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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So This is Christmas

I slept well enough last night, but it was also uncomfortable thanks to the multiple pillows necessary for maintaining a back happy sleeping posture. Unfortunately, the pillow positioning changes depending on which side I am sleeping on, and I’m not always awake enough to remember to change the pillows when I roll over. As such, I was awake around 6:00 this morning and coffee has since replaced the blood in my body.

Gifts have been given and opened. For those who know me, there is no surprise at the nature of the gifts that I received. Star Wars. Wonder Woman. Wine. Coffee. Journals. Fun socks. A puzzle. I am so easy to buy for, so easy to please and excite. And as difficult as my boys are to buy for, I think I can safely say that we managed to find gifts that they actually enjoy and will use!

Food is always part of Christmas. After we open our gifts, we have brunch. My husband makes most of it, while I contribute by making some mini frittatas. Normally I am adequately planned and prepared, but my life is not currently normal in many senses of the word. It wasn’t until we were ready to make breakfast that I realized I couldn’t find my old recipe, so I winged it. For the first time in all the years I’ve been making these, this was the first time that the frittatas didn’t stick horribly to the muffin pans! Go figure.

After brunch, the only other meal of the day will be a big dinner with turkey, ham, and all the fixings. The space between meals is left for grazing on nuts, chocolate, and whatever other goodies are laying around.

Games are always a big hit at Christmas, and we added several to our collection today. I think three new games have been cracked open and played already. Having young adult aged children means that time all together becomes increasingly more difficult to find, but it warms my heart to see our little family having fun together.

For the past several years, my husband has had the tradition of giving the kids new Nerf guns at Christmas, and there would always be a massive Nerf gun battle after dinner. This year my husband decided not to get any new guns. One child nearly freaked out upon learning that there wouldn’t be new Nerf guns under the tree. It might be safer for the bystanders tonight!

Christmas Day always means the Doctor Who Christmas special, and I’m looking forward to today’s episode as well.

On the subject of entertainment and Christmas, there is some disagreement in the family as to whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. My husband and I say it is, while the kids disagree. What do they know anyway!

It’s cold and grey outside, but we’re warm and cozy inside. I wish we had a fireplace, but we don’t. That’s okay though. I have my heating pad that I can enjoy as I recline between periods of standing and activity. The legs are buzzing with electric currents…nothing new there!

So that’s a snapshot into our Christmas. It’s low-key compared to some people’s and likely extravagant compared to others. We are far from rich, but we are richly blessed. I am thankful for all of our blessings, and I am learning to be thankful for those things that are not easily seen as blessings. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope that this is a season of love and joy for you!

Gratitude

The third question on the list for ending your year intentionally is:

What or who is the one thing or person you’re grateful for?

Regardless of what my year has looked like or how I feel about it, I am always grateful for the people in my life and I have long been in the habit of expressing gratitude for things, big and small, on a daily basis. Thankfulness is part of who I am, and I could go on for days expressing all that I am grateful for over the course of the year.

To choose one thing or person is a difficult task, so I am going to approach it as a group result. Have you ever watched a boxing match? When the bell rings to signal the end of a round, the boxers go to their corners where they are tended to, coached, supported and encouraged. Cuts are tended. Sweat is wiped away. Water is provided. The boxer has people in his corner. I am not a boxer, but I know what it is like to have that kind of support and I am grateful for all of it.

1. My husband! He lets me do all these crazy things and willingly spends countless hours at my competition, most of which is just waiting for my turn to lift. He cheers me on, encourages me, and takes video for me. He has been at 8 of my 9 competitions, missing out on one only because he was still recovering from hip replacement surgery. It was odd not having him at Provincials this year, and I know that I felt the loss of emotional support when that competition didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I am glad that he was there at my most recent competition. When I broke the World record for my squat and emotion was bursting out of me, being wrapped in his arms was a wonderful feeling. Now that I am injured, he is still supportive. He encourages me when I feel troubled by worry and despair. He has my back. He loves me.

2. My chiropractor! I visit my chiropractor with some regularity as I put my body through a lot. He helps keep my body functioning as well as it possibly can, but he doesn’t just twist and crunch me. He seldom fixes me up without also giving me practical skills and advice to help keep my body working well. On occasion, I am also blessed to receive words of wisdom or encouragement that nourish my spirit and soul. In my eyes, my chiropractor is more than just a health care professional…he’s also a friend.

3. My coach! Perhaps coach should really be coaches, since I have had two different coaches this year. My previous coach got me started in powerlifting and played a big role in my journey. Even though he is no longer my coach, I cannot discount his part in my story.

My current coach and I are still in the learning each other stage, I think, but I have already experienced good things under his programming. Although I no longer have the direct, real-time contact with a coach while training, I still feel supported, encouraged, and challenged by my new coach. When I started with him this summer, I was recovering from another problem with my back or SI joints and hadn’t been in powerlifter mode for several weeks. I had the November competition on the horizon, and my coach took me through training on a level I had never done before…and it worked. I could hear his encouraging comments as I was on the platform. My injury has changed the nature of my training again, but I know my coach has my back!

4. My friend Sienna! For my competition in November, I needed a handler. This was only the second time that I have needed to find someone to help me out at a competition, because that role was usually covered by my coach. My daughter was my handler at Westerns last year, and my friend was my handler this time. She was probably quite nervous, uncertain as to what to do to support me, but I think she did a great job. I have competed enough that I know what I need to do and when to do it, but it is always nice to have someone there to chalk the back, offer encouragement, and remind you what you’re capable of.

5. My physiotherapist! This is a recent addition to my support crew thanks to my injury, but I feel confident in his abilities and treatment. I tend to be highly cynical when it comes to doctors and many aspects of “health care”, so I am always grateful to find medical professionals who are not stuck on out-dated methods and systems.

6. My friends, co-workers, and family! These people have cheered me on every step of the way, through thick and thin, weight cuts and water loads, disappointments and frustrations, sore muscles and all my back struggles. When I’ve had success, they’ve celebrated with me.

 

Enjoyment

Continuing the end of year reflection theme from No Side Bar that I began in yesterday’s blog post …

2. What did you enjoy doing this year?

2017 has been a difficult year for me in so many ways. What did I enjoy doing this year? That’s a question that requires grinding mental gears and peering deeply into the dark corners of my memories.

Yesterday I mentioned celebrating my 25th anniversary with my husband, and our little celebratory holiday was definitely something I enjoyed doing.

My most recent powerlifting competition was also highly enjoyable.

This summer when I changed my gym and my coach, I stepped out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar and potentially scary territory. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I would thrive or even like what I was doing. As an introvert, it is not easy for me to dive into the unfamiliar or place my trust in someone I don’t know and doesn’t know me. At the time of the coaching change, I had already been through months of struggles with my SI joints and low back and a disappointing competition. My confidence in my ability to overcome those struggles and regain strength was a little shaky. Despite my struggles, doubts, and nerves, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the change and the process.

It wasn’t easy to step into the unknown like that, but a small part of me was glad for the challenge. My doubts and fears resurfaced every week as I would receive my new program, yet a part of my spirit soared at the prospect of squashing those doubts. In the gym as I put in the work, the load sometimes felt heavy and hard, but I did it and I took joy in the results. Those months of uncertainty and challenge were enjoyable! It sounds odd to say that, but it is true. I enjoyed it, because I grew through the challenges instead of being destroyed by them.

This year I have also found enjoyment in the company of family and friends. Celebrating birthdays. Family holiday gatherings. Graduation. Escape room success. Celebrating successes. Cards. Texts. Notes. Christmas bake day with girlfriends. Grey Cup party. Homemade gelato. An impromptu dinner out with friends. Musical theatre. A heart-to-heart over wine with a best friend. Many of these instances are of little consequence in the grand scheme of a year. As a lover of words and authentic relationships, these small instances add up to a whole lot of love and affirmation.

Fly Like an Eagle

It’s only been 9 days since my youngest son left for his trip to Thailand, and he won’t be home for another 3 weeks!

There are moments when I am walking down the hall and want to pop my head into his bedroom to talk to him…except he’s not there. Thankfully technology can be a wonderful thing sometimes, and we have the ability to keep in touch as instantaneously as his wi-fi connection will allow. He checks in with me almost daily, even if just to let me know his travel arrangements for the next leg of the trip. It is good to hear that he is enjoying the country and meeting people from around the world, that he was adventurous enough to eat a scorpion but not a fried pig’s head, and that he is beginning to miss food from home even if he’s not quite homesick yet.

As much as I do miss him, I am actually quite matter-of-fact about him being on the other side of the world for such a long time. I know he’ll return home; it’s not like he has moved there. The ability to communicate and see photo/video evidence that he is safe and having fun also helps set me at ease. But it is more than that. I am still a mom, and there will always be hopes and fears and love for my children, no matter where they are or what they do, but I long ago entrusted them to the Lord and I have found peace and joy in every season of their lives. Although I do sometimes miss the chubby cheeks of their infancy or the thrills of first words and first steps, I have always chosen to enjoy the present. Each age and stage has been exciting, sometimes challenging, but I have never wanted to rush through it or return to a previous one. Watching my kids become adults is just another stage in the journey. Letting them spread their wings and fly is a little nerve-wracking but oh so exciting!

That doesn’t mean I won’t be super excited and emotional when he gets home!

Dignity in the Shadows

“Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows ever fell over a life?” ~Ann Voskamp

I think it is safe to say that being injured feels quite like having heavy shadows blanketing one’s life. There is a distinct chill in the air as you lose the warmth of taking part in the normal routines of life, and it doesn’t take long to feel as if darkness is closing in, suffocating and impenetrable and permanent. You stumble about in the darkness, lost and afraid and alone. Or so it can seem.

I had someone tell me today that I am handling my situation…the injury with all of its disruptions to my plans and the limitations to my everyday life…with more dignity than most. If my name had not been used I would have wondered who was being referred to, because I don’t know that I would have come up with “dignity” as pertaining to me in this situation. It’s not like I’m wailing and gnashing my teeth, but I suppose I do generally have a positive and relaxed attitude about it all. Even when I do have an emotional meltdown, I am usually quick to return to my more typical calm and rational self.

Where I struggle the most is with feelings of guilt and obligation. My house is a mess. My husband washes the dishes and works long, hard hours with one of my sons. The other son is on the other side of the world until just before Christmas, and my daughter is in the midst of midterms, assignments, preparing for exams and juggling her work and volunteer schedules. They help around in the house in varying degrees, but there is still so much that has been neglected. And here’s another scenario…today is a day off work, so I am home to make dinner. A new recipe has caught my interest and I intend to make it tonight. It sounds simple enough yet potentially delicious, but there is one little problem. The oven is required. A baking dish is required. Bending to put the baking dish in the oven is required. This is something I am not supposed to do in my current state, even if I feel no pain in the act. Thankfully my daughter is already home and can help me out tonight, but that isn’t always the case. I needed to do some laundry today and had my daughter carry the hamper downstairs for me before she left for class. I might have carried one clean load back up the stairs, but I did leave the last load for someone else to bring up. I popped into a grocery store for just a few items this morning, and the cashier put them all in one bag. Normally that would be perfectly fine. I wasn’t even halfway to my car before I realized that I was feeling some slight discomfort in my back and probably shouldn’t be carrying a bag of groceries as heavy as that. Oh how all this chafes against my sense of self-sufficiency!

And then there is my job. Sweeping, mopping, lifting large trays of dishes down into the sanitizer, bending down to lift those same trays out of the sanitizer, bending forward to take jugs of milk out of bar fridges, lifting boxes from the floor or from far overhead…all that and more a regular part of my job and I am not supposed to do it. Even though I can do some of those things without pain. Even though I think I should be able to. On the one hand, I want this injury to heal and to heal properly, while the other hand doesn’t want to be a burden or handicap to the lovely people I work with. They have all been incredibly supportive and helpful, but I still feel guilty and useless.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, as uncomfortable and miserable as the shadows may be, I am striving to allow my experiences, good and bad, be a source of joy and blessing in my life. As uncomfortable as I am permitting myself to be seen as weak, my weakness allows me the opportunity to feel grace and mercy, to experience love and kindness, to learn humility and patience. If choosing to accept my struggles makes me dignified in the eyes of others, I will just shrug my shoulders and carry on as best I can.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

~Donald Miller

My youngest son is going to Thailand with a friend. They are leaving tomorrow and won’t return until December 20th.

Naturally, my son is excited about his trip and eager to leave. He has been teasing me about my tears ever since he bought his flight tickets, even though I have worked very hard to keep those tears locked up tight. I am excited for and proud of Casey for his ability to step outside of the safety and comfort of home to explore a country on the other side of the world, and yet, I am also fearful, nervous and worried.

I can imagine all of the things that could go wrong during my son’s trip. I can imagine all of the nasty, horrible things that could happen to my son during his stay in Thailand. Despite my fears and worries, I tend to avoid dwelling on them. Instead I trust that my son has a good head on his shoulders. I trust that my God is bigger than my fears. I can only trust and let go, but that doesn’t mean I won’t shed some tears at the airport tomorrow. Or when he returns.

Casey means brave. Sometimes I think Casey means reckless or one who blindly races headfirst into trouble. I wish that Casey felt a bit more fear about his trip, or would at least acknowledge the potential problems he may experience. But he’s stretching his wings out, eager to soar on his own, and who am I to stop him. As a parent, I want my children to succeed in their pursuits, to experience life, and to be their own persons. I do not want them to be paralyzed by fear. But I am still going to cry when he leaves.