Friday, July 19, 2013

Church in the Gym

Through the years, I have attended many different churches in various locations. From old grocery stores to movie theaters and gymnasiums--I have seen firsthand that it is rarely the building that defines what goes on inside the hearts and minds of people. This normal Friday morning, quite unexpectedly, I experienced one of the more emotional lessons of my recent life in a gymnasium.

Ironically, I didn't go to this particular school gym to hear a sermon. I went (begrudgingly) to work out. As my trainer went over the day's exercises, I noted the arm, leg and ab emphasis. I wasn't expecting the spiritual muscles God was planning to really work.

I work out one-on-one with a trainer because I get overwhelmed and defeated in larger group settings. I do not enjoy exercise. I have a cardiac history. I am not particularly strong. And perhaps most importantly, I am prideful.

I know in my soul I should be exceedingly grateful that this heart that almost killed me nine years ago can even make it through our high energy days--much less a work out. The truth is, I am embarrassed that I can't keep up with everyone else in an average group. I like feeling strong--emotionally, spiritually, physically. While much of my life allows me to feel capable, group exercise reveals that I am actually kind of weak with strong tendencies to be a quitter. It is not an enjoyable reminder and is exactly why I need to keep going.

My workout today was a 'dirty thirty.' Ten exercises, thirty times each. On the surface, it looked straightforward and entirely doable--especially when I realized it had been modified from the 'real' Crossfit WOD requiring 50 of each.

I started strong, but like so much of life, realized that this was going to be more challenging than I had thought. Somewhere around the 15th pull up I started to feel overwhelmed. It was only the second of ten exercises I needed to do. My arms were shaking. To get through the last ten I went deep in my head. It's just ten. You can do ten, Jen. Think of it like the last ten years you have with your kids at home. They are going to be challenging. But you won't give up on that. Tackle them one at a time. Each pull up came to represent a tween or teen year. Grunting, pushing and pulling, I struggled to finish well.

There were still eight sets of exercises to go. Some were easier to accomplish than others, but on the fifth set I started to cry. It really wasn't about the exercise. I was not in pain. My amazing gift of a trainer, Jessica, stood by and took a break from counting my reps to add softly, "I don't know where you are in you head, but you are doing great."

Praise music played in the background--songs about God's faithfulness and His strength. Big tears continued to roll down my face from closed eyes. I breathed deep and pushed out the last of my work out. With each rep more layers were peeled back from my heart, revealing what this emotion was all about.

As third grade lingers just a few weeks away, I am worried about my P. Yesterday I sat in a doctor's office reviewing a list of diagnoses. He has a handful of different issues going on that overlap in various ways and make life a bit complicated. He is like an old house with great bones and so much charm and potential. Like the quirky old home, P has light switches hidden in unexpected places. There are handles you need to jiggle a certain way and doors that require a little hip bump to close. Our P is a gem that needs people patient enough to invest in him and help bring out his beauty and character--not by tearing him down, but by working slowly and methodically to unleash the beauty of what has been there all along.

I worry that in a world that likes to design their own everything--from hamburgers to tennis shoes to homes--people will make driveby snap judgments without taking the time to value that "they just don't make 'em like him much anymore."

There's not a lot to P's outward appearance that would indicate the complexities of his inner world. When things are more challenging for him than other kids it can simply appear he's lazy, aloof, wimpy or 'checked out.' We don't walk around advertising his challenges or affix a label to him. He doesn't spout out diagnoses as excuses when he is struggling. He simply has to work a lot harder at some things than the other kids do. And as I walk through raising P, I realize its true of my other children and of me too. We are all like gigantic soundboards with hundreds of knobs requiring tweaking and dialing in various situations.

And this takes me back to the gym. Things that seem to be easy for others were a real challenge for me. As I struggled to complete my sets when every single pull up, burpee, wall ball counted, I thought about what a metaphor it was for the realities so many people face. Maybe it's a marriage that has imploded, an addiction someone is fighting to overcome, an illness, infertility, a heartbreak, a disability or simply the day-in-day-out of young motherhood. Some days we cannot think about the number of reps we have left, but simply focus on pushing through the very next one. Then the one that follows. And then arms shaking and tears streaming, the one after that.

If we are blessed to have someone like my trainer by our side we relish the soft voice of encouragement--not barking at us, shaming us or provoking us--but tenderly reminding us that we can take our time and do the work for just the next thing. My tears were a reminder that there are times when we just don't feel like we can go on. It's hard. We want to throw in the towel and return to our comfort zones. Frankly, it's often the choices we make about what to do in those times that define our lives.

As I wrapped up my workout I was a mess. In addition to my puffy tear-filled eyes I had lost my ponytail holder while jump roping and had dark hair flying everywhere. I was grateful that the gym was basically empty. I couldn't wait to bolt to my car to just have a good cry and process it all. As I tuned back in to the background music there were more lyrics about God's mercy. Despite the challenge of the previous 30 minutes, I couldn't help but praise Him for the unmistakable way he spoke to my heart today.

I went to the gym today to work on abs, legs and arms--I left having been challenged in understanding, compassion and grace. I am so thankful for the God who is relentlessly working on my heart and pray it translates into loving more like Him.


dee said...

Jen, this is SO powerful and true- I love it! I stopped and prayed for your precious P's year (and K & R's). Third grade will be an awesome year for them. It is usually a transition year with many "big kid" accomplishments!

Love Being A Nonny said...


Your P is blessed to have you as his mommy. You are JUST THE RIGHT MOM for him. One day he will thank you for understanding him...or at least trying to. You BOTH are blessed!

HW said...

What a beautiful post and a lovely tribute to your P. I love the words you used to describe him. You are a wonderful, purposeful mother.

LeighAnn said...

Jennifer, this is so beautiful. You have been called to be the mother of these precious children and maybe to encourage others through your incredible talent for putting experiences into words. You have an amazing gift/ministry. God bless your sweet family.

ChelseaSalomone said...

I love your heart. And I am praying right now for a teacher for P this fall who sees him and his heart for what it is and not what it isn't.

Leigh Ann Smith said...

our little B Bear is a lot like P. ...his needs are a little takes our Bb a little longer, a little longer to recover.... progress is made, just on a different timetable..... but the fact is--he will make progress... thank you for sharing ..Randy& Leigh Ann

You are such an amazing Mom & I will be praying for P & his 3rd grade year..

Lindsey: Mama of Andrew, Adam, and Ally said...

I would love to know more about P, he reminds me SO much of my Andrew. I hardly post on our struggles with him because I don't want to affect people's opinion on him or cause him to feel like I haven't protected his privacy but he is really so complicated and challenging but boy do I love him and want the best for him.