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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We're Stronger Than We Think: Physically, Mentally, Emotionally, and Spiritually

A couple of weeks ago, I started Crossfit. I'd heard about it. Sneered a little at its "cult following." And was, quite frankly, intimidated by the idea. Why would I, a 42-year-old mother with arthritis in every joint, want to subject myself to Olympic lifts and the infamous "WOD's?" If you Google Crossfit WOD's, you'll find stories of people passing out, throwing up, and ripping muscles. No thank you!

I checked my cynicism when my wonderful brother-in-law joined the movement and lost almost 50 pounds. More importantly, he felt better than he ever had. He inspired me to at least look behind the curtain and see what the hype was about. So one Friday afternoon, I timidly stepped into our local "box," Crossfit Uncompromised. What an eye-opener. There are no puking meatheads there. There are no trainers pushing you to the point of injury. There are no unreachable standards.

Instead, I found professionals who explain things slowly and meticulously so I don't injure myself. They help me while challenging me. Everyone in the class supports one another and encourages one another with "come on, just one more!"

In the years before I started Crossfit, I'd found a comfort zone. I would go to the gym, hop on the elliptical machine, and crank it for an hour. Sure, I'd sweat a little and felt like I'd done something. But the morning after my first Crossfit workout, I KNEW I'd actually done something for my body. I experienced a soreness I hadn't felt in years. And it was good. After that first day, I realized that if I stayed with it, I would be stronger and healthier in my 40's than I was in my 20's. The arthritis in my joints no longer frightens me. I don't worry that in a few years, I'll feel "old." Instead, I'll be strong and healthy.

In the past few weeks, I've learned a few things about myself:

1.   I've learned that I can't simply accept truth about things without investigating the accuracy of that truth.

2.  I've learned that the fear of something can debilitate you to the point of missing the value of it.

3.  I've learned that stepping out of my comfort zone can land me in a place I'm actually more comfortable in.

4.  I've learned that I'm stronger than I thought, both physically and mentally.

5.  I've learned that our bodies are incredibly complex and, no matter what our age, we can awaken things in it that will make us better.

A friend of mine recently trained for a marathon. In the weeks before, due to injury, she realized she would have to walk it instead. This weekend, she completed that marathon. It took her over six hours and I have more admiration for her than those who finished first. She realized that she is stronger than she ever knew.

We are all stronger than we know. The only way to see a glimpse of that strength is to step outside of our comfort zone, reach inside ourselves, and push forward. Especially when things are hard and taking one more step seems impossible.

In the last decade, I've lost my mother, my brother, and my daughter. I've stumbled under the weight of that loss and grief, but I've learned that I'm stronger than I think. I've also realized that my strength comes not from just what is inside of me, but because of who's in me and the people who are beside me everyday, pushing me and cheering me on.  Phillipians 4:13.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Grey's Anatomy, Bad Jokes, and Empathetic Eyes

I love "Grey's Anatomy." I've watched the series since it began, what, eight years ago? I love how each episode scans the spectrum of flippant to life-changing seriousness. But this weeks flippancy hit a nerve. *SPOILER ALERT* The lead character, Dr. Meredith Grey, watched her mother suffer and die from early onset Alzheimer's. One of the other physicians on the show is pursuing genome mapping and agrees to map Meredith's genes and test for Alzheimer's markers. She tests positive. Over the rest of the episode, she doesn't wrestle with this news. She doesn't get angry or sad or deny its veracity. She doesn't walk through any of the stages of grief upon learning she carries the genetic markers for this awful disease. Instead, she tells her husband to give her a lethal dose of morphine "when I can't remember where I put my keys." She also asks her best friend, another physician, to kill her when she forgets where her keys are.

Shame on you, Shonda Rhimes (the creator/writer) for being so insensitively flippant. I've watched my own mother suffer from dementia. Her symptoms started when she was just 50 and now, at the ridiculously young age of 64, she is in the end stages of her disease. Unaware of her surroundings. Unable to do anything for herself.

My novel, The Beauty of Grace, deals with quality of life issues and a woman who suffers from Huntington's Disease, a neurodegenerative disease that also results in dementia. The title character, Grace, decides to commit suicide rather than walk the path of dementia she witnessed in her own mother. In writing Grace and considering these issues of family, faith, quality of life, disease, I struggled with both sides. I tried to bear witness to both the families of those who suffer from dementia and the individuals who face an uncertain future upon receiving the diagnosis.

There is nothing flippant about learning you have an increased risk of becoming demented at a young age. Before your children have children. Before you and your beloved can enjoy your golden years. The manner in which "Grey's Anatomy" handled this issue offended me. But it also reminded me that those who haven't lived through something can't truly appreciate and understand its depths and challenges. The fear it plants deep inside. The cruelty of its uncertainty.

There is nothing funny about learning you have the gene for breast cancer. Or that you have an increased risk of heart disease. Or being born with Cystic Fibrosis, or Down's Syndrome, or countless other life-shortening diseases.

So let us be wary of crossing the line from joking about something as a coping method and being painfully insensitive. We all have a story. Many parts of it are filled with joy and excitement. But there are also parts that are full of intense hurt. Let us approach others with empathy and with the perception that some things simply aren't subject to humor. Whether it be a show you watch, a joke you hear or tell, or a word you say, try and look at others with an awareness drenched in compassion. Because a person's heart and soul--their humanity--is the core of their being. And what unites us all.