Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pain Keeps Me Humble...

So it's been a week of ups and downs so far.  And I'm OK with that.  (Not that I really have a choice!)

The "Ups" new school year has begun and I'm having a blast!  I'm working with people I love and admire greatly.  The families of my students are supportive and friendly.  And the new kiddos themselves are a joy to get to know.  I'm looking forward to the school year being amazing.

Also a BIG "up"...I have an incredible community of family and friends surrounding me.  I've heard from many of them this week.  Phone calls, texts, emails - you name it - they've let me know they love me, support me, and are praying for me.  That's just overwhelming!  I LOVE these people...truly, truly love them!

The only real downer this week is I'm having tremendous knee pain.  Swelling.  Meniscus problems on the right knee.  Just a really icky week for me physically.  Only one night in the gym so far, and it's not looking good for the rest of the week at this point.  Hoping that changes, but not anticipating it.

But here's what I'm thinking tonight.  The pain is keeping me humble...keeping perspective for me.  I might forget how utterly wonderful the rest of my life is and begin to take it for granted if I didn't really have rotten parts, too.  So if this knee pain is what it takes to keep me reminded of how great the rest of my life is...BRING IT ON!  Because I don't ever want to take for granted the blessings that God has given me and forget to thank Him for them!

Good night, my friends...count your MANY blessings!

DISCLAIMER...this blog post was written under the influence of some heavy pain who knows if I'll feel this way in the morning!??!?!  Hahahaha!!!  Just kidding!!  (Not about the pain killers...just about tomorrow!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Insecure? Me?? Umm....

Every once in awhile, the girl I was creeps out of her hiding place deep inside me and reminds me that she's still around.  Let me share with you something that happened earlier this week...

The Scene:  Chatting with a friend...we mention a girl that we grew up that we both knew, but haven't seen in a long time.

My friend:  "Oh, I remember her...she was really, really cute!"

Me:  :-(

Now...what my friend said was completely accurate (she really was cute...and still is!)...and in NO WAY did the comment about our mutual friend have ANYTHING to do with me.  But do you want to know what I heard??

"Oh, I remember her...she was really, really cute!  So much more cute than you were..."

Insecure, much?  You know the answer to that.  There's no point in even stating the obvious.

My friend didn't say that.  Wouldn't ever say that, because my friend loves and respects me...and never even thought this.  Not once.  I'm completely confident of this.  But it doesn't change the fact that it immediately ran through my head during this conversation.

What really makes it even more disheartening that I would allow this kind of purely insecure, negative talk to permeate my brain is that I have several reasons this week to feel very confident.  I'm taking on big responsibilities this school year and have begun work this week on a great note.  I've also spent time chatting with some great friends, being encouraged by them about the positive changes I've made in my life...and hearing from them how these changes have impacted them positively, too.  There are so many things going really well in my life right now that produce feelings of accomplishment and success. 

So, where does that voice come from?  The one that whispers lies to me...that tells me people look at me, judge me, and find me inadequate and lacking in comparison to others?

Well, as someone who believes that there are spiritual forces at work and at war in this world, I can tell you that the enemy of my soul is largely responsible for that whisper.  But I can't lay this all on him.  Because I bought into that lie long ago...hook, line, and sinker!  The only reason he can use this weapon against me is because I allow it.  That voice is one that I've chosen to listen to over the past 25+ years as I've struggled with self image and obesity.  And that just begs the question...

If it was my choice to listen to those lies over the years and absorb them into my life, can't it also be my choice NOT to listen anymore?

Instinctively, I know the answer to that question.  And I'm betting you do, too.

The other side of those Spiritual forces...the side I'm allied with and have staked my eternal future on...whispers the TRUTH to me.  And I can choose to listen and believe.  In fact, I'm invited to do so.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." 

So, it's time to renew my mind...get rid of that old girl hiding deep inside of me and all of her insecurities.  I know who I am...and WHOSE I am.  And I like me. A lot.  And you know what?  The bottom line is that's all I really need.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Circumstances Are Neutral? Yep...I Believe They Are...

I said something in my last blog post that I want to explain more.  I've had a few people ask me about it, and really, understanding this idea has made a huge difference in how I approach my life these days.  So, let me explain myself a little bit.

What I said is that I believe that circumstances - the things that happen to us in our lives - are neutral.  I believe that these events have no emotional impact until we choose to react to them and assign them that value in our lives.

Just like the transmission of a car in neutral is not capable of moving the vehicle either forward or backward until a gear is engaged, so the circumstances in our lives are not able to impact us either positively or negatively until we choose how we are going to respond to them.  My car will move in the direction I tell it to when I engage the gear I select.  My response to circumstances will create the feelings that the circumstances produce in my life.

Here's an example of what I mean that might help explain it a little better.

The arthritis and tendonitis in my knees is a circumstance in my life, a circumstance I deal with every moment that I'm awake and standing on them.  Physically, my knees are painful...there's just no denying that. But emotionally, arthritis is neutral...until I assign an emotional response to it.

Some days, that response is frustration.  On those days, I tend to whine a bit about my circumstances.  I often can be found sitting down to ease the pain a bit, although sitting for prolonged periods really doesn't do anything to help my knees, and can in fact make them MORE painful physically because they get stiff from being in the same position for too long.  Frustration days lead to no working out - after all, the knees aren't going to get any better because I work out, so why go, right?  These days sometimes lead to emotional eating, although I'm getting better at choosing not to do that very often anymore.

So, let's recap...choosing to respond to the pain of my arthritis with frustration leads to whining, a sedentary lifestyle, and possible food binges.  Anything positive hiding out in there that I missed?  No...I didn't think so!

Other days, however, my response to the pain of my knees is determination.  I am determined that I will do what I can do...all that I can decrease the amount of pressure on my knees so that the pain will go away.  The best and only way to do that is to lose weight, and I know that, so I work harder at it, with a different kind of resolve.  I eat less, move more - no matter that it is painful - and grit my way through a workout, take anti-inflammatory meds, ice my aching joints.  In short, I do all that I can do to lessen the impact of arthritis on my body. 

Now, let's look at this response to the circumstance of having arthritis.  Responding with determination leads to eating less, moving more, and taking care of my joints in a way that makes my physical therapist proud of me.  Those are decidedly positive outcomes in my way of thinking.

Here's the deal...having arthritis and tendonitis in my knees is neither positive nor negative.  It just "is".  It is a neutral event in my life...until I choose how to respond to it.  It is my response to the circumstance, not the event itself, that determines whether it's positive or negative for me.  I understand that most people see arthritis and pain as negative things.  But my belief is that it's only a negative in my life if I choose for it to be.  I can reshape my thinking, deliberately choose to focus on something other than negativity, which makes the circumstance something other than negative, too.

Is any of this easy?  No.  Not really.

I wish I could tell you that I consistently choose the positive response to the circumstances in my life.  I try to.  And many times I'm successful.  But not always. The reason for that, I believe, is that my "default" is wired to be somewhat negative.  I'm programmed to interpret physical pain as a very negative experience, and then I do things in response to that experience that I think will lessen my pain, like become less active.  The problem is, the things I choose to do are often things that will have the exact opposite impact.  They'll increase my pain, not lessen it.

If it's not easy, is it at least worth it to play this mind game?  Yes.  Most definitely.

While I can't tell you that I'm always in a good place mentally, I CAN tell you that when I am thinking this way, my life is happier, my mood is better, and knees hurt less!  Perhaps it's because I'm focusing on something other than pain.  Perhaps it's because positive thinking releases serotonin or other endorphins that block the pain.  Perhaps it's because I'm doing things that really do lessen the pain, like strengthening my quads, hamstrings, and other muscles and tendons that will work in place of my messed up knees.  I don't know...and honestly don't really care.  I do know that it's true.  Choosing a positive response to my circumstances leads to very, very positive outcomes.

I hope you will consider what I'm saying here and not discount it.  Because this is not just Angie wearing rose-colored glasses and not having a true view of the world and how things are.  No...that's not me at all.  This is Angie being EMPOWERED in her life to determine what her outcomes are going to be.  And the best thing is, you can do this, too.  Once you believe it.  So think on it a little bit...see if it makes some sense to you.  And better yet, start trying it!  See if it doesn't work for you, too!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's Been a Week! (Or Almost Two...)

Very rarely will you ever see me when I'm not smiling.  It's not that I am completely happy all the time, because I'm not.  But I tend to have a smile on my face much of the time, no matter what's going on in my head and heart.  In fact, I'm somewhat known for it.  I don't think I ever fully frown (very bad for skin tone...and I don't want wrinkles!), but there are times in my life where a smile is hard to come by. 

This past 10 days have been that way for me.

I've had very difficult parenting challenges with a teenager who needed to be reminded that mommies are to be respected...and that self-control is a virtue that will get him far in life.  Also with a 20-Something who pretty much withdrew from life for awhile after losing a job that he didn't really enjoy, but paid his bills.

I've been getting used to living alone (even though my boys are here most of the time) after living in a full house for the past 24 years.  It's had its ups and downs, but perhaps more downs in the past week or so.  (Broken lawn mowers don't help with that!)

I've been a little sick lately.  Nothing overwhelming - just a sinus and ear infection that I'm sure will be feeling better soon.  But facing each day with a pounding ear and head before you even get out of bed is beyond frustrating.  Especially when you're as busy as I've been to begin this month.

I've been hurt by a few people that are incredibly close to me. Unintentionally hurt, but nonetheless hurt. And now I am working to heal those relationships, which is important, but not really easy.

And I've experienced death indirectly.  Not once...but twice.  That has most definitely been the hardest thing that's happened in the last 10 days, and that is what has robbed me of my full smile lately.  It's been hard to get it back, frankly.

Yesterday, my friend was laid to rest.  She was an extraordinary woman, so upbeat and positive.  Despite the fact that she struggled with a fatal disease for much of her life.  Christina had Cystic Fibrosis, and she far outlived the typical person with CF.  There's no known cure for CF, and Christina knew that.  But she lived her life as fully as she possibly could.  She was a loving wife, a fantastic mommy, and a source of great encouragement to me and her other friends.  She has been with me on this journey from the beginning, often giving me private comments to let me know that she thought what I was doing was amazing and that she was proud of me. 

Realizing that I won't have any more of those comments from her hurts me.  But what hurts me more is that her husband and children have to face life and move forward without her.  Mommies aren't supposed to leave their young children behind.  Trying to understand the "why do bad things happen to good people" conundrum is taxing.  And as much as I love God and trust that He's in control, there are just times when I don't get it.  At all. 

Which is pretty much how I feel about the other death I experienced this week.  The day after Christina succumbed to CF, my friend and colleague, Barb, lost her husband when cancer took him from her far too quickly.  When they got the diagnosis at the end of the school year, the prognosis wasn't good, but I'm pretty sure that no one expected he would leave his family and friends so soon.  Tomorrow, when we all gather to support Barb at a memorial service for her husband, I'm sure those sentiments will be shared by everyone who knew him.  Such a loss.

So, it's been a tough month of August for me so far.  The thing is, sometimes life is like this.  Often, actually.  Seems like we spend a lot of time struggling through difficult things in our lives.  All of us, not just me.  So what do I take away from these 10 days?  A few things, actually.

First, we are much stronger than we think we are.  My friend Christina showed me that, outlasting by a good bit the typical life expectancy of CF, mostly by sheer force of will, I believe.  My friend, Barb, is showing me that by facing the loss of her husband and best friend with grace and dignity, despite the fact that he left so suddenly and with such pain.  People can do so much more than they believe they can.  We sometimes only learn this lesson through adversity.  But wouldn't it be wise if we remembered it in the good times, too?  Maybe then we'd experience fewer defeats in our challenges if we could remember that we have the strength we need to face them head on and be victorious.

Next, I take away that tough times don't last forever.  They come...but then they go.  It's hard to remember that while you're right in the midst of them, but it's no less true.  My friend's husband, Stephen, is moving forward.  He took their daughter to dance class today, beginning to understand and embrace his role as "Mr. Mom" as he called it.  Does he miss her?  To the uttermost depths of his being, I'm sure.  Is he still aching?  Absolutely.  But is he moving forward?  Yes.  The best he can, he's moving on.  I'm sure Barb will experience the same thing.  And I know I have and will, too.  We all do. 

Finally, the last takeaway from the beginning of this month for me is this:  perception is not reality.  We treat it like reality, but it's not.  My feelings, my perception of these events over the past 10 days has been largely negative.  People I care about dying or losing people they love...children struggling to grow up and become the men I know they'll be one day...sickness robbing me of energy and creating pain...friends hurting me - not one of those things feels positive to me.  But the reality of the situation is that my response to those circumstances in my life is up to me.  I get to choose how I will respond.  I can respond in very positive ways that lead to good outcomes, or I can choose to dwell in my feelings of negativity, which will not produce anything good.  How I perceive these events is not what they actually are.  The events themselves are neutral.  They have no feeling automatically assigned or associated with them, only what I choose to give them.  What each of these difficulties truly is in my life is an opportunity.  A chance for me to put into practice what I preach and choose my response to the circumstances of my life.

So, I think that smile may just have to come back.  Because I'm done feeling defeated and negative.  Yes, it was a difficult start to the month.  But I'm still here.  I'm still working on my goals in life.  These ten days have not stolen anything from me that I can't replace if I choose to.  Happiness isn't about my circumstances at all.  It comes from a much deeper place, and right now, I'm reclaiming it.  I don't enjoy any of the circumstances that have come my way, but I am better, stronger, and healthier because I've dealt with them and learned from them.  THAT is how I choose to view the first part of August. 

Now...let's move on to better days!


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