Friday, April 24, 2009


This morning I woke up in excruciating pain from my lower back, a problem that has been plaguing me for the past two weeks. It hurt to walk, to stand, to sit, to move. The pain radiated down my left leg and, frankly, I felt really discouraged. I went to the gym anyway, and with a combination of gentle exercise, stretching, and pain meds, I am now virtually pain free. I just walked across the lawn to find the chickens because I had a handful of bird seed that needed a place to go, and it occurred to me that it is a wonderful thing to be free of pain. And I wonder if I would know what a miracle, what a tremendous gift freedom from pain is, if I did not struggle with pain so much. If I always walked around pain free, would I be as grateful as I am today? Would my heart be so filled with joy at the freedom? Would I even recognize it as freedom? My heart is literally full of happiness, and yes, the weather is awesome and my husband came home from work early and the birds are chirping merrily in the trees, but I can enjoy these things freely because I am not in pain, and I know it.

Sometimes I think the greatest gifts are hidden in dark places.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Gym

You know, I really love going to the gym. No, I mean really. I'm not just saying that to give the impression that I am a gung-ho, psycho gym addict. I do a 30 minute, Curves type cardio/strength training work-out 4 times a week and I enjoy it. I feel better afterwards, and have noticed serious improvements in my energy levels, muscle strength, sleep patterns and over-all health. I'm glad to go, and I am glad to go home afterwards. Rarely am I tempted to do more than the basic 30 work-out, unless it's a few minutes on the treadmill, but even then I'd rather meander down my km long lane at home with the cat, dog and a chicken or two.

But there is a problem. Guilt. Is there something about signing up for a gym membership that automatically triggers some kind of guilt receptor in one's brain? Is there a guilt hormone that is spontaneously released into our systems at the first arm curl? The only reason I have missed a day at the gym in the past two months has been for illness. I had the flu in March and missed a week. I've had two serious IC (interstitial cystitis) flares. When I have moderate bladder pain related the IC, I go to the gym anyway. While working out doesn't do anything for my illness, it helps me handle the pain. When the pain is on the high end however, I stay home because physical activity will worsen the flare.

Inevitably, though, when I choose not to go to the gym, I feel guilty. No one makes me feel this way. Even if someone was trying to make me feel guilty, it is up to me to decide what is right for me in these situations, and if I am making good choices, I can also choose not to accept anyone else's efforts to instill guilt in me. I get that. What I don't get is why I feel guilty.

Is it because I've paid money for the gym membership? Do I feel like I am wasting money by not going? I don't think so, because I see the money spent as an investment into my health, and it isn't healthy to do anything that makes me sicker. To work out while in high-end pain means more pain, which means more pain meds, which is ridiculous. Is it because I feel lazy? That could be. That, unfortunately, is the curse of almost all chronically ill people. Especially with hidden illnesses. A cast on a leg removes all expectations of certain activities. When the pain is hidden, expectations can remain high. For many chronically ill people, normal expectations are just too high. It's just a fact of life. So that may be part of it.

I also think that a part of the problem is the mind-set that I have that if going to the gym is a healthy thing to do, then not going has to be not healthy. I think it is really important that we pay attention to our thought lives, because I have noticed that often when I am struggling with some negative emotion that seems unshakable, the root is in faulty thinking on my part. Either I am believing a lie, or my logic is off.

Sometimes, I am just being too simplistic. In a "Twitter/Facebook" world where ideas and thoughts often get pared down to just a few words, I sometimes forget to flesh my thoughts out until they actually make sense rather than just sounding good. I don't want to live my life out in sound bites. I know that I can be wordy, to say the least, but I am beginning to think one of the worst kind of laziness is intellectual laziness, where we grab quotes and little bits of info and throw them out into the world (or clutch them to our hearts) without thinking about them, without muddling through to a logical, thoughtful conclusion.

I also recognize the danger of useless guilt in desensitizing my heart against useful guilt. If I allow myself to feel guilty over things that are not worth it, I may not be fully aware of the value of guilt in letting me know when I am failing God, my family and friends, my world and myself, morally. I believe true guilt is a gift from God, to help me be the person He created me to be, the person I long to be. True guilt is easily relieved by reaching for the forgiveness and restoring love of Jesus, and by choosing to turn in a different direction. False guilt lingers and poisons my soul, with little or no relief, because it is not connected to anything that can or need be turned from. Going to the gym when I am in pain will not relieve the guilt for any significant amount of time because the next day, the battle begins all over again. Talk about a hamster on a wheel!

In any case, I know I need to keep reinterating the truth in my mind, and do what I need to do. Because I do really enjoy the gym, and I don't want to let empty, useless guilt steal that enjoyment from me. So I probably won't be going to the gym today. I am in pain, I am tired, and I have several loads of laundry to do, a chicken house to clean, and a full and satisfying life to lead that doesn't involve useless guilt. Or, at least that's the direction I am heading towards....

Birds of Prey

Yesterday I was at the computer desk, and I looked out the window and saw 3 huge birds of prey (I'm not sure if they were hawks or falcons...) circling over the field and the house. My first thought was that the chickens were out, and easy targets. Frankly, even Frodo the cat could get snatched by these guys. I ran downstairs and outside, but I didn't see the chickens anywhere. Then I heard them, that soft, moaning noise they make when they aren't scolding, squawking or crowing. They were hiding under the lilac bush. Apparently they saw the birds of prey, too. I ushered them into the chicken house, which wasn't hard because as long as I have a bag full of stale bread in my pocket (which is always these days) I am the pied piper of chickens. But the banty, Yente, was missing. She is so small, I was sure that she was hawk bait. I did eventually find her behind the chicken house doing her own thing, which isn't wise when one is itty bitty and being stalked by a fell beast of the sky (oops, a little Lord of the Rings slipped in there).

I got her inside, then the rooster escaped and I got him inside while Golde the hen slipped past me and then I got HER inside and closed the door, scooped up the cat and called the dog (one never knows - these birds were HUGE) and headed inside. Of course, just seeing me outside deterred the birds, and I was greatly relieved.

Usually I love seeing the birds of prey. I would stand on the lawn and look up at them in awe. Now, I plant myself in the yard after herding all my vulnerable feathered friends to safety, wave my broom at the air and holler "Bring it on, flyboy!!! Just bring it on!!"

My, how things change.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Of country lanes, wild geese and long walks...

That time of year has come again. After a long winter of navigating my van down the obstacle course/snow drifted, mud pit that was my lane, it has now dried up from it's Spring time sludge persona and is again welcoming me for long, lingering twilight walks. I love it!

In the Spring, Summer and Autumn, I take a walk down the lane at least once a day, usually early evening. I am always accompanied by Mini, the dog, and Frodo, my cat. Mini views these forays down the lane as the ultimate highlight of her day, if not her LIFE! She becomes unspeakably exuberant at the very mention of the word, walk. She is also catching on to "stroll", "trip", "promenade", "saunter" and "marche". Mini doesn't actually walk down the lane. She throws herself down the lane in a series of sprints, leaps and bounds, slowing to a mere trot if she gets too far ahead.

Frodo, on the other hand, walks leisurely beside me, with only the odd burst of energy, usually inspired by noises coming from the ditches that only he can hear. Frodo has been coming on the walks since he first came to us at six weeks old, last summer. Even at six weeks, he insisted on following and would not allow himself to be carried. Now that he is a big, strong young tom, he only allows himself to be carried if the lane is exceptionally muddy and even then, only long enough to wipe his muddy paws on my jacket.

I know that I talk a lot about walks down the lane, but that is because it is such a magical time. Last night, when we were about half way down the lane, hundreds of wild geese rose up with a deafening roar from the field in front of our place and moved to another field nearby. For a moment I thought that they were going to fly over our heads, which would have been a wonderful experience as they were flying low, but they moved off to my left. Frodo, Mini and I stood on the lane, looking up, watching these amazing birds. At this time of the year, the laneway seems so alive. Aside from the animals I bring with me, the ditches, bushes and trees that line the lane are vibrant with birds and other creatures that only my pets can hear and smell. I do a lot of thinking on the lane, a lot of day dreaming, praying, hoping.

Walking the lane is one of my favorite experiences, and it makes me happy to see that Grace also enjoys the solitude and refuge of the lane. 'Tis the season!
My Zimbio