Every Mountain has a Valley

A blogger I follow posed a question the other about favourite stories from the Bible. There are so many good ones to choose from, and I think my choice varies depending on where I am and what I am going through at any given time. For that reason, it would be easy to choose the story of Job, because it would be easy to view my current circumstances through the lens of the unfair and undeserved. It’s a good story, difficult to grasp at times, but not the one I would choose right now.

One of my all-time favourite Bible stories is Elijah on Mount Carmel…and what happens after. (You can find the story in 1 Kings, chapters 18 and 19.) In a nutshell, the land is in its third year of drought. King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel did evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped Baal. A spiritual battle took place on Mount Carmel, between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. I’m going to skip the details of that battle (please feel free to read it for yourself), because the important point of this for me isn’t in those details but in the victory Elijah experienced. It was a victory that was incredible, powerful, and it was God’s victory. Without a doubt, Elijah would have been on top of the world with having seen his enemies vanquished in such a fashion. He was on the mountaintop. Literally and figuratively. But he didn’t stay there.

Jezebel was furious in defeat and threatened Elijah’s life. You would think that someone who had just witnessed God’s power would not be intimidated by the evil queen’s threat, but he was. He was afraid for his life, so he ran away. He went alone into the wilderness and wanted to die. From the emotional mountaintop, Elijah had crashed into the valley of despair and depression. He felt alone and hopeless. How is that possible? To sink so low after being so high? I know a little something about that, and I reckon you do, too. Although the story is of a spiritual nature, the cycle of up and down is not limited to spiritual matters. I think it is a part of human nature.

We triumph. What that looks like will vary from person to person. It could be a job promotion, a new relationship, a fresh start in a new city, beating cancer, or reaching a goal. For me most recently, my mountaintop experience was my powerlifting competition on November 4, 2017. I had slogged through a physically and emotionally tough year to put in the work. Every big and little goal I had for myself was achieved. My performance was perfect, and I had a World record. I was on top of the world with excitement over what I had done and what I looked forward to doing at my next competition. I thought I could ride the crest of that excitement all the way to Nationals in February, but I was wrong.

We fall. The mountaintop is a lovely place to be, but we are seldom able to linger there for very long. Why are addicts always looking for another hit? Because the high doesn’t last forever. The same is true for emotional (or spiritual) highs. For me, herniating my disc pushed me off the edge of the cliff before I even had a chance to fully savour my high. I might be in a good head space now, but that hasn’t always been the case over the past five months. I haven’t wished to die like Elijah did nor had reason to fear for my life, but I understand how he felt alone, hopeless, and in despair.

The story doesn’t end there though. While Elijah was hiding, God took care of his basic needs. Elijah slept. An angel provided him with food to eat and water to drink. That’s not all. God himself met with Elijah, listened to Elijah’s complaint and despair, and revealed himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper. God let Elijah know that he wasn’t alone, and He provided Elijah with a helper. Sometimes, much of the time, it feels as if I’m alone in my suffering, forgotten and passed by. I feel useless and without purpose. I physically hurt all the time, and that chips away at my sense of hope and confidence. I feel fear that this situation will never get better, never end, that I will hurt forever. When you are walking in the shadows at valley bottom, it can be difficult to see all that you have going for you.

I have supportive family and friends. I have the luxury of time to heal at home rather than struggling to work through the pain. My income might be non-existent, but my husband has lots of work. Much of the medical system might be slow and frustrating, but I have at least one health care professional who listens, cares, and is proactive rather than reactive. I have a coach who also listens, is proactive, and has my well-being as a priority. It’s taken longer than necessary, but I have finally been referred to a neurosurgeon. I didn’t make it to Nationals in February. I won’t be competing at all this year (or longer), but taking the time to heal is more important than rushing back to the platform. Although I don’t think I was ever a super crazy go-go type person, this injury has forced me to slow down…like to a screeching halt. I have no doubt that I will discover even more positives through this situation as the days and weeks and months go by. Sometimes God speaks and moves in ways we don’t understand or recognize immediately, especially when we’re in the valley, but I know He is with me through the highs and lows.

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The Gift

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ~Mary Oliver

I went to church today for the second consecutive week. At least I think it’s been two weeks in a row…I cannot recall if I managed to get there three weeks ago. As much as I enjoy going to church, taking part in worship, and being fed spiritually, the fact is that, physically, my body hasn’t always been agreeable. Sitting is still too painful more often than not, and standing stationary for an hour isn’t exactly comfortable either. Some days I simply have not been up to enduring standing through an entire service, and even last night, when my husband asked if I was going to be coming to church in the morning, I wasn’t entirely certain. But I made it and found myself engaged in conversation with several individuals who asked how I was doing.

I’ve been chewing over the quote at the beginning of this post for a while now. I’ve been given a couple of boxes of darkness over the past year, but I feel as if I have accepted them as gifts fairly quickly. There have been other boxes of darkness in the course of my life that were not so readily seen as gifts; in fact, most of those boxes did take years to accept as gifts. I am not certain why I am suddenly so mature and understanding, and I don’t think it is human nature to walk through the shadows with a Pollyanna attitude.

I try to maintain a realistic perspective. My injury was not a worst-case scenario type of injury. My injury has had a major impact on my life and day-to-day activities, but I know (or at least have the expectation) that I will heal and be able to resume living life. I have definitely experienced more pain these past 3.5 months than I have ever experienced before. I have been frustrated by my limitations, by my extended leave from work, by the disruption to my sleep, and the need to let go of competition goals for an indeterminate length of time. My attitude has been up and down. Quite frankly, I wasn’t exactly fun to live with for a while there as I struggled with frustration, pain, anger, and depression. But even in those darkest days, I still understood that there was something more to my struggle than just pain and darkness.

Our sermon series is currently delving into the subject of having a resilient faith, which makes me think back on a book I read called Anti-Fragile:Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The author’s definition for anti-fragile is what keeps running through my mind:

“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.

Inside my jumbled up thoughts, I see resilient faith, anti-fragility, and the box of darkness all being intertwined. I can accept the darkness as a gift, because my faith is resilient (mostly) and because I am anti-fragile (mostly). Far from perfect am I, but I am not fragile or easily shaken. I have grown comfortable in my own skin. I know my worth. Life may not be what I had planned or expected recently, but I know this won’t define me. It won’t be my end. I might not like the fact I’ve had to endure this trial or delayed my goals, but I can at least see light through the darkness.

One day, I hope, I will look back on these days and marvel at how far I have come since. A wise person once told me that a sign of maturity would be to take the entire year off to heal, and I cannot say that I disagree. Part of me doesn’t really like being asked how I am doing these days, because I never quite know how to answer the question. The honest truth is that every day is different, mentally and physically. It’s been nearly 4 months since I herniated my disc, and I have not had a single day without some degree of pain. Although the pain has decreased substantially compared to the first month, chronic or continuous pain is still pain, even if less intense. A portion of my lower left leg and foot is still numb, and sometimes I wonder if that will ever change. Even my attitude can fluctuate between upbeat and hopeful to frustrated and withdrawn. Some days I do my rehab exercises and putter around the house in a flurry of productivity, while other days find me dragging myself out of bed, willingly taking my pain medication, and struggling to practice self-care. And still through it all, there lurks within me the knowledge that this struggle is not a curse but a gift.

I might not always understand the nature of the gift, but I am willing to accept it.

The Brain Game

In a way it seems odd to think about the fact that November is almost over. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I had the best powerlifting competition of my life?! Well actually that was on November 4, slightly more than 3 weeks ago now. What happened to all that time in-between?

One positive of rapidly inching towards December is that NaBloPoMo is almost finished, and so far I have been successful in the challenge of blogging every day in November. Some years this is a real struggle, whether for a lack of blogging material or an inability to remember to blog. This year hasn’t felt nearly as challenging, although I guess it helps that I have an injury and subsequent rehab to chronicle. Still, thinking of something to blog about on a daily basis is downright taxing.

My mind feels like it is going at full speed these days. This isn’t too far from normal for me, but it seems to be more of a nuisance these past few weeks. I’m not sure if this is merely the result of having more time on my hands than usual, but it is entirely possible. The injury has resulted in a reduction to my work hours for a bit, and I am unable to do a whole lot with all this unexpected free time. Housework is falling by the wayside, and my physical activity level is sorely hampered. Over the past few weeks I have had two completely sleepless nights. The first was due entirely to pain and the inability in the freshness of the injury to find comfort in any possible sleeping position. The second occurrence was just last week and had nothing at all to do with pain or comfort; it was all an inability for my brain to shut off long enough to fall asleep.

Ironically, on that second sleepless night, I was aware that my brain wasn’t shutting off; however, for the most part, I wasn’t actively thinking of anything. Of course, the conundrum of lying in bed wide awake is that eventually your mind will meander down rabbit holes for lack of anything else to do and you can seldom control which holes it dives into. My thoughts that night, or early morning, briefly settled onto a subject that is quite a few months old and water under the proverbial bridge, and yet, I felt anger as I laid there that night. My mind rehashed situations and conversations, and I felt quiet anger at the injustice and all that was wrong about that situation. I allowed myself to feel the anger, let the emotion swirl within and focus my thoughts but only for a short time. Sleep is important to me and especially right now as I am healing, so I know the futility of allowing such negative thoughts to run amok in the night. I entertained them then closed them up tight inside a box, but I still could not sleep. My thoughts did not return to those negative rabbit holes, but the brain was still actively churning, looking for something to grab hold of instead of succumbing to slumber.

Last night I lost a couple of hours of sleep to the brain once again churning and active without any traction. No thoughts to speak of. No emotions to drag about. Just a wide awake brain wanting something to do that wasn’t sleep. Thankfully I did fall asleep, even if much later than I had planned. Even during my non-busy moments of the day, I will often find my brain racing ahead, fracturing into a dozen or more pathways at the same time. It’s rather messy and problematic, and it makes me a little more emotional than I might like. That’s just the way it is right now. But all those thoughts cannot be blogged about. I’m looking forward to December 1st.

4 Days and a New Challenge

I’ve been so focused on home and work, staying healthy and training for this competition that I nearly forgot all about NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). NaBloPoMo is a challenge to blog every day for the month of November and one that I have taken part in for several years. Some years I was successful and others not so much, but I always enjoy a good challenge.

As I mentioned, I just about forgot about it this year. It wasn’t until I was looking at my Facebook memories and saw a blog post I made a year or two ago in which I questioned my desire to participate that year. Tomorrow is November 1 and the start of the challenge. I ask myself that same question now…do I want to try to blog every day for the next thirty days? Of course, I want to, but can I? Well yes, of course I can. But. I don’t know. Oh! Who am I fooling?! I’m a sucker for a challenge.

So my goal is to blog every day in November, but I am not going to register with the official NaBloPoMo site. For one thing, I’ve taken 5 minutes to try to find it and cannot. I don’t have time to stress out about being officially on the roll, especially when the only perk of success is personal satisfaction.

Why Write?

 

“Just write,” she said.

I wrote

Set free from expectation

Pen to paper,

An empty sheet of white.

Slowly, hesitantly

Like a mouse

Nibbling cheese from a trap.

The spring has sprung!

I’m trapped, ensnared

In words and thoughts

And emotions;

Spilling from my heart

Onto the page,

Once white, no more.

Now colour-streaked

In shades of pain,

Sorrow, joy

And exploration.

~Me! May 2005~

The other day I was asked why I write.

“Why do I write?” I echoed, as my mind rapidly flashed back to a slightly similar yet decidedly different question that was thrown at me several months ago. On that occasion, the question had been more of an accusation than an inquisitive interest. Although I was never given specific examples, the insinuation was that my writing was somehow inappropriate. “Why would you write that?!” Well, this is my journey, my thoughts, my experiences. This is about me!

So much of that conversation was confusing and odd and potentially destructive. Here and now, I don’t understand what happened there any better than I did then, except that I know myself and I know what I have or have not written. I know that I am not at fault in that situation, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering, from time to time, how someone could twist my words into something else completely. But this blog post isn’t about that old conversation, even if the more recent question about my writing brought it to mind.

Why do I write?

I think I have always loved writing. While I may never have enjoyed the more technical aspects of my high school English classes, like grammar and punctuation, I always looked forward to the creative writing parts of class. For my two years of high school in Saskatchewan (before moving to British Columbia for my final year), I was part of a school club which published a collection of student writing every year. I still have my copies. Although I don’t have many of the writings I did for class, I do still have many of the poems that I wrote in my youth inside a manila folder in my bedside table.

As an introvert, my ability to open my mouth and have cohesive thoughts spill out is practically an impossibility. My reality is that I have amazing and wonderful thoughts. I open my mouth and out comes…nothing. Or jumbled up thoughts that are completely unrecognizable from the thoughts inside my head. My inability to speak increases among strangers or in high stakes situations. Like many introverts, I require time and space to think and process before speaking. Writing allows me to do that and makes me feel as if I actually do have a voice.

Writing is how I make sense of my world and myself. It is how I process my thoughts and feelings. Some things I share on my blog, while some writings are kept for myself in a journal. I write, because I must. I know my grammar is terrible and my punctuation shoddy. I know there are thousands of writers with more talent and interesting content than me. It doesn’t matter. Not to me. I don’t write for the purpose of attracting readers or followers. I don’t write for fame or fortune or even acknowledgement. I write for myself. One thing I’ve discovered over the past few years is that writing for myself in a public forum such as a blog allows my voice to resonate within others. And obviously, writing in a public manner also opens me up to being misunderstood and maligned.

So be it.

Most of all, I write for myself.

Vulnerable

“Vulnerability allows people to love you for who you really are, not just for how things look on the surface.” ~?

I have mentally written numerous versions of this blog post over the past several weeks. Sometimes I’ve even begun typing, but I would eventually pause and consider and delete. Despite having many thoughts that I was wanting to express, I found myself hesitating. In conversation with my husband, I described my reluctance as “circling the wagons.” A friendship ended and the emotion and words directed to me were confusing, ugly, hateful, and completely misguided. I may never truly know what happened there, but I am at peace with myself, knowing that I did nothing wrong. My peace in this situation flows from knowing my character and who I am and my confidence in knowing that I am loved and valued. My peace and awareness of my character has protected me from the heartbreak of rejection and the anger of having my character maligned. There will always be a measure of grief for the loss, especially when memory is jostled by photographs, objects of significance, and reminders of shared experiences; however, this sense of grief has no sting or pain. I suppose there is the sense that this is not my loss. If someone chooses to paint me as something I am not, then why should I be hurt by the loss of that relationship?

That is where I am at and how I feel. It is water under the bridge, flowing swiftly far away. And yet, I still often feel this hesitation to be myself, to express myself freely on my own blog. Someone has twisted my words from innocence into ugly. Someone has put words into my mouth that I have not said or written. Even though I know the truth, I subconsciously find myself closing the curtains across my heart. Many times on my blog I have allowed myself to be vulnerable, which is not always an easy thing to be and definitely goes against my natural inclinations, but being vulnerable is an important part of being real. I am not a complicated person. My life is mostly quite ordinary. While I may not be the chattiest, most out-going person you might meet in real life and it might take some time and effort to get to know me, ultimately I don’t think I’m all that different once you crack the surface. And yet, I was harshly rejected by someone who had seen me below the surface. How is it that I can be so calm and at peace about what happened, while still being subtly afraid of being vulnerable again?

 

Express Yourself

Admittedly I haven’t been blogging a whole lot lately, at least not much more than posts about my training sessions. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to blog. There have been days when I have felt the need or desire to blog but I didn’t. There are many reasons for the lack of blog posts, ranging from the “I have nothing to say” to the “I don’t know what I can say”. In a way, I feel sort of handcuffed in what I can say on my own blog, because someone has chosen to twist my words into something drastically different than what I have ever said or intended. While I obviously cannot control how people may interpret my words, I know my heart and my intent and I am at peace with both. Despite the peace I feel in this situation, I have been feeling reluctant to blog about much of anything beyond the basics of training. I know this is a season of sorts, and I will get past it to blog more candidly once again.

I have to admit that part of my reluctance to blog flows out of the knowledge that my blog could be read by those who choose to twist my words into something I never intended. Obviously, if you find something on the internet personally offensive to you, you have complete freedom to NOT continue to read it, right?! This is my blog. It is about me and my journey. This is my journey of self-discovery, of growing comfortable in my own skin, and knowing who I am. Sometimes my journey towards becoming Angela involves other people, because we do not go through life without being touched by others and in turn touching others. This is my journey. If you don’t like it…don’t read it. Plain and simple! I don’t blog for personal glory or recognition or followers. I have no expectation that anyone reads my blog and won’t be offended if nobody does.

And still, I hesitate. I open my WordPress site with the intention of blogging and then I hesitate. I think about who might read my blog, about who might take my innocent words and twist them into something ugly. So I pause until I have no more time to blog, or I simply blog about my training, all the while feeling censored.

Despite how I feel in regards to blogging, I am feeling perfectly fine. I am sleeping well. I am happy and at peace with myself. Although I have been hurt and rejected recently, I am doing very well. My husband and I were talking about that situation the other day, and he asked me if I had forgiven the offending party. I was kind of taken by surprise by his question, because I don’t even look at that turn of events as being worth my time or attention. Was I hurt? Yes. Am I holding onto any of that hurt or resentment? Heck no! While I do not agree in any way shape or form with the other point of view in this situation, I also don’t consider this to be worth holding onto. It’s difficult to explain how I feel without going into more detail in the situation, which is something I am not going to do. Suffice it to say that I am completely comfortable with who I am to know that I am not at fault in this situation, and as such my forgiveness is essentially automatic. Would I be comfortable bumping into this person in public unexpectedly? Probably not but that’s just me and my non-confrontational nature potentially pushed into an uncontrollable scenario! Am I losing sleep or stressed out over what has happened? Absolutely not! Like I said, I know who I am. I know my own heart and my intentions. I can put my head on my pillow each night knowing that I was true to myself, to my family, and to my friends. If someone sees that differently, then that is their problem and not mine.

I suppose this post is where I draw a line in the sand and say, “No more!” This is my blog. This blog is about me and my journey and what makes me who I am. If you have a problem with that, then feel free to stop visiting! If, on the other hand, my journey interests you, then please follow along. I cannot promise that my journey will always be cool or exciting, but I will always strive to be real and honest. I am no one of consequence or importance. I am merely Angela, a 45 year old woman, a wife of 25 years and mother of 3. I am a friend, a powerlifter, a barista, someone who is thankful for everything and entitled to nothing. Although my education is limited, I am a lover of words, and writing is how I express myself best. And this is my blog.