Tag Archives: discipline

The promise

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This evening I sat down to write an inspiring but wildly funny post about My Flab And New Strategies For Getting Rid Of It.

This was an important post, because it came at the end of a day of assiduous consumption of everything in the kitchen that didn’t up and run away. I’ve become quite good at the housewife thing just lately, so my kitchen is almost completely clear of things with legs. In other words, not a lot escaped my ravenous maw.

It made me feel miserable.

I pondered the words in my last post, about wanting to “honor” my friend’s memory, and be a better person as inspired by her, and I mocked myself. Words like fat frumpy failure of femininishness came to mind.

The post I wrote was all very funny, of course, ha ha ha, not at all miserable, and then I tried to access a site that I wanted to link to the post and my computer had a fit, and by the time it regained consciousness the entire post was gone. It was one of those rambling exercises in free association that is completely impossible to replicate.

There was only one thing to do, and I did it. I drove the four miles to our nearest convenience store and bought ice cream. In a few minutes, I will take my ice cream and my book and climb into bed and call this miserable day DONE.

But first … there’s something I need to do. I hope it doesn’t make you feel used.

I need to make a promise. The promise is being made to myself, no one else, but I feel a need to make it public. I will probably regret posting this tomorrow, but I hope I will have the courage to leave it up anyway.

My promise is this: from tomorrow, I will begin to introduce new discipline into the way I nurture my body. I will nourish it with food that helps it work well. I will take it for walks as often as I can – I hope daily. And I will put it to bed in time to let it have the rest it needs. Most importantly, I will learn to stop hating, despising and resenting it.

With companions like these, and a place like this to go walking, how can I not learn to love "exercise"?

With companions like these, and such a place right nearby to go walking, how can I not learn to love “exercise”?

I will do this in honor of my friend, who started running to fight cancer and stood her ground for 26 years; who rose before dawn every morning until weeks before she died because time was too precious to waste; and who regarded each day as a gift.

But just to be clear, I’m not doing this for her. I’m doing it for me. She’s my inspiration, but I am my own and sufficient reason.

And I’ll be checking in with you on my progress as I go along, in particular sharing lessons that you might find useful. I hope you’ll stick with me and share your own stories. A change this radical isn’t going to be easy, and it would be good to know I’m not making it alone.

Anybody out there with me?

The discipline of trust

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Two weeks ago I visited my friend for the last time.

Yesterday at the church her son gave me the woven shawl she would use when she rested on the couch in her living room. I used to love how soft it felt when I sat at the end of the couch with the shawl over my lap while I massaged her poor, swollen feet, back when her liver began to fail. Now she doesn’t need it any more, and I can wrap it around myself like a hug any time I want to.

I asked for something to remember her by. When he gave me this, my heart broke. Then I came home and wrapped it around me, and was comforted.

I asked for something to remember her by. When he gave me this, my heart broke. Then I came home and wrapped it around me, and was comforted.

We didn’t get to talk the last time I visited her. She was uncomfortable but she couldn’t speak above a whisper, just a few slurred words at a time, so I didn’t know what to do for her. I retreated to the big easy chair she kept in her bedroom and let the Hospice aide tend to her. The aide was kind and competent, but my friend wanted pain medication and the aide wouldn’t (couldn’t?) give it to her.

“You have to wait until 4.30,” she said, again and again, in response to my friend’s broken, insistent whispers. (It was then two o’clock.) The aide went away and called Hospice then came back and said it again. While she was out of the room I sat beside my friend, stroking her hand, bereft of words – because what are words for if not to advise, encourage or inform? I could do nothing but sit beside her and stare at the drawer of her bedside table, inside which she had 15 or 20 bottles of pills. She knew which ones she wanted but I did not, and even if I’d had the courage to give them to her I could not understand her.

In movies, drugs for dying patients are kept on the far side of the room, out of their reach. I have always thought that was wickedly cruel. If I were dying and in pain, I have thought, I would want to have my medications right next to me, and if I wished to take an extra one or two – and so speed the process – that should be my right.

My friend’s pills were right within her reach, but she was too weak to get them out of the drawer, too tired and confused to read the labels, and much too feeble to open the cap on the pill bottle. I did not know it was possible to be that weak.

I do not know how it is possible to be that strong. I understand now that even then, when her need was great, if she had been able to take an extra pill and so end her struggle she would not have done so. Years ago, long before I met her, she entrusted her life into God’s hands, and she left it there. Something I have learned about God is, when you hand Him your life, He doesn’t lift it out of reach. You can take it back any time you choose – and choosing not to can be an act of extraordinary discipline. My friend was the most disciplined person I have ever known.

At last she wearied of arguing with the aide. I could see she needed to sleep, and I had errands to run and nothing to offer her anyway. “I have to go,” I told her, “but I’ll pray for you first.” It was just a little prayer – there was nothing to ask for but rest, freedom from pain, and for her to go home, home, home – “Please,” I whispered, “Let her come home!”  And she sighed relief as the lines of tension in her face eased, and it seemed to me that she relaxed into her Father’s arms.

But it was a whole hard week before He finally took her home, and during that time she didn’t want visitors. It was painful to be shut out, reminded daily that I could do nothing for her. But thinking back now I’m grateful that memory is the last one I have of her. I’m thankful that in that little prayer I did after all have something, however fleeting, to give her.

We said goodbye to her yesterday, in a service she planned to the last detail just before Thanksgiving. The first hymn said pretty much everything important about who she was and how she lived, right up to her last breath.

More people came to the service than I expected. She was the kind of person one always pictured standing alone – not aloof or lonely, but serenely self-contained. I knew, of course, that she was active in volunteer work, and that she deeply loved her family and spent as much time as she could with them. But until a few weeks before she died, when I was with her it was always just the two of us, and during those times she was so completely present that it never occurred to me that anyone that calm could possess the time or energy to have so many other friendships that ran as deep. But my friend never wasted her energy or her time, and so she had precisely as much as she needed for what mattered to her.

It was beautiful but humbling, yesterday, to realize that she had also been completely present within the lives of many other people. As they spoke about her I learned things – ordinary facts about her and her history and thoughts she had shared in conversations with others – and I was amazed by the complex, rich beauty of her life and personality. I had thought I knew her well; I know she didn’t hold back in the conversations we shared – and yet there was so much more to know than I had ever imagined. In a way, she was like her shawl. I always thought it was purple, and it was only after I brought it home that I noticed all the other colors in the weave.

And now it is the day after her memorial, and she really and truly is gone from my life, and it is time to move on. Except…

Except I find myself still wanting to honor her. Knowing her and losing her has changed me, and I find myself wanting to live that change, to give it breath. A month ago, watching her quietly yield up the elements of her life, I thought she was showing me how to die, but I see now that she has taught me far more important things about how to live.

Day 10 – I quit

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What I want more than anything else right now is to achieve self-discipline. Quitting might seem an odd way to begin focusing on that goal, but a key aspect of self-discipline, as opposed to imposed discipline, is that it should be meaningful.

For me, daily blogging is not meaningful. It’s a dead bore – largely because I’m so darn fixated on thinking about something to write about that will justify hitting the publish button, that I don’t have time to think or do anything that’s actually worth writing about. Enough! Henceforth, I will aim to write a little every day, but to post only weekly, on Wednesdays.

Mainly, though, I want to begin establishing some other disciplines, or habits. And this is a challenge, because although being up and moving is easier and less painful, it’s still hard. My energy levels are still frustratingly low; I really thought they’d be better by now, but although my head is generally clearer and I have periods of reasonable energy, I get tired quickly. I guess that’s to be expected when you’re carrying around a whole extra person.

Anyway… I’ve made a list of stuff I need to do every day. Mostly it’s housework and a few outside chores. There’s some desk work, including writing and income generation, so that when I need to sit down I can do so without wasting time. And there are some activities I do just for joy’s sake, like training Argos.

Little by little, I am reconstructing my life, incorporating a richness than I’ve not been able to allow myself for … far too long.

With the Daniel diet I’m getting my body into shape. No of course I haven’t quit the diet – do you think I’m nuts? It’s no fun and I’m pretty sick of it, but I’ve survived the first 25%; just one month to go and I can adopt a less restrictive approach to eating. I’ll be controlling my diet for the rest of my life, of course, but it won’t always have to be this stringent.

Anyway … the body is coming right. Now I want to expand beyond my skin and pay a little more attention to my immediate environment.

At the back of my mind is the knowledge that I’m still neglecting the most important task, which is to focus on the spiritual … but I’m just not ready to do that right now. It’s too easy to start out praying and end up navel-gazing. So I’m just trusting in God to wait for me for a little longer.

That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for staying with me!

Your turn. Are you happy with the shape of your life right now? What techniques help you live to the full each day? Read the rest of this entry