For the last several years, I have not made New Year’s resolutions. Rather, my daughter has challenged me to choose a word or phrase for the year, and most years I have done that. The “word for the year” has proven to be a gentle reminder to orient my choices in the direction I want to go, or maybe more accurately, the direction I believe God wants me to go. This has always been a spiritual task for me.
Last year at the time I would be making such a choice, I was at Darrel’s bedside in the hospital as he was recovering from major spine surgery. This, as many of you know, was a much more arduous road to travel than we expected, and it consumed much of our energy for the year. One day back at work, I slipped on the ice in the parking lot, fell hard, and wrenched my already aching, arthritic knee. The very next day, while running an errand before driving to the rehab facility where Darrel would spend a month recovering after nine days in the hospital, I slipped on the ice again and wrenched it even worse. I could barely walk.
I went to the doctor that day, and it turned out the immediate damage wasn’t that bad in spite of the extreme pain, but I decided I was tired of living with subpar knees and I scheduled myself for physical therapy. That proved to be challenging to fit in my schedule, and I didn’t love that first physical therapist nor the dungeon-like location of the PT clinic in the bowels of the hospital. I quit going for a while.
Then my daughter’s boyfriend (and a former student of mine) suggested I come in for a fitness analysis at his workplace, Experience Momentum, which offers physical therapy, fitness classes, massage, nutritional counseling, and more. I accepted his challenge, but after the fitness assessment he said that he thought I should start with physical therapy to address my knees and improve mobility in my shoulders after nearly three years of frozen shoulder that no other treatment had successfully addressed long term. So I decided to try PT again at this new venue.
I love the Experience Momentum approach to health. Everything was oriented towards my personal goals and functional living. The therapists listened to me when I described what was happening in my body, and made adjustments accordingly. If I couldn’t do an exercise they gave me, they modified it so I could do it. When I told them I hated the exercise bike, they put me on the rower instead. If I hadn’t been able to do my home exercises, they never shamed me, but they invited me into greater health every time. I learned to use different muscles to do my daily life; my favorite new skill was learning to walk up and down stairs without pain! I sometimes felt like a toddler—how on earth can I not know how to climb stairs?—but relearning such skills was worth it. I saw quantifiable gains.
The success I had there transferred into other areas of my life. During the summer, Darrel and I swam several times a week, and I became strong enough to actually swim laps and not just splash around. I figured out I could do moderate walks if I used hiking poles, a simple and inexpensive adjustment that enabled increased activity. When my younger daughter and I traveled to Arizona to help my mother move into a retirement community, we stopped in Disneyland as an early birthday present for her; the hiking poles helped me get through our long day of extreme fun with minimal discomfort.
When school started in the fall, I felt ready to face some new challenges. My job assignment had changed, so that in addition to teaching Bible 8, I would also take on the new Junior High Chaplain position, working with a small chapel leadership team of Junior High students to plan and present our weekly chapels. At church I became Pastor of Confirmation for this year, working with seven wonderful Junior High aged students to review the whole Bible and church history and, we hope, grow in their faith. I continued to preach as needed in areas churches.
When I told my physical therapist that I wanted to start taking some of the exercise classes, but I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to succeed, we agreed that a good intermediate step for me would be to do some personal training. I signed up for and completed ten sessions with a personal trainer, also at Experience Momentum, again with the goal of improved daily functionality and specific preparation for the kinds of movements I would be doing in the yoga and boot camp classes that they offer. I never worked so hard in my life! And because I was paying out of pocket for the personal training, I wanted to get the best bang for my buck, so I actually did my home workout assignments each week. And if I ended up skipping one because of life or health or whatever, I chose not to shame myself. Indeed, I actually missed my workouts when I couldn’t get to them. I went to my first yoga class last week and signed up for a month of boot camp and yoga classes!
Somewhere along the way, I realized I was ready to tackle my diet again. I started every day drinking a glass of water. I began carrying a large bottle of lemon water to school each day and made sure I drank the whole thing; sometimes I filled it up again and drank a second bottleful. I cut my Diet Coke consumption in half. I went back on my ketogenic hot chocolate breakfast routine, had salads for lunch whenever possible (not always possible with our schedules), and prepared healthful dinners in the evening. I mostly quick snacking. If I did want a piece of birthday cake in the teacher’s lounge, I ate it with gladness and joy, and then backed off of sugar for the rest of the week. I didn’t make Christmas cookies this year. We mostly kept junk out of the house. I have lost a total of 25 pounds over the last three years from my highest weight, about 10 of it in the last four or five months.
I have more energy. I can do stairs. I can carry groceries in without feeling winded. I have learned to be gentle with myself when I need to be, and push myself when I can. I say to myself, “Do it now,” and most of the time that helps. I have been able to say yes to many life-giving activities, such as preaching and confirmation and gatherings with friends, in spite of the extra time that exercise and new assignments take.
All of this not to congratulate myself, but to say that my word for the year was a retrospective. I didn’t start 2017 with a word, but I ended up with one: self-care. Somehow God showed me that I was worth the effort, the money, and the time it would take to be healthy. I finally gave myself permission to invest in my longevity. The women in my family live a long time, and I knew I didn’t want to live those years as an invalid, constantly struggling with health, weight, and pain. I didn’t want to retire from serving God! I also came to terms with the fact that health, especially at my age, takes intentional effort. In taking self-care seriously this year, I have had more margin for ministering to others, more joy, more gratitude, more capacity for generosity, more ears to hear and eyes to see what God is doing in me and my loved ones and my world, less need to self-protect. 2017 was my year of radical self-care.
So what about my word for 2018?
I decided that a couple of sessions with a counselor to sort out some interpersonal struggles would be beneficial. I’ve been in counseling before, and I’m a believer in its value. But this time I contacted the insurance company representative who can obtain referrals for us, got the names of some therapists, and finally made an appointment (it was a four month journey from the first contact to the first appointment, but I persevered).
My new counselor invited me to be present with my own feelings when I have a visceral reaction to a difficult situation—to notice what is going on in my body, to name the sensations and sit with them before I try to solve the problem at hand, before I try to minister, before even I try to have empathy for the other. She wants me first to have empathy for myself! She likened it to the announcement they make on airplanes: “Put your own mask on first before you assist others.” I must not rush past my own experience. I must take care of myself not instead of taking care of others, but in preparation for taking care of others. Then I can truly and authentically be the non-anxious presence that others sometimes need from me—as a friend, as a teacher, as a pastor, as a family member, as a neighbor, as a citizen of the kingdom of God.
So my year of radical self-care has led me to my word for 2018: presence. I want to live into the calling to be truly present—with myself, with my body, with God, with my family, with my reality, with my church, with my world, with whoever God brings into my sphere. I want to put down my phone more often, listen better, react less, read more, and be more available to the Holy Spirit’s whispering in my life. I’ve begun again the practice of contemplative breath prayer.
This won’t necessarily be easy for me. I’m a multitasker; I can be easily distracted, as my husband and children will attest. My brain is often full of ideas and tasks that mentally take me away from what’s right in front of me. I’ll need discipline. But one thing I’ve learned from my year of radical self-care is that God will give me what I need to move forward into the next thing I need.
I am confident in this, that he who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1.6 paraphrased)
What word is God giving you for 2018?