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.

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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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Day 60 ~ The Quiet Voice of Courage

simplicityI’ve been at this now for a couple of months, and I figure it’s a good time to take stock.

I’ll start with the positive things. My daily routine has become just that – routine. I almost never skip those few things that keep the house running smoothly. This includes morning exercise, 10-minute tidy, kitchen and 90-second hard surface clean in the bathrooms. It’s amazing to me, now that the system is in place, how easily I’m keeping up.

The morning exercise is having a great effect – along with reducing sugar intake. Increasing hydration isn’t going as well, which should be the easiest thing I do, but, well… I’ll keep working on that. I stepped on the scale yesterday and I’ve lost twelve pounds (hopefully to never, ever be found again). I actually had a fabulous little moment this morning. It’s quite nice here – in the 50’s and sunny, so I pulled a lightweight, long-sleeve cotton shirt out to wear. The last time I wore this it was fall, and I had to wear it open with a tank top under it because it wouldn’t button without straining in a very unattractive way. Today, it buttoned with no problem and is hanging loosely on me. This makes me happy.

The thing I’m really struggling with is using my notebook to keep a to-do list and an ongoing list of three daily action items. I did so well with this at first, but I find I’m keeping more and more of my tasks in my head (where they inevitably get lost). I need to revamp this and try again, so I’m going back to the original plan of reviewing my day right before bed each night. I’ll review my lists and make my action list for the next day right then, when there are no distractions. The added benefit of this is that I can release anything knocking around in my brain by writing it down, which will encourage relaxation and a good sleep. I started afresh today, with two items on my action item list that contribute to organization and peace. The first (which is already done) was to clean out my email inbox. I deleted 1,056 emails today!!! (You think I’m joking…) Whew! The second is to collect all the little piles of things I have to give to charity, box or bag them, and put them in one place.

I know no matter how many times I trip up, as long as I stand back up and go again, I will see change and progress. That’s pretty exciting. With this in mind, I think it’s appropriate to end with this quote:

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

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).

Day16 ~ Drink and Thirst No More (I Wish)

When I started this project, one of the things I chose to work on was health. I ate like a six-year-old whose mother wasn’t watching her. (Well, maybe not exactly like a six-year-old, but it wasn’t good). I didn’t drink enough water, and I got zero exercise. So I engaged in some self-analysis, and this is what I decided. Five years ago, I took good care of myself. I made decent food choices, and I tried to be fit. And guess what? I got breast cancer. I didn’t make a conscious choice at the time, but the conclusion I drew a few weeks ago is that I simply moved out of the driver seat of my own life. Somewhere deep in my sub-conscious I thought, “I did all the right things and I got sick. So why do all the right things? What’s the point?”

Well, the point is amazingly clear to me now. Inside my soul there exists an underlying dissatisfaction with the way things are, and the main cause  (and possibly the only cause) is that I am no longer authoring my own story. I am making choices by not actively choosing, and this has to change. I decided I needed change not just within the realm of health, but in an overall simplifying of my life. The result is this journey I’m on, and The Disorganized Perfectionist is the record.

So how am I doing? you may ask. I’m making solid food choices. Every morning (allowing myself one skip per week) I exercise, focusing on breath while I work each muscle group. I feel the difference – I feel better, I’m more limber, and my energy level is slightly improved. But the water part is KILLING me. You would think “increasing hydration” would be the easiest change I could possibly make. Not so. I’m having the worst time.

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I’ve tried all sorts of things. I’ve tried counting glasses. Doesn’t work. I’ve tried filling a bottle. I forget about the bottle. So now, I’m trying repeating this affirmation several times a day.

Water refreshes and revitalizes me. Water makes my skin vibrant and my body healthy. I love water and therefore I drink enough.

Okay, if you’re wondering if this makes me feel goofy, the answer is – sort of. I sincerely hope no one hears me saying it. It is said that, “as a man thinketh, so is he.” So, if I think I’m drinking enough, then I am? I don’t think it works quite like that, but I will say that this method definitely has me thinking about water an awful lot, and the consequence today was – I drank more. Whatever works, dear reader. Whatever works.