Monday, February 14, 2011

Right Foot First

For my whole life I have been a "right foot first" guy. You know, putting on pants and shorts--right foot in first. For the past week and a half I have needed to become a left foot first guy--and it has not always been an easy adjustment. "Right," you say, "how hard can it be to use a different foot first when you are getting dressed?" Apparently harder for me than I would have thought two weeks ago.

Since my left leg doesn't bend quite as much yet as it eventually will, I have to put my left foot in first, then follow with the right. But the right foot first way of doing things is so ingrained that more than once I have gone right foot first, only to struggle to reach the left. Then you know what comes next--right foot back out and left foot first.

Do you recall back in school when the kid who broke his dominant arm had a tough time? The left-handed kid had to learn how to eat and write with his other hand. The right-handed girl had to figure out how to brush her teeth and hair from the other side. (Think it is easy? Next time, try brushing your teeth with the other hand.)

Old habits die hard. Patterns of behavior can be changed, but not without an effort commensurate with the length of time the behavior has been a habit. Not only effort, but some measure of time. The person who has mostly sat on the sidelines and watched for years will not suddenly become a fit and fast 10k runner. No matter how well intentioned. The person who has not read a book in years will not suddenly become the star of the book club. The instrument owner does not become the musician just by taking the horn out of the case. The person who has made a habit of living far from God doesn't become Mother Teresa overnight.

The challenge of changing habit patterns is to stick with it long enough, and with enough energy, to make it last. The temptation is to quit too soon. Because it may be difficult and the results are not instantaneous.

Patience is not my strong suit, but in my knee rehab, my faith, and the rest of life, I must be patient and invest the time and energy to own my new and healthier habits. Then the new, better habit will be even stronger than the old one.

Pressing On,

Friday, February 11, 2011

The First Bite

This morning I managed to get the bike pedal all the way around. That may not seem impressive at all to those who learned to ride a bike at age 4, but for those who have wrestled with "range of motion" it makes sense why it is an accomplishment worth noting. I am not supposed to have any real resistance quite yet, but the biking motion is supposed to keep the fluids from pooling in the joint and also start rebuilding some strength.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, it is a very small step. I would much prefer to be getting on the bike to ride hard for an hour or so, but right now that is not prudent (and maybe not possible). I am not by nature very patient with myself and my limitations, so this will be a test. But without these small steps that seem so little, there will be no real progress, healing, or movement toward real health.

I wonder how often I have started some discipline that would be of great benefit in the long run, but have abandoned the effort early on because it seemed to be so small or the end goal so far off? In my mind I know that "the longest journey begins with a single step" and "the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time." But sometimes I get paralyzed by the enormity of the ultimate task rather than the progress of each small step in the right direction. A better approach for me would be to celebrate that I rode this morning, rather than looking at how far out of condition I feel or how many mornings it will take to get back to full activity.

My faith journey is a similar experience ion some ways. At times it is almost paralyzing to think about how far I have yet to go in pursuing Christlikeness. My shortcomings loom far larger than the gold stars marking my progress. But I wonder if it would be healthier to focus more on today's progress than on tomorrow's spiritual To-Do list. Today I can only do something about today. Tomorrow I can work on tomorrow's To-Do list.

If running and biking are any example, it won't be long before a focus on what needs to be done today will both keep me plenty busy and also give me enough progress to celebrate tomorrow.

Working on Enjoying the Elephant,

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Back in the Saddle ... sort of

Apparently Dr. Hwang had a field day in the playground that is my knee. As the PT guy (Dan) was explaining what all had been done, it struck me that there was not an interior surface of the knee that had not gotten some attention. No wonder Saturday and Sunday were lost days! (That and I really overdid Friday.)

Now comes the rehab and I have been told that because of the extent of the work and my knee' advanced age (do knee years equal dog years?) I am looking at 2-3 months for full recovery as opposed to the 4-6 weeks for "young-kneed" people. Nevertheless, my hope is to get all the way around on the bicycle pedals by the end of the weekend. To me, that will signal the start of getting back to full activity.

Yet I am faced with the looming question of what full activity means. In all likelihood, my running "career", as I have known it, is over. If I am able to continue to run, it will be much shorter distances and many fewer miles. For years I have known that this is inevitable, yet now that the time for assessment and decision-making is at hand, it makes me very sad.

As you might guess, running has been very important to me over the past few years. For fitness, as a place and time to think and process, as a rubric that pulls all of the various pieces of life and reflection together. But now things will change. What activity will take running's preeminent place? I cannot see becoming sedentary and inactive. Will it be biking? Hiking? Walking? Chasing a granddaughter? Time will tell, but I am definitely on the lookout.

One exciting near term goal--my good friend Frank is pulling together the old bike team from DePauw's Little 5 days for he alumni race this April. My goal is to be ready to ride with those guys. It sounds like all of the riders from both teams will be coming back, so it should be a great time to catch up with old friends--lots of shared memories and stories I am not necessarily sure that my kids need to hear :-)

In the meantime,

Pressing On!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Around the corner

Funny thing about what might be around the corner--we don't know exactly what it is. We may have some idea or we may be completely surprised. And what actually appears when we round the corner may be very much like, or nothing like, what we imagined.

In just a few hours, Dr. Matthew Hwang will be "drilling" a couple of holes into my knee to get his arthroscope and other tools inside. He has a bit of work to do and over the past couple of months we have talked about what this procedure may be able to do. Repair a torn meniscus, shave some rough cartilage, allow me to sit and work for more than a few minutes at a time without that nagging reminder that I live in a human body--a wonderful, but easily broken machine.

As good as Dr. Hwang may be (and I hear that he is very good), what is around the corner is still uncertain. It has been so long since the last time that I had something like this done that I cannot recall how it felt or how long it took to get back to normal. At least this is just physical and there are a limited number of variables that will come into play to determine what is around the corner.

Relational uncertainties would be much harder. Then there are two or more people involved and each one brings their own variables. Does each one want to invest in the friendship or other relationship? Is the timing right from both sides? Can the hurts--real or imagined--from the past be overcome? Fixing torn hearts is far more complicated than fixing a torn meniscus.

Yet the hope in either situation comes from the reality that there is One who knows what is around the corner. And not only that, but God has made a commitment to walk with His people around whatever corners they need to turn. Whether in the sunny, cheerful light of day or the dark, scary night of uncertainty. God never promised that all would be sweetness and light. But He did promised that His people would never walk alone.

I am hopeful about the next few weeks. I should be able to start biking in a couple of days and light running in 4 to 6 weeks--about when the show and ice go away here in Minnesota. I may be surprised when I turn the corner. but I will never be alone.

Press On!