Whatever happened to Will Power?

The cake that sabotaged my will power... I went back to shoot a photo of the cake later in the day and saw the Diet Coke can parked beside it. How fitting!

The cake that sabotaged my Will Power… I went back to shoot a photo of the cake later in the day and saw the Diet Coke can parked beside it. How fitting!

By most accounts, I appear to have Will Power. After all, it’s 5:34 a.m. as I begin typing this. My alarm went off at 4:30 on Good Friday, a religious holy day, a holiday from work, and I am typing rapidly because I am leaving for the health club in 10 minutes. (Although truth be told, I only got up at 4:30 because it was preset on my alarm clock, and it was easier to get up than to change the clock.)

Typically, at this hour of the morning, I do tend to have Will Power. On week days, I get up, pack three coolers (only one for me, thanks) with breakfast smoothies, lunches, and drinks for the day; clean whatever dishes appeared in the sink during the night; put away clean dishes; deal with any laundry demands; and drink coffee. By the time I leave for the health club, enroute to work, I am packing some heat: specifically, a blow dryer and hair straightener — along with two bags of necessaries, my hanging clothes, my cooler, and my rolling crate filled with school tools. Today I am working out and showering at the health club but heading home, not to work, for the day. I left the cooler and crate at home.

Three hours later:

I am again at the computer, this time my laptop, having only constructed two paragraphs before the journey to the health club and having conceded the desktop to my son for his math homework. My husband is home from work for the holiday; my son has only his college class to attend, and he is resentful that he has to share the house with two annoying parents this morning. (I am finding all of us annoying this morning too.) I have made breakfast for three and dealt with the resulting dishes, have listened to too many conversations requiring answers or actions when all I want to do is write, write, write, and currently have a cat nosing her way into my lap, rubbing her head on my tapping fingers, and otherwise encroaching on my space. At my side is a now half-eaten bag of Target “Heart Throbs,” supposedly sour gummy hearts I purchased for my son for Valentine’s Day candy but are fair game two months later as they were still unopened. (They are not sour, but my stomach is. Why do I think sugar will help me focus or deal with stress?)

This is where I begin to miss Will Power.

In the mornings I have Will Power — and by “mornings” I mean early mornings, clearly, as it is not even 10 a.m., and I have already made myself sick on candy, demonstrating a certain lack thereof. I wake up, I work out, I determine to eat well so that I can fit into my clothes and generally live in a state of well-being. However, mere hours later, I turn to food — sometimes because I feel hungry, but often because I feel like my brain can’t function — and I seem to have no Will Power. And by food, I mean “food-like substances” or, generally, non-nutritive junk food.

I seem to be able to find it wherever I am.

This past week, it was the store-bought, buttercream-icing-covered cake in the faculty lounge. At home, I had a homemade feathery fudge chocolate cake (think luscious chocolate cake with real raspberry filling between the layers, covered in decadent dark chocolate icing). After the initial dose (at a birthday party for two of my sons), I never ate another bite, though half a cake remained in the refrigerator. But this boxed cake with artificial flavors and colors called my name.

I listened and succumbed. Three times, I believe.

The week before, when we had Capstone Project presentations by our seniors two nights in a row, the refreshments committee wanted a place to store the leftovers that could be served the next night.

“Don’t store it in the teachers’ lounge,” I said. “Those people [meaning me] are pigs.”

When I was a child, if I couldn’t finish everything on my plate, I would tell my dad I’d pay him a quarter to finish it for me. He usually did, though I don’t remember parting with any of the silver coins. He was sort of my human garbage disposal. When I now have leftovers — such as the chocolate goodies I make for Christmas packages — I leave them in the faculty lounge at school, where they disappear rapidly. Sort of a group human garbage disposal.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one who provides fodder for the lounge. And I am a willing part of the faculty — and an even more willing part of that human garbage disposal.

I need less of the willing part and more of the Will Power.

For years I have told people I’m on the Romans 7 diet.

“What diet is that?”

“You know. ‘For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Romans 7:15b). ‘For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing’ (Romans 17:18b-19).

Of course, Romans 7 doesn’t end in despair, and the writer doesn’t subject himself to a simple loss of Will Power. Instead, he claims victory through Jesus Christ and gives thanks to God for it.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25a)

I too often claim the Romans 7 diet — and stop at verse 19, complacent enough to succumb to a lack of Will Power instead of claiming victory. I am wrong to do so. When I started writing this post, I wrote the title first, crafting it as though Will Power were a person. Fictitious. Pretending. Overemphasized personification, perhaps, if I wanted to write as an English teacher.

But as I contemplate it now, with the end of Romans 7 in mind, I think Will Power is a person. Me — or, rather, Jesus Christ in me. And that should make all the difference.

 

When your youngest turns 18…

 

My son after his final performance in "Beauty and the Beast." He played both a beast and a prince perfectly... just like in real life. :)

My son after his final performance in “Beauty and the Beast.” He played both a beast and a prince perfectly… just like in real life. :)

“Let me see. If Adam is turning 18 today, and  I was X  when he was born. Then X  + 18 = my age now.”

“Really? I’m only + 18?”

(Foolishly, I had been adding a year to that since my birthday in August. I’m not as old as I thought? … I better double check my math.)

“If this is 2014, and I was born in 19_ _; then 2000 – 19_ _ = _ _+ 14 = how old I will be in August. Not now. I’ve been saying I already was X  + 18 + 1!”

(And my students always asked me how Algebra applied to real life! Ha!)

I guess having my youngest child turn 18 was making me feel old, and I needed some reassurance. After all, I officially have no children; I have five adults.

How did they grow up so quickly?

I remember when I was a new mother – the instant mother of four children, ages 9, 8, 5, and 3, followed by the long-awaited birth of my first biological child. Life was a wee bit crazy…

Older women, ones I now recognize as empty nesters, would tell me, “Treasure these moments because they go so fast.”

“Some days,” I respectfully retorted, “that’s what I’m counting on.”

To be honest, some days I still am. The days when this youngest son refuses to complete his homework or argues against doing chores or forgets to communicate where he is going or snubs the meal I am offering or keeps me awake worrying until he arrives home safely.

But then I see him wow the crowd as the Beast in the school’s rendition of Disney’s musical “Beauty and the Beast.” Or I watch him play the best basketball game of his life. Or I remember that this is likely the last season I will keep score for his baseball games. Or I consider this may be the last time he will seek my admiration and approval before heading on a date. Or I take the time to converse when I recognize that he simply wants to talk — about his day, about his game, about his performance, about life.

I am trying to treasure the moments rather than hurry through these last days of my son’s high school career, these early days of his adulthood when I still have some control, when he still values my input and praise. I try to remember that these days of late nights and bustling activity are short-lived. To learn from experience that they do pass quickly. And to just plain experience them before they have passed.

Of course, turning 18 isn’t just a sentimental landmark or a legal milestone; in our family, my husband and I call the 18th birthday “Emancipation Day.” By that we mean our children have reached the age of “financial independence.” (In other words,  adulthood has its costs.)

On the evening of this, his “emancipation” birthday, Adam suddenly announced, “I just turned 17, not 18.”

I had done my math earlier that day. Apparently, Adam just started doing his. :)

Since she’s been gone…

2014-03-08 10.13.30

Up close and personal… one of the forms of wildlife that has become decidedly bold since the end of Tiger Lily’s tyranny.

As I ate breakfast with my husband this morning I noticed a wild turkey walking across the back yard.

“Is that a turkey?” I asked, surprised. “I see a very large bird.”

My husband also stared at the bird, somewhat startled, as we’d never seen a turkey emerging from the little bit of woods that corners the southwestern border of our acre of land.

Later this morning, I noticed a red squirrel nuzzling the sliding glass door track to our bedroom. It glanced at me and kept licking the metal. I stilled myself, watched, wishing I had my phone so I could shoot a photo, but afraid to move lest the animal frighten and disappear.

After a minute or so, I risked it, getting some close-up photos of the squirrel, who eyed me inquisitively but continued its activity without evident fear.

After a time, it wandered off the deck, and I thought that was the end of that. Likewise, I left. Coming back a short time later for a basket of laundry, I saw the animal had resumed its activity on the other side of the glass.

One day this week I had noticed a possum scurrying away in the leaves near our garage in the darkness of the morning; yet another day my husband and I saw a brown rabbit nibbling the green grass near our deck.

Delightful. And all evidence that our outside cat, Tiger Lily, is gone.

Pets — like children, actually, or maybe even all relationships — are an interesting phenomena. They incur some expense and require some attention and are sometimes simply aggravating, and yet we are sad when they leave us.

We adopted Tiger Lily from the pet rescue when my son Adam was nearly a year old. Tiger Lily was too, and we forever dated her life by his birthday, April 9. She lived to be nearly 18 in our years, which is rather ancient in cat years. She shrunk as she aged, became a petite featherweight, developed a surly attitude, begged to be petted and then scratched in response, perfected the art of crying and scratching her nails on the glass to get whatever she wanted, and still terrorized the local wildlife, bringing her last mouse to the door just weeks before her death.

One year, when we often left the side door to the garage ajar, a family of robins had made a nest inside, laid eggs, and attended them carefully. We had eagerly awaited the arrival of those babies and delighted in their wide open, crying mouths as they demanded food from their hard-working parents — and we were devastated when Tiger Lily came to the door one day with a dying baby bird in her jowls, meowing for our praise. A flying lesson had been preempted by our cat. I didn’t like Tiger Lily very much that day, my heart broken for the baby robin and its proud family.

The last months of her life were spent fighting the Florida cold, with the help of a heating pad we had purchased, as well as fighting diabetes, evident by her ability to eat mountains of food and still lose weight, and her excessive drinking (and urinating) habit. As she had her entire life with us, she made the hoods of our cars her bed of choice, but now we had to remove her as she made no move to remove herself when we were ready to drive away.

In fact, that was the last time Adam saw her alive. She had parked herself on his parked car when he had ventured home between classes, and he carefully placed her in a warm spot on the driveway before he left. My husband found her there a couple of hours later.

Over the next days, little by little, we removed the evidence of her life. Washed her food bowls and stored them. Cleaned the heating pad cover and put it away. Did a thorough cleaning of her kitty litter box. (We had pampered her a little during the cold of winter, giving her a litter box despite having the yard as her toilet, and filled her bowl with bottled water, which she seemed to prefer.) Though we knew she was gone, we found ourselves looking toward the door where she’d scratch for attention, glancing at the little den we’d constructed for her comfort during the winter, thinking we’d need to turn on the heating pad, refill her water, offer her more food. She was gone. She’d lived a good, long, happy life, an ever presence for my teenage son, and a longtime presence for the rest of us, and her sudden disappearance left in us an empty spot.

But today, I am happy as I recount the wild animals that have added joy to my days — without incurring a cost or requiring action from me other than taking the time to stop and admire them. Although should a rat or snake get in my path anytime soon, I’m sure I will miss Tiger Lily even more.

‘Hi-Yo, Laryngitis! Away!’

That would be me.... and, yes, I am smiling behind the mask.

That would be me…. and, yes, I am smiling behind the mask.

Who was that masked woman?

Actually, the question people likely asked as I rode away in my trusty white van was, “What infectious disease did she have that she had to wear a mask?” Fearing for their own safety, no doubt they wanted me to be like the Lone Ranger — racing away on my faithful steed and leaving them with nothing but good deeds and questions.

“Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!”

Two weeks ago I randomly began to cough. No other symptoms. The next day, however, my throat was sore, and I knew I was battling something. (I was hoping it wasn’t the H1N1 flu virus, since I hadn’t gotten my flu shot as my doctor strongly suggested and didn’t want to face his scolding.) But I had work to do and continued to do it. Two days in, my throat felt somewhat better but the cough had taken full reign. I tried over-the-counter cough syrup that night, which managed to stifle the cough somewhat but made me nauseated and loopy. I awakened about 1 a.m. with the sweats and chills and the desire to worship the porcelain goddess. But my worship was nonproductive. Not even a dry heave. I sipped on Coca Cola until the 12-hour cough syrup wore off, but even then I had no appetite. The cough, however, returned full force while my voice disappeared almost completely.

I forced myself to go to work, cleverly crafted a writing/vocabulary assignment that would require little of my voice, and planned on continuing to work. However, when I attended a teacher appreciation luncheon that day, I realized my sacrificial attendance at school wasn’t exactly appreciated. In fact, people were afraid of me. I tried to distance myself from others, but when I stepped out for a brief coughing jag, I returned to find fellow teachers had unknowingly sat near my plate. Seeing their fear, I picked up my plate, tossed it in the trash, and left the luncheon — and arranged for a sub for the following day.

That’s when I became the masked woman. Another sleepless night punctuated with coughing jags elicited the suggestion from my husband that I see a doctor and get some cough medicine with codeine. I called, barely able to speak, and made the appointment. When I checked in, the receptionist handed me the mask, and I donned it. Was it supposed to cover my mouth and nose? Doing so made my glasses fog. I turned to find a seat, and saw the others in the waiting room looking at me suspiciously. I was a little worried myself, more so when the doctor met me wearing a mask herself.

Yikes.

Though I didn’t have the traditional symptoms, a strep test proved positive, and I walked away from the doctor’s office — still masked — with prescriptions for both an antibiotic and the cough syrup for codeine and a long “to do” list, including voice rest and time off from work. Surely, two days off work and the two weekend days would be sufficient for a recovery, along with the meds.

I was disappointed. The cough syrup gave me the jitters; no relief there. The antibiotic made no impact. Over a period of numerous days, I worked my way through a host of remedies, suggestions of both the doctor and my friends:

  • Gargle with salt water.
  • Gargle with vinegar.
  • Mix fresh lemon and honey and allow it to drizzle down my throat.
  • Sip balsamic vinegar.
  • Drink vinegar water or tea.
  • Drink ginger tea.
  • Drink loads of fluids to thin mucus.
  • Do sinus rinses.
  • Do sinus rinses with salt water.
  • Do sinus rinses with salt water with a baking soda booster.
  • Use nasal sprays.
  • Sleep sitting up.
  • Take guaifenesin.
  • Take extra vitamin C.
  • Spray four sprays of Zicam into the mouth every three hours — but only on a full stomach.
  • Spray Zicam into the back of the throat when the cough starts.
  • Drink hot toddies before bed.
  • Get massage therapy on my throat.
  • Gargle with equal parts Benadryl and Mylanta.

It was that last suggestion that ended my pursuit of home remedies. Along with the thought of “disgusting,” although the messenger did suggest it “if I were desperate,” I remembered a doctor long ago prescribing Benadryl when I had similar symptoms and difficulty sleeping.

That did it. Actually, that preceded by my husband’s decree that I should return to the doctor’s office, which made me consider whether I’d actually followed ALL of the doctor’s orders… I hadn’t. I hadn’t, for instance, taken ibuprofen at least three times a day — because I wasn’t in pain. But when I considered that the medicine is an anti-inflammatory, and my throat was clearly inflamed and might be aided by the drug, I added the med, along with Benadryl, to my regimen.

That night I slept for the first time without being awakened by coughing jags.

After the second night of real sleep, my voice issues eased.

“Your voice is coming back. You’re beginning to sound a bit snarky again,” one of my seniors told me.

“Ahh! That’s what I was going for…” I croaked.

Today is Day 13 with laryngitis. I am close to fully recovered. I no longer sound like Minnie Mouse but I don’t yet sound like me. Well, somewhat snarky, apparently, which is pretty close.

I am no longer wearing a Lone Ranger mask or frightening people — or frustrating myself — with my symptoms.

“Hi-Yo, Laryngitis! Away!”

The fear of no future…

For some reason, the clashing of cymbals seemed a good illustration of a mammogram.

For some reason, the clashing of cymbals seemed a good illustration of a mammogram.

“If the hardest thing I have to do today is remember not to put on deodorant, this will be a good day.”

That was my thought as I got into the shower this morning, the morning of my annual mammogram. I then promptly doused my hair with shower soap and wondered why my shampoo felt so thick and tacky.

“Oh.” I realized my mistake. Clearly, I wasn’t in my usual frame of mind.

I vigorously rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. (Shower soap is tenacious.) Then I shampooed with real shampoo and conditioned twice for good measure. I methodically shaved my armpits and lathered them again, knowing I couldn’t don deodorant for hours.

I hate mammograms. Every time I “pass” one, I feel I’ve been granted another year to live. I go into the screening tense and sober; I leave relieved. At least, I always have.

Except once. Actually, several years ago I left the radiology lab feeling fine; it was the series of panicked phone calls from my doctor and then the lab about an abnormality that made me feel less relieved. “Probably a mole,” they said. But they couldn’t get me back for a retake until two weeks later. (It happened in October, and when I got the mail the day of the phone calls, the Health magazine inside was all about breast cancer awareness. I turned on the TV and for the first time noticed NFL football players wearing pink accessories. Was it a sign?) As it turned out, the magazine’s theme and pink cleats were directed at Breast Cancer Awareness month, not me specifically. The campaigns were successful; I was aware. My “abnormality” was a mole; now I am careful to point to every blemish for marking before I undergo the photo ordeal. My appointment reminder reads “MAM SCREEN AND WAIT,” because I now always wait to make sure the shots are clear. And nearly every visit I am called back for better pictures. Yea, me.

I don’t do self breast examinations — because I developed a large tumor in my breast when my son was still breast-feeding, and if I didn’t detect that one, I don’t stand a chance at finding something pea-sized or smaller. I don’t remember being afraid of no future at that point of my life; my life as a young mother with five children was a bit exhausting; I was probably too tired to become anxious. As it turned out, there was no need; the tumor was benign.

Just last week I had my annual exam, in which the doctor asked me if I regularly examine my breasts. I answered truthfully, and then he simply skipped the exam, too. I was too stunned and shy to ask why. It might have been an oversight, but I wondered if he figured I didn’t care enough to do it, so why should he? Only because I knew the mammogram was scheduled for less than a week later did I attempt to refrain from worrying about it.

————————

(Two hours later)

Another mammography is over and done. Except that I don’t yet know the results.

The technician — kind and gentle — let me know immediately that the process had changed. In addition to 2D photos of my breasts, she would simultaneously shoot 3D photos, which would allow the doctor to filter through the pictures layer by layer for a much more thorough view.

It also meant the “MAM SCREEN AND WAIT” line on my appointment letter meant nothing.

But better photos seemed a good trade off, and I submitted to the pressure (plastic plates turned every which way) and allowed her to take the shots. Afterward, she showed me one of the views, the 2D vs. the 3D, and it was informative and pretty cool.

Now I wait at home for the results. Wearing my deodorant.

But the reality, I know, is that I should have no fear of the future — even if it happens to be very short. I am not guaranteed today, let alone tomorrow. I could choke on my dinner, run into another car, collapse with a sudden brain aneurysm, get shot by an angry student, even die from using shower soap instead of shampoo on my hair. (OK, slight stretch there.) God knows me well; He already knows how my story ends.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16b).

I have this moment, perhaps this hour. Let me live it well, dear Lord, I pray. That is enough. Help me trust you, future or no future. No fear. Future or not.

 

When flowers bloom in winter…

Buds beginning to bloom on my Japanese magnolia in January.

Buds beginning to bloom on my Japanese magnolia in January.

Florida weather must confuse plants as much as it confuses my immune system. Series of warm, humid days are suddenly wrenched from memory by a wintry blast of arctic air, followed by days of frigid cold. Sudden upturns and downturns in temperature are not unusual; temperatures in a single day can range 20-40 degrees. Heaters and coats necessary in the morning give way to open windows and light T-shirts in the afternoon. And vice versa. My immune system is equally confused — do I have a summer cold or a winter cold?

A Florida winter includes attributes of autumn and spring; trees rain down their brown leaves even as plants begin sprouting their buds and blossoms. This year, I began seeing azalea blooms at the end of December, which featured 10 days of 80+ degree highs and only 7 days of lows in the 30s. The lowest max temperature last month was 61; the highest min temperature was 64 (http://www.wunderground.com). No wonder the plants are confused.

A resident of North Central Florida, I cherish the changing of seasons in my hometown, less dramatic than those up North but definitely distinct to the trained eye. But my heart often breaks when the azaleas and Japanese magnolias bloom early only to get zapped by a hard freeze. The glory of spring ends in mere hours; frozen flowers droop, turn brown, and then cling tenaciously to the branches; their death memorialized by the shriveled display.

Last week, forecasters predicted a low of 23, and as I attempted — and failed — to offer protection to my tulip tree, already blooming, I thought of the Bible’s steamy, sexy Song of Solomon. My dear plants had responded to the warmer days of December and succumbed to the temptation to bloom early. Now it appeared they were destined to freeze. It reminded me of those repeated passages in Song of Solomon in which the protagonist advises her girlfriends to stay pure until marriage (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). 

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases (Song of Solomon 8:4).

In the midst of her own marital sexual bliss, the peasant woman encourages her girlfriends to wait for the right time — marriage — to experience that love. “Don’t awaken love until it pleases,” she said, knowing the value in waiting.

I try to advise my flowers to wait for the right time and proper environment — warmer days — to bloom. When they do, they go through their natural progression of beauty. But when the weather cons them into blooming early , their beauty is cut short. Our daughters — and our sons — are living in a culture that encourages blooming early sexually. Not that sexual sin wasn’t a temptation for every generation, but once was the time when premarital sex had a social stigma attached to it; it may have happened, but lovers kept it more private. Now sex outside of marriage is commonplace and often blatantly suggested in various media, and it is not a beautiful thing. Remaining pure, as the woman in the Song advised, is today’s social stigma.

My daughter and her husband, thankfully, heeded the peasant girl’s advice in Song of Solomon. Just over a week ago, the couple celebrated the second anniversary of their marriage — and their sexual relationship. Early on in their dating, they had made a choice not to kiss until they were engaged, and, once engaged, they set specific guidelines for their relationship. Limiting their time together, limiting when and where and even how long they kissed aided them in their pursuit of purity. (They also made sure to limit the number of months they were engaged.)

My first husband told me that if he could be trusted with his purity and my own while we were dating, then I would know that I could trust him when we got married. In his attempts to remain pure in mind and body, he even took off his glasses when we went to the beach, so as to avoid visual temptation. Like my daughter and her husband, we too waited to kiss until we were engaged — and then wished we had waited until marriage to do so. We actually termed engagement “engagment” because it was awful to partially awaken love and then wait nearly nine months for the wedding day and the opportunity to fully experience that sexual love.

Yes, I would echo the woman in Song of Solomon and plead “don’t awaken love until it pleases.” Sex in marriage is a beautiful thing, even more beautiful than the flowers that grace my yard in spring (or winter).

Thankfully, the forecasters were wrong, and my flowering plants remain beautiful on this cold but sunny day. But the lesson remains. As does my lingering cold.

Putting past successes behind me…

grow old along with meI’m beginning to think I’m a little slow on the uptake. (Very slow, actually, as it is taking me multiple days to write this one post — and this about thoughts I’ve had since January 1.)

As I celebrated New Year’s Day, I seemed to be bombarded with God’s message in Philippians:

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Yeah, yeah. New Year. Fresh start. Forget your past failures and sadness and press on toward better things. Forgive others and yourself. Forget the past. Move away from what was and live the way God intended. Get better, do better, be better.

Blah, blah, blah.

Somehow I didn’t sense God saying that to me, though I have always internalized those particular verses with those thoughts (minus the “yeah, yeah… Blah, blah, blah,” of course).

I was attending a basketball game, and I noticed a Vietnam Vet — which I only knew because he was decked out in a cap and shirt designating himself as such. That war ended in 1975. I am thankful for this man’s service to our country and am deeply sorry for whatever pains and horrors he experienced while there, but, at the same time, I found it sad that an event ending nearly 40 years ago defined his current identity.

But then I saw myself — wearing the cap of “widowed young” and “instant mother of four children” — and realized I was no different, though my “cap” was not literal. That tragedy and the challenge of raising children in an already established family have often defined my life because they continue to impact me long after the death of my first husband and even after those instant children graduated high school and moved out on their own. Like the war veteran, the actual experience, followed by the memories and the aftermath of those events have long impacted my life.

But also like the veteran, I find myself bearing those titles with pride. As difficult as those times were, we got through them, and they represent success. We have overcome. Not alone. Not without God’s strength and presence. But we can look at those hardships through the knowledge that we have succeeded. That God’s strength is sufficient. Of course, like you, I can count other, much less melodramatic successes in my life — in academics, relationships, job opportunities, talents, and the like.

Generally, successes don’t come without effort. They often involve blood, sweat, and tears — but they show us who we are and, more important, they show us who God is in a deeper way. I must say the most difficult times of my life are when I have seen God most clearly and felt closest to him. I still don’t pray for trials and tribulations so I can experience God in that way, but I do know He will be with me in an almost tangible way when I need him most.

In this week’s school chapel service, a former Gator softball player came to share her testimony. It was well what you might imagine, a story about the unique way God wooed her to himself. Hers is a success story. Funny. Incredible. Touching. But what wowed me most was that Kelsey Bruder’s testimony was fresh — meaning it wasn’t just about how she became a Christian way back when, it was about what God had done in her life her two days previously.

It confirmed what I am taking as God’s message for me — via Philippians 3:13-14. Namely, God doesn’t want me to put past failures and sadness behind me — He wants me to put past failures, sadness, and successes behind me. And then press on to what He has for me today.

When I looked at those verses in context, I wondered that I had ever prescribed past failures and pains as “what lies behind.” Certainly, Paul wasn’t writing about failures; he was writing about all the “caps” he could have worn: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6). Paul pointed to his claims to fame and said he counted them as loss, compared to knowing Christ and being known by Him (Philippians 3:7-9).

I’m not quite sure where I got the idea that “what lies behind” in Paul’s letter was my negative past, but, whether taught or simply mistaken, I was wrong. I don’t want to look back at what was — even the good; I want to look forward and say, “What next, God?”

What new heights, new lows, new knowledge does God wish to impart in my life? How does He intend to use me for His glory?

As I look forward to walking with my God, it reminds me of a sundial my grandfather had purchased for my grandmother years ago. It bore the sentiment, “Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.”

Both he and my grandmother had shown it to me at different times, equally proud of the garden adornment. I found it a precious and lovely sentiment, and while I’d like to share that thought with my own husband, I’d also like to consider that as a message from God to me.

“Sara, grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.”

It’s a great reason to look forward, not back.

 

An “and one” rain…

After 12 hours of rainfall and cloud cover, sunlight allowed a view of our yard to reflect on the mirrored surface of this tray filled with rain water.

After 12 hours of rainfall and cloud cover, sunlight allowed a view of our yard to reflect on the mirrored surface of this tray filled with rain water.

Lest you think I actually understand anything about the sport of basketball, let me make it clear. Anything I know comes from watching each of my five children play the sport at some level; I never played myself. (And, yes, I am tall. That does not give one the ability or the desire to play that sport. I preferred softball.)

However, I know enough about basketball to recognize an “and one” when I see it. Just last week, my son went up for a shot, got it, and drew a foul, which meant he went to the free throw line for an extra shot. His two-point shot “and one” at the line earned a total of three points for one play. (Yes, I am a proud mama.)

Last night, when I was awakened by heavy rain, I got out of bed and penciled my thoughts during the deluge. My first line reads, ” ‘And one’ rain…”

At the time, despite my delirium at being awakened at midnight, “and one” rain made perfect sense to me. In the evening prior to sundown, when the skies looked far from bearing the rain the forecasters had said was 100 percent likely, I murmured a prayer:

“God, it doesn’t look like rain, but I sure would like the forecasters’ prediction to prove true.”

Tada!

As if in answer, God sent a heavy storm and woke me up to make sure I noticed. It was rain and then some. “And one” rain.

It made for fitful sleep. Rain. Heavy rain. Lightning. Sporadically vocal thunder. But it was the rain that awakened me. The gutter outside sloshed water from 12 feet above onto a concrete slab without the muting effect of a rainspout.

I was awake enough to know that those sheets of rain would make it impossible to stay dry while walking across the parking lot to and from the health club. I must have voiced this, because my husband replied, “It won’t be raining like this in the morning.”

It felt like morning. What time was it? Ah. Just midnight. I got up for a bowl of cereal; the buzzing of the fluorescent light in the kitchen and the rainspouts down this end of the house subdued the sound of the rain.

At the side door window, I listened and watched the sudden slowing of the rain. It seemed ominous, especially as the thundered worsened. My cat seemed nervous, tucking into my body to stay as close as possible. Suddenly, the sound of a rumbling truck rounded the curve near our house, but rather than staying the road, it made a beeline for the house. The resulting crash was no vehicle, merely heavy rain, once again enveloping the house in its powerful onslaught.

It was the type of rain that washes away debris rather than leaving a mess. Filling buckets and leaving puddles and other evidence well after it had taken its leave. It wasn’t the calming rain that typically helps me sleep. As I attempted sleep again, I was well aware of this rain — wild, loud, powerful, aggressive. Rain that goes for a shot and draws a foul — and my applause — in doing so. “And one” rain.

 

 

When a blog is like a diet…

My husband: "Is that our scale? Where is the weight?" Me: "This is a photo illustration not an expose!"

My husband: “Is that our scale? Where is the weight?”
Me: “This is a photo illustration not an exposé!”

I am an all or nothing person, and I’m not proud of it. When I start a no-sugar diet, for instance, the moment I blow it and eat some candy, the diet is done. I can’t seem to get beyond that failure, count it as a temporary lapse, and move on. I see it as having to start all over again.

Perhaps it’s like a football player’s stats. This season, the New England Patriot’s quarterback, Tom Brady, was about to beat a record – number of sequential games in which he threw for a touchdown. He failed. He didn’t make the throw, and he didn’t beat the record. What made it worse, to ever beat that record, he had to start all over.

That’s how dieting is for me. (And, yes, I know, it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change…) Unfortunately, recently blogging became like a diet.

It’s my fault, really. I committed to NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) in November, which meant I committed to posting every day. It was difficult, and if I didn’t have a week off from school for the Thanksgiving holidays, I never would have succeeded. I did; I didn’t always like my posts, but I liked the attention. Posting daily somehow drew a crowd; the number of followers and likes and comments skyrocketed (well, compared to the previous months). When I decided to do NaBloPoMo, I thought it was for November only. But when I found out that November is merely the most popular month for NaBloPoMo (surprised it isn’t February, which is shorter) and that BlogHer offered the challenge every month, my competitive edge took that challenge for December. Two weeks off at Christmas helped me achieve that goal; when January rolled around, along with my son’s basketball season and my school’s accreditation process, I knew better than to commit to NaBloPoMo.

But I did anyway. (Hey, the theme was “pressure,” I figured posts would come quite naturally.)

Last week, just before I left for my son’s varsity game, I had almost finished a post. I was rushing and pressuring myself to get the post done before the game, and I missed the first minute and half because of it. By the time I got home from the game, it was too late to put on those finishing touches. I missed a day for NaBloPoMo.

Two days later, I missed again. Why not? I had already blown it. Just like my no-sugar diet. Just like Tom Brady’s attempted broken record.

So today, I knew I had school work and house work that simply had to get done, and blogging had to come last, if it came at all. January’s NaBloPoMo “pressure” was off me… until I thought, “Blogging is like dieting.”

And there you have it. A post. And maybe a time in my life when I am not “all or nothing.”

(Maybe because blogging is better than a diet.)

A step away from Fridays…

My final Friday with Bob.

My final Friday with Bob.

“Happy Friday!”

My step aerobics instructor called out his traditional end-of-the-week greeting before beginning the warm-up.

And then he added, somewhat softly:

“For the last time.”

Bob had informed us a few weeks ago, once he had come to grips with the loss, that this Friday would be the last. Next week, a new class, Body Combat, will take the place of the step aerobics class that has been a Friday feature at the health club for about 15 years. A “fiercely energetic program … inspired by martial arts disciplines such as karate, boxing, taekwondo, tai chi and muay thai” will replace Bob’s creative advanced step moves. He will continue teaching step on Monday and Wednesday mornings, but dwindling numbers have called for the replacement of the Friday class.

I began attending this advanced step aerobics class about 11 years ago, at the advice of my weekend instructor of a basic step class. My now 17-year-old senior had just finished first grade. I was one week away from my summer break from teaching; one week of teacher post planning and I would be free. I started immediately and fell in love.

Bob’s class was unlike any other class I had taken previously. While he called common step moves, they comprised intricate patterns that were tricky. While I knew the basics, this was so much more. The patterns were challenging; they moved quickly, and I both failed and succeeded quickly as well. I had moments of embarrassment, feeling completely lost, and moments of personal glory, mastering the new moves. When my first class was over, a few of the regular attenders came over to tell me I did well, as did Bob. I felt welcomed and encouraged — and determined to learn the routines.

Once Bob knew my name, I was in trouble. He had no problem whatsoever calling out “Sara” to draw my attention to a move I had found difficult previously. (He still does, 11 years later.) He allowed me to arrive before class for tutoring sessions to learn some of the steps, and if he noticed I was having difficulty with a pattern, he would park himself on the floor in front of me during class to make sure I had a front-row step for learning it. Any embarrassment I might have felt quickly evaporated as I became aware how much Bob cared, and I made mental note of his teaching style to employ with my own students.

If you were new, it was best to start Bob’s class on a Monday. On Mondays, Bob would use a selection of his routines; if new people were in class, he would be sure to go a bit slower and repeat the patterns until students picked them up. On Wednesdays, Bob would add a routine to that selection, remaining conscious and considerate of newer attendees. But on Fridays, Bob let loose. Woe to the newbie! He would increase the tempo and flow through the routines. Once I had gained some confidence, Fridays were my favorite; they also seemed to draw in crowds of those who liked a challenge. The exercise room would be packed.

My classmates were raucous, yelling out certain calls or responding to Bob’s calls, but they were kind; I quickly considered them friends and found within the relationships motivation to become a regular myself. Unfortunately, I knew that summer would end and so would my ability to attend Bob’s class.

At this time, my daughter had graduated from the private, Christian school where I taught and was enrolled in a K-12 Christian school for 9th grade in the fall. My two younger sons and I would continue at the other Christian school; the older of the two would be in 7th grade, and I would be the middle school teacher. The school had changed location two years prior without consulting the students’ families, and disgruntled parents had chosen to leave the school, often influencing others to leave as well. It was a painful time, and enrollment was still gravely impacted.

My youngest son happened to attend a Vacation Bible School at the school where my daughter was enrolled for fall, and he had Mrs. Nelson, the second grade teacher, as his teacher. At the end of VBS, Adam said to me, “Mommy, I want Mrs. Nelson to be my teacher next year.”

“Well,” I said. “Then you better pray for a miracle. We are already enrolled at another school, and Mrs. Nelson’s class here is full.”

Likewise, I was praying for a way to continue to attend Bob’s class. Within weeks, everything changed.

First, my school contacted me to let me know that my position as a middle school teacher had been eliminated due to diminishing numbers. My son A.J. would have to attend elsewhere, and when I was offered a combined 5th/6th grade class, I decided I would have to go elsewhere too. When I left my school that morning, I drove immediately to Cornerstone, where my daughter was enrolled. I asked for a job; I was hired on the spot. The school had space in 7th grade for A.J., and because I was teaching, Mrs. Nelson’s class could be expanded to include one more child. Mine. Adam had his miracle.

And my new schedule would allow me to continue attending Bob’s class.

Bob and his students have become like family to me at the health club. We greet each other; we keep tabs on each other’s whereabouts; we require “excused” absences and harass each other lovingly when we miss; we’ve shared in sorrows and joys. At Christmastime, we students secretly gather together cash to buy Bob a group gift. On Bob’s anniversary for teaching our class, he religiously blesses us with some gift — chocolate-covered strawberries, bubble bath, candles, foot lotion — though I’m fairly certain we should be congratulating him.

Through the years, I have had to adjust my morning schedule, sometimes attending the class one day a week, sometimes skipping for a month or so to give my knees or back a break (or prevent them from breaking), but I always consider myself a regular (and I always got “excused” from Bob prior to being absent). From what I can tell, the step classes are the last bastion to “home-made” teaching at the health clubs. The Body Combat classes — like the Zumba, Body Flow, and Body Pump classes — are what we teachers call “canned” curriculum. Routines are created commercially, shared via video with teachers, who then use them for about three months before the next batch of routines are created, taught, and used. I’m not saying the classes don’t have value; I’m just saying Bob’s an original, his choreography is his own creation, and I’m sad to see the more teacher-unique classes going away.

I know popularity drives exercise classes, and that types of classes come and go. That Bob’s class has remained a fixture in early morning prime time is a tribute to the quality of class it is. And he still rules on Mondays and Wednesdays; I just hope the loss of Fridays inspires more to attend so these are not lost as well.

Yesterday, as Bob led us through his portfolio of patterns instead of the usual chosen few, it was a happy Friday. It was a celebration of what was, but it was also the end of an era. And that is the hard part.