|Posted on January 23, 2020 at 10:35 AM|
I had grand plans for this week, even today, dashed in one moment of illness. As I write this, I am lying in bed, propped up by my pillow, typing this blog post on my computer. My week started with a BANG! I got so much done, worked out every day, and felt so accomplished. Today I struggle to get the basics done. I am torn between writing and taking a nap. Work out? Nope. Eat healthy? Yep. Feel great about my body? Nope. Does it truly matter? Nope. I’ve learned that much of what healthy people think is important about looking good, losing weight, and other physical goals are superficial.
Can you relate? You are doing great with food and exercise, then BOOM! Out of nowhere, you are knocked off course. It could be illness, a situation at work, a problem at home. The truth of the matter is most of our health, fitness, and Christian wellness goals are lived out in real life, not in a vacuum. Life throws us some curves many do not count on when setting goals for health, weight loss, or fitness. My situation reminded me of some incredible people I worked with through the years.
Learning from the Example of Others
I’ve worked with some incredible clients and class members over the years who taught me some important lessons. The Arthritis Water Exercise class members I first taught in a gym were a resilient, persistent group of older adults with various forms of arthritis, MS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and more. They supported each other forming community for many who lived alone with their diseases. On the surface, they seemed to be a very chatty bunch, but I learned how dedicated they were to come into class three times a week. It was all these sweet people could do to pack their swim gear, come to the gym, walk down the long corridor to the locker room, change their clothes, exercise, shower, redress, and go back home. Each one had to put their exercise time as a priority over other activities for that day. They encouraged each other, checked in with those who were absent, laughed and cheered over seemingly simple accomplishments, and mourned with those who mourned. When they saw me struggle through diagnosis and treatment for fibromyalgia, they were patient, encouraging, and supportive for me. When I left, they had a small party to say good-bye tearfully. They gave me a wonderful gift: a paraffin spa bath for me to tame the pain and swelling in my hands by immersing them in melted wax. I learned resilience, compassion, and patience in the face of adversity from them.
Some of my most dedicated clients were those with cancer who have given me a whole new viewpoint on health, fitness, and life. Cancer survivors bring a whole new perspective on fitness. Most breast cancer survivors from Team Survivor in Pensylvania wanted to be able to feel better and do the tasks and activities important in their lives. Sure, they wanted to lose the weight they put on during treatments, but looking model perfect wasn’t even on their radar screens. One survivor in my water exercise class in Ohio had a prosthesis (foam “breast” ) that popped out of her suit and floated nearby. She laughed and slid it back where it belonged. I was embarrassed for her, but she said, “I’m happy to be here laughing at this than to be on the underside of the grass.” Life is short and even shorter for many who live with cancer, so each one has taught me many things, but this one is most important: Be grateful for every day I wake up, even when I struggle to get out of bed because tomorrow is never guaranteed.
Clients and class members with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, and MS often have weight gain, hair loss, and other not-so-appealing side effects because of their medications. When faced with the alternative of not taking these medications and facing serious consequences, each one came to accept unpleasant side effects with grace. One woman told me, “If I didn’t take Methotrexate, I would be dead by now. I’ve learned to let go of vanity because physical beauty is temporary anyway.” Each one disliked the side effects, but essentially, exercise and a healthy diet helped them function better in their day-to-day. One of them asked me what God has taught me through the fibromyalgia. I had to tell her that the abilities He gave me He could easily choose to take away. I learned living a healthy lifestyle with faith that God can handle what we cannot makes life a daily blessing to share with others.
Other Important Lessons
Certainly, I’ve done my share of kicking and screaming, fussing, and crying over my losses with chronic pain and fatigue. After the tears have dried and grumbling stopped, I have to admit that God has better things for me than having the fitness level I once enjoyed. He has taught me many lessons through the lives of my clients and class members, as I described above. Other lessons learned through my own experiences and those from others with chronic illness:
1. If we opt for a healthy lifestyle that we can put into daily practice, we can fare life’s storms much better. Bad days are less often, and I can at least function to do necessary tasks on those days. When life throws us a curve, we are better able to work with difficult circumstances or work around it.
2. The world’s notion of beauty is very time consuming and often vain. It takes a lot to keep up the gym body. I know because I’ve had it. But what may not realize is that I had and maintained by working as a fitness pro. It was my job for 25+ years. Can you imagine working out 4 hours a day for 5-6 days a week on top of your regular job? Most people can’t afford that kind of time to maintain that type of physique. The normal amount of time healthy people spend in the gym is 1 to 1-1/2 hours per day for 3 to 5 days a week. Is it that important for you in the grand scheme of your life to live in the gym after your workday is over? When will you spend quality and quantity time with your spouse and children? Do you stare at yourself in the mirror every time you walk past it?
3. If we sort our priorities, living a healthy lifestyle with Jesus at the center is what we really need. It is far more manageable than dieting and knocking yourself out in the gym for that superficial gym body. If you no longer have to think about it, it is a natural part of life.
4. Being able to work out in the gym is a privilege. Not everyone can. My mom misses walking around the courtyard of her apartment complex because the pain in her back and hips are severe. Something could happen at any time, taking that privilege away from us. Take advantage of exercise while you can.
5. Our bodies are much more fragile than we care to admit. One day, I was pulling a rescue dummy full of water from the bottom of the 12-foot end of the pool. The next day, I could barely get out of bed because chronic illness invaded my life. Just because you feel invincible doesn’t mean you are.
6. People who truly love and care about us want us to be as healthy, happy and connected to Jesus as possible. Nothing could be better than this. Our friends and family who love us want the best for us.
7. Ephesians 2:10 sets it all straight. Love and serve Jesus first and others second, by taking care of your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is an act of stewardship of what He has given us to bring Him glory, not our own. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but function well for what He has called us to do in His Name.
Discussion thought: What lessons have you learned about health, fitness, and faith have you learned from extraordinary people in your life?
I look forward to seeing you in Healthy Lifestyles! Groups begin February 6, 2020 at 7 pm. Register here. May God bless you.