Lately, I have been trying to make some changes in my life. The changes are not big and scary, and they probably aren't the changes that I honestly need to make most - that of getting myself to the gym on a regular basis and caring more about what I eat than I do. But these changes involve trying to instill something called "discipline" into my life.
There have been times in my life where I have been remarkably disciplined. I kept a Franklin planner back in the day when that was super-fashionable, and I have been a list maker from way back when. I used to know all of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and I pretty much practiced most of them as I kept my days filled with work, second and third part time jobs (teaching and scrapbooking), my husband, children, friends, church, family, neighbors and everything else that demanded a precious part of my time and thought that this was how life would be for me forever.
And then I realized that I couldn't do it all. Not all of the time, anyway. Little by little, the schedules of my children grew to such a point that it was impossible for me to function, the weight that I had gained over time kept piling on little by little, and I had a 35 minute commute one-way every day. I let my friendships get to the point of visiting on the bleachers or talking on the phone on my way to or from work.
That was nearly ten years ago.
As time has passed, my children have both graduated from high school, one from college, and other is currently halfway through college. I work in town and I go from one project to the next. Not because I am trying to keep myself busy, but because I've found that I really love to finish things...so having them called "projects" keeps me focused on something until it is completed. I have learned that I can only keep five balls in the air at any one time, and that three of these are always going to be there unless I win the lottery, my family stops speaking to me, and I decide to quit going to church. I don't see any of those happening on a permanent basis so I just enjoy juggling those three and occasionally allowing a fourth and fifth one to get in the air for me to maneuver.
Over the past year, one of those two has been "going to the gym." I love the feeling of accomplishment when I leave, and the people there have always been very encouraging and friendly. I moved forward from being able to do little to one glorious night (before I hit a deer with my car and scared myself to death) where I did a yoga-thon and did 108 sun salutations. Bear in mind that I hadn't been in yoga class. I was just too stubborn to quit.
Sometimes stubborn is good. It looks a lot like someone drenched in sweat and determination, running mascara and wild eyes in case you want to draw a mental picture here. But sometimes stubborn is not so good. It is a place that when you get defeated you find it difficult to rouse yourself from again with the same intensity. It makes you just "know" that it is hopeless and that nothing will be the way you want it. At that point, you choose to rise like a phoenix from the ashes - more resolved than ever to not be beaten or you just get real with yourself and give up on that dream for now. One takes great discipline and the other takes great courage.
I know that some of you are reading that and thinking "nope" because giving up is well...just quitting. I don't think that's it at all. I think sometimes we have to be brave enough to know that at a season in our lives that there are more important things than checking every box. That God has some plans for us that involve us just being available for people...and that's hard to do if we have released that ball into the air to devote hours into the pursuit of being able to run up 17 steps without passing out. Okay, FINE, or just walk without breathing like someone just completing a marathon.
Yes, that was an actual goal of mine last November since there are 17 steps up to the cardio room at the gym. Trust me on this.
When this season is over - and it appears to be coinciding with the holidays this year - I will be able to get back there with a clearer mind and schedule and hopefully more discipline. Because nothing is more defeating to one's spirit than working hard for a long period of time and not being able to see dramatic change. But instead of fighting it this time, I'm just going to pray about preparing myself to gear up one last time to make a valiant and true effort at dealing with this thorn in my flesh that is shortening my life, lowering the quality of it, harming my witness, hurting those who love me, and making me doubt myself.
Discipline takes many forms. It may mean that you practice something until you become proficient or a professional. It may be a way of life that gives boundaries and structure to a life that performs at a higher level when it is involved. Or it may simply be sitting down at the keyboard every morning determined to write something that is screaming to get out even if you don't feel like it...or stopping the car at the gym, walking up the 17 steps and not leaving until the hour is up.
At this point in time, though, I feel that God is leading me to tell the people in my life that I love them. To spend more time with them and to adjust my schedule to nurture those relationships that have meant the most to me. That may mean that I have weeks like the one I'm in right now when there really isn't any extra time to devote to anyone or to myself. In fact, I'm pretty much in the middle of several weeks in a row like this...so instead of being frustrated that I can't be all things to all people...I've decided to just go with what I have in terms of time and enjoy the people and put the project of bettering myself into the new year.
Like everybody else.
When I quit fighting with myself over it and decided to just let God direct my paths...the frustration melted away. I've been excited about spending time with people and have enjoyed being home with Big Dave and working on my house. I've quit thinking that I'm a huge disappointment, and started being excited about what is in front of me from one day to the next.
I know that being disciplined means that I need to just do what I need to do and that I'll still have the same amount of time to do what I need to do. But I think that when I do throw this ball in the air, it needs to be more substantial than a ping-pong ball that bounces off and gets dropped from time to time. Right now, with what I have going on, I simply cannot manage more than that. .
But over time...I will.
I was encouraged this past weekend to see the results of discipline in a sweet friend. She has taken control of her life like a bull by the horns - which knowing her - isn't really that surprising. But she's lovely and happy and sure of herself. I'd like to be jealous...to go into competitive mode and try to join her at that place. But I'm not. I'm happy for her. I'm pleased that she has done what she set out to do. She's still pursuing it. Still staying strong. Saying "no" to what is not good for her and "yes" to herself. I have another friend from my Wesleyan days that is doing the same thing and she records her progress. I also see gym friends running races, winning contests and staying faithful. Another friend in Georgia is pushing herself to be her absolute best. Two other friends I know are losing weight and living the lives that they dreamed about. I raise my glass...or my pom-poms or whatever to them all.
I know that my day of reckoning - so to speak - is right around the corner. But instead of it breathing down my neck - it is becoming an attractive alternative that I look forward to embracing in the New Year. I'm working toward modifying some of my habits right now so that I don't make things worse than they already are.
Which takes some discipline in itself.
I don't know what you have going on in your life right now...if you feel like you are juggling too many balls in the air and you are exhausted and fearful of dropping any of them. Maybe you are trying to convince yourself to go from inertia to movement not knowing if you can face another time of trying and failing. Or perhaps you are in a season of life where you are doing all that you can to just survive...so anything more than that seems as ridiculous to you as Kim Kardashian does to me.
Just hang in there and keep striving. Pick a small goal and meet that. Check yourself to see if you can tweak this or that for a better result. Try to leave joy around you and don't beat up on yourself too badly if you have to just put all of the balls on the rack and curl up on the couch with the Hallmark Channel for a few days. Or weeks. Possibly months.
Be brave...and be strong. Trust God that He will pull you out of it when you need it most. And look around you for opportunities to leave a trail of happiness like a six year old with a bottle of pink glitter. That's my goal for the upcoming Holiday season. To just spread happiness like glitter.
I'm hoping it will be your goal too. Because even though it is messy...glitter rocks. It gets into everything...but it also makes you smile. You know it does.
Discipline will get you to your goals. Courage will take the cloak of disappointment, regret, or frustration and fling it off so that you can shine a little bit. Both are good, and necessary, and a little hard to handle sometimes. But you can...and you will.
Right now, I am trying to move from "courage" to "discipline" by setting little goals that I know that I can easily meet...and then I meet them. I make them a little bit more challenging every day. Over time, this will lead me back to the path of wanting to challenge myself...which will make it possible for me to succeed. But for me, it is a process. It is not something that I just wake up and decide to do one day. It takes several days of gearing myself up - or "psyching myself out" - to make me get excited about making necessary changes.
In the meantime, I am trying to spend time with friends, get my house straight, enjoy my husband, kids, parents and family, and get the little things right. I still have some work to do on the last one...but I am trying to at least head in the right direction.
So, to all of those out there who are making yourselves the best that you can be...I applaud you. To those of you who are doing everything you can to keep what you have already taken on moving forward...stay with it...or for heaven's sake...just assess if it is worth what you are putting into it or if you need to let go of a few things that are more trouble than they are worth. To you who are trying to quit beating yourself up over not being able to do it all...trust that God will direct your steps and just wait for direction. And for the rest of you...just enjoy the holiday season and get ready for a better year ahead. Or just be open to whatever is coming your way. May as well be since it is coming ready or not.
Sounds like a plan to me.