Posture

Xray-Julie-Posture-June-2013

I recently had an ugly fall while running. I lost a layer of skin on my hand, mobility of my jaw, and a modicum of dignity. I gained six stitches squarely at the base of my chin and a healthy fear of pavement. Months later, I’m grateful to report that the external injuries are no longer visible. My body had totally healed. Almost.

Despite my recovery, one nagging reminder of the painful incident remained. My jaw wouldn’t close completely – at least not without intentional effort. It’s amazing what we take for granted every day. Eyes that blink. Fingers that grasp. And a jaw that closes when not in use.

Weeks rolled into months. There was no longer pain in my jaw – just a nagging reminder that something wasn’t quite right. Surely time would heal that as well. When time didn’t heal, my dentist nudged me in the direction of a physical therapist.

I confess that the few minutes spent filling out paperwork were marked by a combination of pride and irritation. I’m rarely sick. This would eventually get better on its own. For crying out loud, I don’t even have a primary care doctor. Doesn’t that say something? I should have waited it out. I have better things to do with my time. Then the physical therapist walked through the door.

After asking the prescribed battery of questions and assessing my condition, she made a few, measured comments. If I didn’t deal with the cause behind the issue, permanent scar tissue could develop. Full healing might become impossible.

The recommended rehabilitation for my jaw included daily ice packs, isometric exercises, and the need to hold my head straight (rather than tipped forward). I read a lot during the day. A whole lot. Actually, most of my activities result in my head being tipped forward ever so slightly. Apparently, this didn’t help my jaw; rather it stretched out the very muscles needed to keep my jaw securely closed. If these actions didn’t remedy my problem, we’d have to resort to a high dose of topical steroids. “We’ll see,” I thought. After all, we were heading out-of-town for several days. Surely, it will get better on its own. Pride and denial make a powerful cocktail.

I promptly disregarded all instruction while on our trip, except I was intentional about correcting my posture. Head up, jaw back. It turns out that I didn’t need ice packs or exercises. I didn’t need steroids. Within days, the tension in my jaw had vanished. It closed easily and without effort. A change of a few degrees in posture had changed everything.

Some injuries are obvious. The gash in my chin and subsequent flow of blood made it clear that a visit to the emergency room was in order. Six stitches, and I was on my way toward healing. Other injuries are more subtle and easier to disregard. Like my achy jaw, they may not demand immediate attention, but if left untreated, long-term damage can occur.

I have “achy jaws” in many areas of life.

~ Relationships that aren’t completely healthy, but that I’ve chosen not to address. “It will get better over time. Surely.”

~ Envy of others who are smarter, more disciplined in their pursuit of fitness and nutrition, better parents, etc.

~ Laziness masked as busyness. If my life is full of (fill in the blank), I can’t possibly have time to attend to (fill in the blank).

The chronic, muted ache is a warning sign of a deeper problem. One that won’t go away with time and could prove to be insidious if left untreated. At the very least, it’s a problem that will prevent me from flourishing.

Yet if we’re willing to listen to the ache and have the courage to address the root cause, then there’s hope.

Sometimes hope comes in the form of excruciating surgery.  Sometimes it’s found in years of adjustments and rehabilitation.  In the midst of the uncertainty and suffering, we can take courage. We are under the tender care of the Great Physician.

But occasionally, our pain is more subtle. It’s the result of spiritual misalignment – the seemingly innocuous habit of looking down rather than looking up.

Sometimes hope comes from a change in posture.



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Moving Forward

photo-33

It was a big day today. I went on my first run since the accident over four months ago. After my fall, I vowed that I’d never let it happen again. It was a vow that wasn’t hard to keep during the winter. I don’t like cold weather, and my jaw has continued to serve as an achy reminder of that painful autumn day.

It was time to find an alternative form of exercise. One with less impact on my knees. I am in my (early) forties, after all. This was a sign. I retreated to the safety of my elliptical machine, but it just wasn’t the same. The Carolina spring has been casting its spell, and I finally succumbed to the enchantment.

I chose my path carefully. Dirt trail, not pavement, just in case. The first step evoked a strange combination of terror and exhilaration. My heart raced, not from increased work load, but from a rush of adrenaline brought on by memories of blood on pavement and a long ER wait. One slow, careful step led to another. Step after step, I was tempted to stop. Step after step, I chose to keep moving. It was an unimpressive run at best, but I couldn’t help but to feel a small sense of victory. I was no longer gripped by fear. Although slowly and cautiously, I was moving forward.

A friend recently asked me what I thought it looked like to forgive and move forward after having been hurt or betrayed. Forgiving is one thing. Trying to heal a severely wounded relationship is quite another. I found myself grasping for words. I’m not a fan of trendy, positive clichés. Too many have been tossed my way, causing further pain rather than the intended encouragement.  After stumbling around in my head and trying to piece together some semblance of truth, I found I had little to say.

But now maybe I do.

While taking my first tentative steps on the trail today, I realized that for me, running would never be the same. What had once been pleasurable and instinctive has become a cautious act of will. I would never again run with complete abandon. The doctors still don’t know what caused my foot to go numb, so there is no assurance that I won’t fall again.  The reality is that I could.  In order to move forward, I chose to believe that what lies ahead is of greater value than that which staying still will protect. There was risk involved. It was an act of hope.

As my brisk walk morphed into a slow jog, I was granted an unanticipated gift. Before my accident, I had run without much thought or concern. As a result of my fall, I had become acutely aware of the miracle of each step. Innocence had been replaced by gratefulness. I would never again take the ability to run for granted. Although riskier, it now holds much greater value.

For four months, I had structured my world in such a way to allow for healing. I didn’t put myself in a position to be hurt again. Having gravel being dug out of my chin isn’t something I want to relive anytime soon. Protection for a time was appropriate, but with time came healing. Eventually, I had a choice to make. I could live in fear or dare to hope.

Most of us tiptoe through life avoiding pain at all cost. It’s not that we underestimate the pain of the fall. It’s that we underestimate the cost. We may gain self-protection, but we pay a high price – the price of forfeiting deeper dependence on our Maker and a life marked by freedom, peace, and the deep abiding joy for which we were created.

If I’d have given in to the strong (understandable) compulsion to play it safe, I would have missed the long-awaited warm spring day. I would have missed the chattering chipmunks’ playful game of chase. I would have missed the heads of determined blooms, which were pushing through the darkness toward the light. The very soil from which they grew and drew sustenance was a byproduct of death. Each vibrant green sprout testified that death is necessary in order to birth new life. Death, even of a dream, is to be grieved. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

In fact, it may be what comes before the very best part.

“Most of human life is Holy Saturday, a few days of life are Good Friday, but there only needs to be one Easter Sunday for us to know the final and eternal pattern. We now live inside of such cosmic hope.”   Richard Rohr

To forgive and move forward starts with grieving the death of what was, yet daring to hope for what could be. It means leaning in, exchanging a posture of self-protection for a posture of loving another. It means coming to terms with the frailty of human relationship, yet being willing to depend on the Father (rather than another ) to meet my needs. It means trusting in the goodness and power of my Healer, regardless of what the future may bring.

To forgive and move forward means choosing to believe that the power of Easter Sunday can resurrect and breathe new life into the dead.
And then to live like I believe it.

 

 



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Miracle

clouds bright sky miracle

My chin hit the pavement. The compact area of flesh and bone, no more than a few inches in total, absorbed the impact of my entire body in unhindered free fall. I was certain that my jaw was broken.

Scene I – The Fall

Last week, after several days’ procrastination, I could no longer deny the call of Eden-like autumn weather. I laced up my shoes and set out for a quick run. One step, then two. As I’d taken a thousand times before. But step three threw a rather large glitch into the dependable process. From the ankle down, my foot went numb. Rather than holding my weight and propelling me forward, it seemed to disappear. There was no mitigating stumble forward to be caught by the alternate foot. If I were watching through a window across the street, I’d imagine the scene would resemble the toppling of a cleanly hewn tree. Only faster. In an instant, I saw the crimson trees ahead, then blood on the pavement. Nothing in between.

Scene II – Emergency room

Waiting. Bright lights. Sharp pain transitioned into dull throb. Test results were announced. No break – only stitches needed. Dear friend came to hold my hand. All would heal.

Scene III – Recovery

Within hours, my speed of had dramatically decelerated. Everyday scenes, which normally roll by with a steady fluidity, were reduced to a series of plodding individual snapshots. My movements were slow and deliberate. Each minute had expanded, allowing a space for heightened awareness. I looked at my hand. Skin left upon the pavement was already being replaced.  Specialized white blood cells invaded my palm like FEMA infiltrating a disaster site. My jaw, which had taken the brunt of the impact, was already doing the silent, steady work of repair.

When I take account of the events that transpired, I’m stopped by the “what-could-have-beens.” The doctor said it could have easily been a broken jaw. Or a concussion. Or worse. My husband, who had been minutes from leaving town, could have been long gone. Rather than appearing at my door within minutes, my friend could have been too far away to help.

Yes, “what-could-have-beens” have the potential to cast a threatening spell of fear. A dark cloud hovering, power found only in its suggestion.

Scene IV – Surprise ending

Most days, I am tragically unaware that atoms of nitrogen and oxygen are dependably, tirelessly scattering the sun’s rays of light throughout the atmosphere. The blue sky is a miracle. But I just might not notice it until the clouds come.

For the past four decades, my lungs haven steadily taken in oxygen and disposed of carbon dioxide, providing a constant source of fuel for this organic machine.

My foot, the one responsible for my fall, has been faithful to support me for millions of steps.

My jaw, now bruised and swelling, has allowed countless meals to be enjoyed, loved ones to be kissed, and songs to be sung.

My nerves, skeleton, and flesh have worked together in seamless concert as I’ve danced, run, given birth, washed dishes.

Yes, I’m grateful that my fall wasn’t worse. At first, I claimed the absence of disaster as the miracle. But as my halted pace of life has allowed time for further consideration, I’ve been surprised by my shift in perspective. Or perhaps I should say my by my corrected vision.

Each step. Each breath. Each heartbeat. Each new skin cell. Those are the miracles.  Our dismissed blue skies.

The miracle is found in the

unnoticed

unfathomable

ordinary

of the everyday.

 



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Two Roads

It’s been a week since I’ve had time alone.  Time to breathe in an uninterrupted space of silence.  I need to be reading.  I’ve committed to write.  I’m behind on the very beginnings of research.  But the bright spring morning beckoned me to come out and play.  The budding trees wooed me from afar with the power of  Odysseus’s sea sirens.  I was drawn away from my steadfast commitment to duty into the quiet place of simply being.  A newly discovered jogging path was the backdrop.  A recently acquired CD the musical score. Virgin territory were both.  Step after step revealed increasing evidence of  renewed life.  Glimpses of diamonds bobbing atop the surface of the trickling stream, I was drinking in grace.

Then the still, small voice gently whispered, “My child, listen to my instruction.  Open your eyes and see.  Every budding flower teaches of hope.  Every stream, my peace.  Every bird, my provision. You want wisdom.  You want understanding. You fill your hours acquiring words from pages written by learned men, all for the purpose of finding revelation.  You settle for notes taken by my children, when I have offered you a playdate with the Author of the Story of the World.  An excursion filled with all that is infinitely real and beautiful and true.  “

I had hoped to leave the real world behind,

but to my surprise,

it was the real world that I had found.

One of the many treasures I stumbled upon.

shared with…



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Here We Go Again… Parenting Teenagers the Second Time Around

 

Barely over a mile in, and I’m sucking wind.  So sad.  It’s hard to believe that a few years ago, an exponentially longer run resulted in euphoria, not fatigue. I’ve been moderately sick for a few months and unable to run, so today was the big day.  Despite perfect weather, adequate sleep, and the strategically-timed cup of coffee, I limped along fueled by sheer determination.  I’m tired.

We have five children, ages 8-25, and currently have no teenagers.  Think about it.  Our family makeup could practically be used as a logic riddle.  The last few years have been somewhat of a “golden age” in our home with no little ones awake in the wee hours of the morning, and no new drivers or high school parties requiring late night parenting vigils.  Let me be clear – I love much about the teen years.  The shift from childhood toward maturity, meaningful conversations, pivotal choices, and a glimpse into what their adult life may hold, collectively make this phase of parenting significant.  But as with any worthwhile endeavor, that which is of great value often comes at great cost.

At one point, we had two teenagers, a pre-schooler, a toddler, and a newborn living in our home.  Our oldest children are now in their early twenties and actually survived their teen years, largely in spite of us. On this side of the “parenting the teenager” journey, I’m increasingly convinced that much of the stress and heartache along the way is largely reflective of the parents, not the kiddos.  That, by the way, is a personal confession.  In hindsight, there is nothing like a normal, healthy teenager to reveal the selfish heart and personal agenda of a parent.  But somehow, we all made it through, and watching our young adults make their way in the world has made it well worth the effort required.

In my 39th year, I confessed to a friend that running a longish race was on my unspoken bucket list.  She didn’t let me stop at a wish, and pledged to run all of the longer training runs with me.  Before I knew it, I had registered for the race, printed out my training schedule, and purchased bright new running shoes.  I had no idea what the next few months would hold, but was fueled by excitement, aspiration, and a meticulously-loaded ipod.   I couldn’t have anticipated the cold, dark, insanely early morning runs or the “gut through it because I only had four narrow windows each week for runs.  But somehow, we made it through, and race day made it well worth the effort required.

As I embark on the familiar territory of starting to run again, you’d think that it would be easier this time.  I know what to expect. I know my best times of the day to run, and the proper way to eat and hydrate.   I’ve run much faster and further with considerably less effort.  But for some reason, starting over today seemed harder.

During the last several months, it has become clear that it’s time once again to lace up our shoes and prepare for parenting the next round of teenagers (the oldest of our younger crowd is twelve).  And as we embark on this second round of parenting teens, you’d think that we’d be better prepared for an easier experience.  We’ve covered similar territory before. We know what to expect. Which may be why it feels daunting this time… but for very different reasons.

Thankfully, what I’ve lost through the years in terms of energy and brain cells, I’ve gained in other areas.  Although this is the section where you might expect the “now we’re wiser and more prepared,” well… here is what is different: This time around, I’m more aware of my selfishness and the reality that I do indeed have a personal agenda.  I’m less sure of the answers, and more curious about the questions.  And most importantly, I have a glimpse of my general tendency to parent out of my own strength and wisdom.  The challenge this time isn’t getting it right. It’s acknowledging that I can’t.

No doubt, we made a multitude of mistakes the first time around.  And my guess is that we’ll make a whole new batch of mistakes with this second opportunity.  But I’ve come to believe that the goal is not to be the perfect parent, but rather to become a diligent pupil of the Ultimate Teacher.  And in doing so, I hope to slow down and enjoy the scenery of the everyday.  To focus less on the finish line, the adults that we hope our teens will become, and focus more on the gift of each step along the way.  Even the accidental rabbit trails I wouldn’t have chosen, unexpected obstacles in the path, and weary muscles are a gift.  They are a necessary part of the process, and will eventually be absorbed into our larger lives’ stories.

As dormant muscles are reawakened, healthier patterns are established, and the initial shock to the system ushers in a “new norm,” my hope is that:

  •  I’ll be less likely to gauge my progress by the apparent pace of those around me
  •  I won’t take one step for granted – even on the hardest of days 
  •  I’ll be mindful of the Source of all true wisdom, energy, and direction, and will parent accordingly  

I’ll count it an honor and a privilege to run this race…the second time around 



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The Other Side of the Stone

Recently, my husband and I snuck away for a weekend in the mountains.  Given life with 5 children who happen to be at such different stages (ages 7-24), our times away are precious and rare.  Through the years, we’ve learned that it’s a good idea to talk about expectations for our time away prior to departure.  Often, we try to run together in the mornings (ahem… that is, he’s gracious enough to jog at a much slower pace than he normally would, and I try to “gut it out” in the spirit of recreating together).   This trip, following a particularly busy season for our family, I opted out.  I wanted time alone to decompress.  He would run alone, and I’d take peaceful morning walks through the tranquil little town of Blowing Rock.

On our second morning away, I felt particularly refreshed from a good night’s sleep. Before I knew it, my morning walk picked up pace, and I found myself enjoying a slow, steady jog. The roads were desolate, the storefronts dark, and I wound my way down the main street, through the park, and eventually back toward the inn where we were staying.

Having been recently thinking and writing about stones, I was acutely aware of their various uses in the architecture around me.  They piled together creating a picturesque church, lined the sidewalks directing shoppers to their destinations, and paved the way to historic inns.  Yes, the stones represented strength, consistency through years, support and directionThese were good things.

Until…  I tripped.  Yes, as I was swept up in the imagery of the stones, the context abruptly shifted.  I had come to a place on the path where the larger stones had remained intact, but the areas around the stone had been worn away through seasons of use and erosion.  The tip of my shoe caught the edge, and I stumbled to keep from falling.  Hmmm.  Perhaps there is another dimension to the metaphor.

As we pick up in the story of Joshua (you can catch up here), Joshua lists all that God has done to protect and bless the Israelites.  Joshua then charges them to put away false gods (ie idols) and serve God only (Joshua 24:14-15).  Ok – that’s difficult to translate into today’s terms.   Although the concept of idols may seem irrelevant in our modern society, unfortunately, they are all too present in each of our worlds.

“We think that idols (counterfeit gods) are bad things, but that is almost never the case.  The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that we can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes.  Anything can serve as a counterfeit god.  Especially the very best things in life.”  Tim Keller

The people respond to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice.” (Joshua 24:24)  Of course.  After all that they’d been through, they would be foolish not to.

Joshua takes a large stone to set up under a tree by the sanctuary of the Lord.  We’d expect him to say, “Great!  You’ve made a wise choice that will please your God and serve you well.  Here’s another memorial stone to remind you.”  Instead, his response is ”Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us, thus it shall be a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God.” (Joshua 24:25-28)

Yikes.  The stone was not a reminder of their wise choice, rather it foreshadowed their fickle nature and inevitable return to false gods.  They, like us, overestimated their loyalty to the only One who could ultimately provide for them.

Think of the times you’ve been provided for.   Chances are, if they’re biggies, the provision came from beyond you.  Only God can bring us through the hardest of situations.  It is when we reach the end of our proverbial ropes that He will step in to rescue.  Yet we spend much of our energies trying to avoid that very thing.  We’re competent.  We’re resilient.  We construct our lives in ways that take control. We work hard to avoid dependence on God in the everyday – I can manage my life, thank you very much.  God can stick to the miracles and healings when I get in a pinch. And that posture of the heart, at its very core, is the  essence of idolatry.

What are some of the counterfeit gods in my life?  Financial security, a unique community of rich friendships, health and well-being of my family, excellent education for my children, intellectual pursuit, and even a healthy lifestyle.  These are good things, but things in which I ultimately place too much hope and significance.

As the memorial stones in life remind us of God’s provision, they should simultaneously serve as a caution to us.  They warn us of our defiant nature, and remind us of the places we take control and manipulate life rather than resting in the Father.  We try to gain our footing on the gravelly self-made crevices that exist between the solid, sustainable, eternal stones.  And because He’s good and wants what is best for us, He allows us to stumble.  He’s constantly calling us back to Himself.

So after stumbling on the side street of Blowing Rock, I’m reminded that I’m limited.  And that a richer, more peaceful life can be found if I’ll acknowledge my innate tendency to reject God by relying on my own strategies for life.  And the very, very good news is that I’ll find not shame nor condemnation, but rather hope and ultimate rest, when I consider “the other side of the stone.”



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I’m Both

Mid-summer in Charlotte. Lungs tire easily while laboring to extract oxygen from the thick, syrupy air.  I’m a fair-weather runner.  I don’t run when it’s too cold, and I don’t run when it’s too hot.  A few days ago, I arose to find that we’d been given an unexpected remission from weeks of incessant heat.  The air was a crisp 56 degrees.  It was an opportunity not to be missed.  I laced up my shoes and stepped out into what felt like the first hints of autumn.  My run was particularly enjoyable.  The air was cool and clean, the paths were peaceful, and the music on my ipod calmed my soul. I had temporarily defied the gravity of my own lethargy, had risen early to challenge my muscles and lungs, and had pushed through the last leg of the run. Upon arriving home, I was tired, but the kind of tired that was deeply rewarding.  I had done something good for my body.  I felt refreshed and healthy.  And then…  I promptly ate a handful of Oreo cookies.

I would like to think of myself as being increasingly health-conscious.   We eat organic foods whenever possible, limit our red meat intake, consume whole-wheat rather than white breads and pastas, and encourage exercise as a life-long habit.  But then there are the Oreos.  My kryptonite.  And sea-salted dark chocolate almonds from Trader Joes.  Against those, I have little power.  I would like to define myself in terms of health, not indulgence, yet both are true.  I am both healthy and indulgent at the same time.  A paradox of sorts… or rather a more complete picture.  I am both forgiving and critical.  I am gracious and demanding.  I am deeply flawed yet wonderfully made.  If I deny either side of the equation, I hold an unrealistic picture of myself.

And if I am both at the same time, then I need to acknowledge that the same is true for others.   Those who I hold closest and in highest regard have the capacity to fail miserably.  And those who I find hard to love, well… there is another side to that equation as well.

During a sermon on forgiveness, Tim Keller used a caricature artist as to illustrate the way we often view difficult people.  The caricature artist takes his subject’s most demonstrative characteristic and exaggerates it.  He then captures it on paper to be frozen in time.  For instance… if the subject has slightly large ears, the artists creates those ears to be far larger than life, then in drawing them, dooms the subject to a likeness that is unchangeable.

We do much the same thing, particularly with someone who is difficult to love.   We tend to look at that person and see the attributes which are most irritating… or most unlikeable… or which cause us great pain.   And then we exaggerate them and freeze in time the picture that we have created.  It works out nicely, you know.  As long as I can convince myself that the person who is causing me pain is primarily evil, or selfish, or suffers from some deep neurosis, then I feel a certain relief from obligation.   But if there were another side to the equation, well that just complicates things.

Many of us go through life rather unaware that we make assumptions about others, draw our own caricatures, and file them neatly away in our mental sketchbooks.  This is particularly true when we’re looking at those closest to us.  We think we have them figured out.  We forget that there is always another side to the equation.  There is no doubt more than we see.   Or unfortunately care to see.

So what is the antidote to assumption?  How can we look beyond the mental caricatures that we have created in order to see the multi-dimensional people who God actually created?  How can we begin to see them as “fearfully and wonderfully” made?   The antidote to assumption is curiosity. 

So if my husband (theoretically, of course) is distant or aloof, I could take his behavior personally (theoretically again), OR could I become curious as to what is going on in his job… or with his friends… or in his heart…

If my relationship with a dear friend becomes strained, do I assume that she’s just being selfish or (fill in the blank with whatever you may assume), OR am I willing to be humble and vulnerable enough to ask if I’m the offending party…  or if there is something else going on in her life that may have nothing to do with me…

Am I willing to be curious about those closest to me?  Those I’ve known for most of my life?  Those who I think I have figured out?

A healthy dose of humility and curiosity does have its con’s.  I may find out that I was wrong.  That there has been more to love in another than I had imagined.  That I’ve lived too much of my life drawing caricatures rather than enjoying whole people.  Yet it is with that revelation that freedom begins.  Freedom from assuming, incorrectly sketching, and missing people for who they actually are.  Freedom to see the whole picture, and freedom to love well.  Oh yes, and freedom to enjoy both my brisk run and my Oreos.



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