him see the truth of his life in a way that was shadowed to him previously. They turned on the light, so to speak.

In my situation, I also need the light turned on. In thinking about it, I’ve drawn a couple of conclusions about what will make that happen. First, I need to really know myself, and understand what will work for me and what will be possible to maintain. Second, and flowing out of the first, I need to recognize, face and clear the underlying emotional and spiritual issues that prevent me from changing.

In order to know myself and predict what will effect lasting change, I look to another area of my life where I have recently experienced success in bringing about change. This area is in my home, in bringing about order and clearing out clutter. This is another situation in my life where I tried many programs, many systems, and never achieved success… until now. What has changed? I’ve finally changed my perspective and started looking at my physical space through spiritual eyes. I recognized that emotional issues have been preventing me from experiencing the change I longed for, and I started to prayerfully deal with those issues head on. Additionally, I started to view organizing as an act of worship, as I bring order from chaos as God did in the beginning. In short, I’ve begun to perceive the value in my home keeping goals as it relates to my walk with Christ, and doing so has given me hope of lasting results.

So how do I relate my level of fitness to my walk with Christ? I think the answer is twofold. The first part isn’t hard, and involves simply acknowledging that when I feel better and have more energy, I’ll be able to accomplish more. Also, when I feel better physically, I naturally feel better emotionally, and I’ll want to accomplish more. This “more” isn’t just consistency in my devotional time, but also a greater capacity to serve, to love, and to do the practical things in living out my faith.

The second is harder because it involves belief. If I truly believe that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, not as a metaphor but as a reality, then I will be driven by love and gratitude to care for my body. And therein lies the crux…

Love and gratitude.

Love and gratitude, not just for God Himself and for the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, but for this body He has given me.

Yes, love and gratitude for this body He has given me. This. This. This is my great struggle, and this is the critical thing I must face if the light is going to come on and stay on and shine into this part of my life. You see, I don’t feel love or gratitude. In fact, if I’m completely honest what I feel is ugly to admit and unbelievably challenging to face. What I feel is anger.

I’m angry that my body is covered in scars. I’m angry that I still experience nerve pain, and scar tissue pain so many years post surgery. I’m angry that my breasts aren’t my own. I’m angry that they had to dissect my back muscles to help reconstruct what had been destroyed. I’m angry that my chest wall is numb and I can’t feel my husband’s touch. This anger must be directed somewhere and so it is directed at this body that betrayed me, this body that bears battle scars from a war I never wanted to fight.

I’ve had people tell me that I should be amazed by my body, by its ability to heal and survive and adjust. And although I know this to be a true thing in my head, I cannot force my heart to agree. So how do I release it, how do I clear it, how do I get rid of the exquisite tenderness I still feel when I think of what cancer has left me with? What will be the equivalent of three Christmas spirits in my life that will help me turn a head truth into a heart truth?

The answer to this isn’t an easy one. It is a work, not some magical one-night experience. Every day, I read the quote I have taped up to my kitchen window. It says, “On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.” This isn’t a race. This life change I seek will not occur overnight. It will occur as I engage in the work.

This work will consist of different things, all necessary and none sufficient on its own. I know myself, and I know that setting a long-term goal could be very discouraging for me if I don’t see results fast enough. So I won’t set one. I’ll only set a goal for today. I’ve had measurable results using EFT (emotional freedom tapping) in other areas of my life, so I will turn that work toward my relationship with my body, and I will gradually clear the ugliness away. I will pray. I will work my muscles and breathe deeply and drink more water and be more intentional about nutrition. Yes, today I will do those things. I have the strength to commit to today.

Then tomorrow, I will rise and I will ask myself if I have the strength to commit for one day. Past failures are irrelevant. Future successes are like fog on the horizon. All that matters, and all I can control, is what I choose to do today. So today, I will engage in the work. Each day, I will choose, and when my choice is, “do the work,” I will mark it as a small step toward the light.

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Praying Circles

I haven’t been here in, well … forever. At least it feels like it. My summer didn’t shape up quite like I envisioned. Instead of having a super productive summer, I’ve had about four months of almost daily headaches. I’m tired. And it’s hot.

But…

It is a new season. Not literally, you know, but my kiddos are back to school and that is a mile marker in our year. My older daughter decided to go back to her Early College High School for 10th grade, and my younger daughter is homeschooling. And so, although I have many projects I want to do in my home, and in myself, I’m going to spend some time focusing on my health. I feel myself slowing down, like a car running out of gas, so I’m changing some things.

First – I’m seeing a chiropractor a few times a week. This has definitely helped the headaches, but has not yet touched the tiredness.

Second – I’m trying to juice at least once a day. There are many health benefits to fresh juices, but my main goal is to get raw food nutrients every day.

Third – I’ve started, just this week, keeping a food journal. I’m trying (not always succeeding, but trust me, trying) to be very thoughtful about everything I put in my body. I realize that my system is probably toxic – I’ve had cancer with all the ensuing treatments, and still receive medical therapy (in the form of a daily pill). I was reluctant to write down everything I eat because it seemed obsessive, but it has actually been really helpful. I have someone who will be reading it, and that accountability makes me pause and think before I eat anything, always striving for the most nutrition per bite that I can get.

Sometimes I look at really healthy people – physically fit, boundless energy, perfect weight – and being healthy seems like an impossibly hard goal. However, I’m currently reading The Circle Maker, a book about prayer, and I’m daily circling the following promise like the Israelites circled Jericho. Eventually, those heavy walls of fatigue and pain will fall.

“The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

Day 100 ~ Invariable

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“Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.”  ~ George Orwell

It’s interesting what’s happened in the first months of my “project.” I started writing this little online journal as a record of all the organizational changes I was making in my home. Although there are lots of projects I can still do and am doing, and although there has been progress – the progress has been painfully slow and I find that it’s hard to stay motivated and excited about it. Not impossible – just hard. Really hard. But as I’ve gone through the process, I’ve unearthed something else that is really at the core of it all. I’ve unearthed my own discontent.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have many things to be happy about in this life, and I don’t take them for granted. I practice gratitude daily. But I realize that I’m a coveter. Coveting is just wanting something you don’t have, and I want all sorts of things I don’t have. The problem with wanting things and having goals to get them, is those goals can become little gods, the absolute be all and end all of each day. Lately, as I’ve become more aware of this general state of being, I catch myself thinking things that are really not productive. I find myself thinking that when my house is in order and running the way I want it to, I’ll be happier. Now, this may be true, but the result is that I feel LESS happy right now. It goes on all the time. “If my yard were better, then…” Or, “The city’s making me crazy. If I just lived in a smaller town…” Or, “I need something that’s just mine (I can insert anything here, but career is frequently the word). Then I’d be satisfied.” Then just yesterday, I was on facebook looking at pictures of a phenomenal reunion between a friend of mine and the twins she gave up for adoption eighteen years ago, and instead of being overwhelmed with happiness for her, I’m sitting there thinking, “Wow. Look at her kitchen. If I had a kitchen like that…” Okay, I was actually very, very happy for her, but the kitchen thought did creep in.

I’ve come to realize that I need to work on my contentment level. Paul in the Bible says that he has learned contentment in every situation, but I am so NOT there yet. I don’t quite know how to get there, but this I do know. It’s an internal issue. I can organize my whole house. I can throw out all the unnecessary junk. I can find my mission. I can lose thirty pounds. I can buy new clothes, remodel my kitchen, plant the garden I want – and still I will be dissatisfied if I cannot learn to be content where I am right now. I think that kind of contentment is somewhat supernatural. I know that it’s intangible. It’s this invisible thing I can’t quite put my finger on. But it’s essential.

And so… I continue to do “the work.” I do the work of better fitness, better organizational systems, better planning. I also do the internal work that leads me toward greater simplicity and true contentment. In pursuit of these things, I’ve changed some aspects of my day. I’ve started the discipline of centering prayer, the purpose of which is to practice being in the presence of God. Of course, I’m centered on the Lord for about two minutes before I catch myself mentally making a grocery list, but the key word is “practice.” I keep bringing myself back to the stillness in which I can know God, and it will get easier as I do it more. I’ve also been repeating the Jesus Prayer several times a day – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I focus on the meaning of each of the four parts. I recognize the lordship of Jesus, I express my faith that He is who He said He is, I acknowledge my own position in relation to Him, and I receive the grace He freely offers me. When I do this consistently, well – my goodness, if all else doesn’t dim in comparison.

And then, I continue to practice gratitude. Thank you that I am alive. Thank you for the richness of my relationships. Thank you for the freedom to express myself. And thank you for the power to change, which resides in me.

Day 93 ~ Candy for Breakfast

Monday, I chaperoned a field trip my daughter took downtown. We visited the Capitol, did a tour (including the attic – lots and lots of stairs). I must give a little shout out here because my kiddo and a classmate led the Pledge of Allegiance in the House of Representatives. Then we walked to the U.S. Mint and did that tour, then we walked to the museum where we went through the Counter-terrorism Education Learning Lab. Then we walked back to the Capitol, where the cars were parked.

Now, I like to think I’m in much better shape than I was last year. I’ve been consistently doing morning exercise and consciously eating better. But after all day walking and standing, I seriously felt like I might die. After the field trip, we raced home so I could get my little one to gymnastics, then we had to get dinner on the table and after eating, I thought my head might fall into my soup, so to speak. I got into my pj’s  and crawled into bed to read at 8:30, and the next thing I know, my husband is pulling the book out of my hands and turning off the light because I’d fallen asleep. I was barely aware of him and totally zonked out for the rest of the night at that point. Someone, please tell me this is not my future. I want more energy. I need more stamina. How, oh how, do I get it back?

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So, yesterday was a recovery day. I’m amazed that I needed it, but I did. I’m still kind of dragging. In fact, this morning at the grocery store, chocolate peanut butter cups started calling to me while I was in line. And I didn’t resist. I bought them (organic dark chocolate and protein in the peanut butter, so not completely, entirely bad for me – right?). I went home, poured a cup of coffee, and had candy for breakfast. And I must admit that after that, the whole day looked brighter. So, I’m leaving a little note to my perfectionist self:

No one is perfect, dear self. Life is all about choices and each opportunity to choose brings with it the opportunity to change. But change doesn’t happen all at once, so don’t give up. Don’t quit. Keep going.

You, too – dear reader.

Day 65 ~ Journey Oriented

I recently finished a book (fiction) where one of the characters so inspired me. This character, a woman in her 50’s, had been walking four miles a day, five days a week for seventeen years. Over that time, she’d lost a pound a year, and her body shape had changed causing her to drop a couple of dress sizes. At the same time, her friends had hit a point in life where they were gaining about three pounds a year. I loved it. She walked to keep active and stay healthy, but the result was that she was trimmer, fitter and more energetic than her compatriots who were starting to put on the mid-life bulge. This woman was a testament to consistency, and I was inspired.

simplicityI had been feeling that my own weight loss was happening at a snail’s pace. I’ve lost 12 pounds since the first of the year. Reading this book helped me feel encouraged about that, instead of frustrated. It helped me take my eyes off of some kind of destination, and focus more on the journey. I feel better – no question about it. I have more energy, more stamina, and a noticeable increase in flexibility, especially in my right shoulder. My shoulder is stiff and sore every single day because of scar tissue, inelastic skin (resulting from radiation therapy) and reconfigured anatomy (because of muscles which were moved to reconstruct my body after a bilateral mastectomy). I can now lie on my back on the floor, reach my hands over my head, and touch the backs of my hands to the floor – something I could not do just a few short weeks ago. I’ve seen a massage therapist one time (last month) who practices “bone rocking”, a method for gently convincing a tight joint to relax and open up. That one visit and consistent exercise and I feel closer to normal than I’ve felt in five years.

All this motivates me to keep going, regardless of the physical manifestation of weight loss or lost inches. I’m even motivated this week, with the bane of Daylight Savings Time which has resulted in doing my exercise, once again, while it’s still dark out. (There is definitely a temptation to stay under the covers). I write about all this to remind myself that I am seeing progress. The steps may be small, but they keep taking me in the right direction. A year from now, I’ll be so glad I started this journey and didn’t make excuses. My home will be peaceful. (It’s already more peaceful than it was). My body will be fit. I’ll have more vitality. My life will be new.

What journey have you been thinking about beginning? Change is hard. The first step is hard. Getting back up after you trip and fall is hard. But you are brave – I just know you are. Take the first step. A year from now, you’ll be so glad you started today.

Day 45 ~ When Your Bank is an Army Surplus Store

simplicityToday has been a day of craziness. First of all, the wind’s been blowing at about 40 mph, gusting to around 80 mph. My friend posted a quote from Catherine the Great on facebook this morning: “A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.” Well, for me – I had neither. Why, you may ask? Because I spent the morning chasing down a mistake I made in our finances. I didn’t have a headache, although it was a headache, if you know what I mean. It required going to my actual, physical Credit Union, which I haven’t done in months. So when I got there (on my way home from dropping my elder daughter at school, because I had an efficient plan) it was an Army Surplus Store. I mean – really… who would do that? So I went north to a branch that wasn’t on my way home, and the one day each week that they don’t open till 9:30 is – you guessed it – today. It was only 8:25 – so I went home, but that start (combined with the emotional yucky feeling of knowing I messed something up) established the tenor of the whole day.

10-minute tidy: didn’t happen.

Dishes: didn’t happen until 3 o’clock.

Professional blogs (this is what I do for a living, and they’re usually done by noon): last one finished at 4 P.M.

Homeschool: not really great today, unless you count reading aloud from a Fisher Price catalog and counting by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s while in the car. (She also did a reading program on the computer, but overall, it didn’t feel great).

So, lots of things went wrong, and there was not a smooth flow to the day at all. However, I want to end by reminding myself what I did do.

I woke, and did my exercise, focusing on breath. Although I’ve plateaued, only having lost the 8 pounds then stopping, this program makes me feel great. My body is happier, and probably healthier.

I spent time with both girls, letting them know I love them.

I prepared a hot meal for my family – bison meatloaf, brown jasmine rice, and steamed vegetables, and we sat together and ate.

And now I’m heading to my Daisies club, where I mentor kindergarten girls. I will leave my agitation from the day right here – discarded on this page – and I will go and give those little ones my very best. As a matter of fact, just talking about it, I feel better already.

Day 22 ~ Little Bitty Steps

If I have learned anything so far on this 3-week journey, it’s that little steps taken consistently in the same direction will eventually yield big results. I have tried to change things in my life before, and failed. But this time is different. This time my goals are clear. And I know myself – I know to make changes in very small increments, wait until I feel comfortable with it, then make some more small changes. For instance, I could never set for myself the goal of going to the gym three times a week for forty minutes of cardio. First of all, I hate to exercise – that kind of exercise anyway – it is mind-numbing and I would want to stop almost before I started. I also hate running around in my car, and having another place to go would make me crazy. So I set a goal for myself that I knew I could achieve and maintain – just fifteen minutes of zero-impact exercise focusing on breath. I do this six times a week (allowing myself one skip). This combined with increased hydration and decreased sugar has resulted in a loss of eight pounds.  Just little, bitty steps, dear reader, with measurable results.

I’ve also learned how important it is to focus on today only. Each morning I tell myself, “You only have to succeed today.” I don’t think about tomorrow (too scary). I don’t think about yesterday – succeed or fail, yesterday is gone and no longer matters. Only what I do today, in this moment, matters.

So today, I reflected on things that are working. My dining room table is feng-shuied. It’s been amazingly easy to keep it clear, and it really does feel more peaceful. My kitchen sink and stovetop are clean. I’m making consistently good choices for my health. And today, I started using my notebook – you know, the one that’s going to change my life. I jotted down things that need to be done, then chose three to accomplish today. Shockingly, I did just that. (Maybe not shocking to you list-makers, but shocking to me). It totally worked just like it was supposed to!

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Today was a good day, but I’ll close with a humiliating confession. One of the three things I chose to work on was to start on the backlog of laundry in my house. I was out of clean dishcloths, so I did a load of kitchen laundry – 12 dishcloths and 14 dishtowels!!!! To understand what this means, I have to tell you that I toss a dishcloth in the laundry about every three days. In spite of the clutter issue, I’m actually kind of a germaphobe. I can’t stand the thought of bacteria growing in my dishcloth, so the moment it no longer smells fresh it goes in the basket. This means that I haven’t washed kitchen laundry since Christmas. Since Christmas! Good grief! This is a landmark moment – never again (I hope) will I let a whole month pass without washing a dishtowel. I am slowly but surely implementing a laundry system – one that works. Little by little I will find the easiest way to do things, and my life will be (re)new(ed).