Get Back on Your Bike!

I came to an uncomfortable realisation yesterday.  I guess my body has already been telling me for a while and I have been choosing to ignore it.  The tightness in my shoulders and shooting pains up my neck are reminders that beneath the calm and surrendered exterior is a body still in tightly-wound battle mode.

But it all came to the forefront yesterday as I rejoined a gym for the first time in months and was reminded, as I changed afterwards, of all the ways in which infertility can wheedle its negative ways into the everyday pleasures of life.  I’m not that upset about giving up caffeine and alcohol, taking daily multi-vitamin tablets and watching what I eat – those things have become second nature to me now and leave me feeling good.  I do find it hard, however, that since we started trying to get pregnant I still don’t really know how hard to push my body at the gym to allow it to recover and still function at its best and so at times I find it an easier excuse to give in to fear and not to go at all in case I “over do it”.

And these days when I contemplate how unfit I have become I am reminded not only of the weakness of my muscles but once again of the failure of my reproductive system to bring forth life.  Dislike at my lack of motivation to tone up switches up a gear into disgust that my body is useless at fulfilling the function that it was made for.  I thought I was past feeling like that about my body, but it turns out that I’m not yet.

For me, high intensity exercise has always been painful but enjoyable.  If you can’t feel the burn what on earth is the point of squeezing into your lycra get-up in the first place?  If I’m not going to reap the benefits by feeling the transformation taking place then why bother at all?  But high intensity training isn’t just about your muscles responding to the task; it requires strength of mind to persist.  So, as it happens, does battling one’s way through the day-to-day slog of infertility.  And that appears to be where I come unstuck because I don’t appear to have the capacity for both.  It is too difficult to be motivated to shout at oneself to “Come on, keep going!” on more than one level.  I have to dig deep to work hard at the gym – and I’m already digging deeper to work hard at being fully engaged and at peace with my life as it looks.

Since last summer we have been in a season of being hidden by God and I am immensely, profoundly grateful for that.  I am away from prying eyes, away from a church congregation which empties like a seashore with the tide going out when the children’s work begins.  I am away from 360 degrees of concrete landscape and I can breathe.  I am removed from responsibility and pressure.  I am better at ‘going with the flow’ than I ever used to be and the default-mode control freak within me is just a tiny bit proud of that.  God has chosen in the past to hide me during certain seasons and last time it felt like I had to become the caterpillar that must crawl into its cocoon in order to emerge a butterfly.  I am in the refiner’s fire and do hope to emerge with a new skin, a new self, a new glow.

But there are days when the distance I still have to go to emerge with new wings a-flutter seems a very long way.  I know I’m learning, growing and changing and yet I keep re-discovering those old bad habits. “Are you still here?  I thought you had long gone”.

And then it hit me as I returned to the gym a second time a few days later – sometimes the only thing we can do is to just get back on the bike.  It’s a cliche – we all know that – but that’s the point, isn’t it, because cliche can be embedded in truth?!  Just like my exercise regime needs a kick up the bum to get going again and see past the hesitancy, the fear, the immediate pain of inaction for the long-term gains, so my mind requires a focused prodding to keep renewing itself and to see past the failures.

It’s so easy to drop the momentum of our faith – to stop reading our Bibles, to miss a few quiet times here and there, to listen to programmes and songs that speak a different story, to withdraw from God’s presence, to say things we mean but don’t really believe with our hearts.  But as I lose that momentum so the half-truths start to seep back into my mind and warp what I see and what I think. Just as our bodies lose their suppleness and strength when the desire to exercise deserts us, so those spiritual muscles start to get a little flabby and flimsy around the edges and stop achieving their full potential.

So I determine to get back on my bike – physically and spiritually.  Whatever I can see in front of me is not what defines me now or in the future.  I might have to use some effort in putting the discipline back into place to bring my body and my mind back into shape, but the long-term benefits of those decisions far outweigh any short-term discomfort at being roused out of my own laziness.  And so that is the challenge that I am choosing to embrace today because I have no desire to be held back by fear or laziness.  I am operating from a place of victory.  My identity rests in the knowledge that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and we shall go forth and conquer these imperfect places in my life together.

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Hope Like a Juggernaut

Yesterday God showed me that even when new things – or old things – cause me to wobble, he’s still fully passionate about reminding me of one of the central messages of His outlook on life.

As we drove down our lane and waited to turn out onto the busy main road, a huge lorry I had never seen before thundered past the front of our car.  On the side of the lorry in huge letters was the word HOPE.

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Father God has been telling me lately in gentle, delicate ways to keep hoping – through songs, through beautiful delicate flowers, through others’ prayers for us.  Yet on this occasion, as I was feeling shaky once again, he seemed to just want to clonk me over the head with a massive dollop of reassurance,

“HOPE!!  Have hope, Helena!”.

It turns out that the contents of these lorries are used by the construction industry to lay the foundations of new buildings.  Right now I can’t think of a better foundation to be laying in my own life than that of hope – in Him.  So, can I encourage you to seek out hope – in all circumstances.  When you’re feeling wobbly return to Jesus – the One in whom we have our hope because He paid the price and set us free with His amazing act of sacrifice and love.

If you need to be reminded of the power and importance of hope, have a look at this very brief study here from a few months back.

In the Bleak Midwinter

It’s been a long while since I posted anything.  I didn’t intend to leave it so long but somehow my voice became swallowed and I have had to retrace my steps to find where I left it before I was knocked off my feet.  In the midst of this winter I have had to re-learn my survival methods.  It’s funny how quickly negative ways of thinking and being can become habit again when you think you’ve kicked them to the curb once and for all.

12366181_10153776229382296_8425328429486276358_oChristmas came in its strange, anticlimactic mystery and majesty.  So much hope and promise in the Messiah’s arrival, yet the fuzzy glow seemed tarnished by my lurking sadness and the materialistic hubbub dazzled even more hollowly than usual.  The lamenting tone of In the Bleak Midwinter and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear resonated more deeply than the raucous, rallying cries of more popular carols.

My fleshy, passionate heart had transfigured itself into a frozen lake, thick with ice; joyful greetings and meetings skating across the surface, never leaving a trace.  I could sense life deep down beneath the solid surface but it would take a rock to smash a way in.  Or perhaps a gentle thaw from the edges, inch by inch creeping back.  Only God knew what was needed and to my shame I didn’t know how to heart-melt before Him voluntarily.

I didn’t intend to feel so winded by the IVF failure and the cat dying.  I think I’m learning that we can’t always predict the circumstances that we will soar through and those that will see us plummet.  Sometimes we surprise ourselves.  I can see my errors.  I had grown lazy at reading my Bible and a little bit out of the practise of prayer.  Our new location has provided us with the grandeur of Psalm 19 on our doorstep and yet we miss our close circle of supporters nearby to help pray us through the tough times.  And I had started listening to the voices of the everyday rather than the soothing sounds of worship.  Worship music is still the quickest and surest short-cut I know to getting back into the presence of God and regaining what I have lost: my focus and my sense of awe at His limitless power.

A few days after Christmas I found myself watching the Queen’s speech on catch-up with my family and a single line in her address made me pause:

light

Such a simple, profound truth.

What are we going to focus on in times of difficulty: the overwhelming presence of the darkness or the determination to see a single spark of light splitting the gloom around us, illuminating our surroundings, dispersing shadows?  How much longer did I want to sit in the sadness?  Why was I choosing to comment on how little I could see or feel when I could be living up to the very meaning of my name – “shining light, bright one” – and choosing to shine in the face of the gloom?  How had I come to forget the very essence of the Father’s nature?  God is light.  In him there is no darkness at all.

peaceAnd with His light came heat and the gentle defrosting of my heart, helped along by a beautiful Christmas present – Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago.  This book is aimed at children but with thoughts expressed so beautifully through words and illustrations that the weighty call of the Father is not lost on the hearts of its adult readers.

With each page God spoke to my inner child and reminded me of His love and care for me, His protection and promises, His hope and faithfulness.  And little by little my heart regained its strength to hope again, to adopt again the perspective of heaven and to take God’s hand and allow Him to lead me forwards into the new year.