Sunday, September 28, 2008

Making a Difference

I was driving through our neighborhood the other day, in a hurry, and felt particularly annoyed by the speed humps on the road between my house and the local elementary school. Then I remembered how they got there.

When we moved into the neighborhood about seven years ago, my wife decided that vehicles were going too fast on the road that passes by our house. It was hard to argue with that...some went speeds that must have been around 60 mph.

The unusual thing about it was what my wife said she was going to do. "I'm going to get speed bumps put in on this road," she said. Now, she didn't know anything about how to get speed humps put in, but she wasn't very worried about that. Instead, it might as well have already been done...she would figure it out and make it happen.

We found out it wasn't an easy process. It required petitions by the home owners (who are often different from the people living in the house at the time), securing city funds, street map checking to ensure the road isn't classified as a major passageway for emergency vehicles, and many other requirements. Undaunted, and with little help from me, she went around the neighborhood and began collecting signatures. Not everyone thinks getting speed humps is a good idea. And tracking down owners of rental properties takes quite a bit of persistence. However, after a month or so, she had the needed signatures and paperwork into the city. And shortly thereafter, we had speed humps strategically placed up and down the road between our house and the school.

They have become such a natural part of the subdivision now that I sometimes do not even think about them. But when they stood out to me the other day when I was in a hurry, I had almost forgotten my wife had anything to do with them. When I remembered, I smiled. I thought about how neat it was that she had put her mind to it and got it accomplished, even though it was quite a project.

That is how my wife is. She decides what is going to be done and doesn't really care what logic says about it or what the odds are. She just figures that she is going to find a way to get it done.

Sometimes.

There are other things she sets her mind to that don't happen, even when the odds are not nearly as stacked against the thing as they were with the speed humps. For example, she has a list, as I'm sure many people do, of things she wants to get done, many of which are things that she feels need to become daily habits. Some may be new years resolutions. Yet, unlike the speed humps, they never get conquered. One of those items has been, for nearly as long as I've known her, exercising. You would never guess it to look at her. She can eat whatever she wants and hardly gains a pound. Even after seven pregnancies and getting a bit older, she is still very trim and is very attractive. But she has never, in the 20 years I have now known her, made exercise a regular habit, even though for much of the time she has talked about it (for non-weight related reasons, such as overall fitness, strengthening a weak back, etc.)

I imagine we are all like that a bit. We get some things done that we put our minds to while others go unaccomplished. But not everyone has what it takes to get impossible things done with such persistence as does my wife.

So, what makes the difference whether something is a "speed hump" or whether it is an "exercise habit"? I wish I knew the answer to that. If someone can do anything they set their mind to, why do they then decide not to do some of those things, even after making a big deal about how they are going to accomplish something new.

It isn't ability. It isn't focus. It isn't strong will.

I think it has to do with who we care most about. The speed humps affected our children and others in the neighborhood. The speeding cars represented a current and future threat to our children. That is easy to rally around, to make time for, to beat the odds for.

But how about when it comes to ourselves? Do we care about ourselves as much as we do our children? Are we worth taking care of? Can we beat the odds for our own benefit?

Sound selfish? I don't think so. Fail to take care of yourself, and think about how many people will be worried, how many people will suffer, how much less good you will be able to do in the world.

But set those aside for a while. You are someone else's child. You come from parents, whether still living or deceased, who care just as much about you and your well being as you do about your own children. Would you do it for them?

You are a child of God who loves and cares about you and wants you to love and take care of yourself, whether emotionally, physically or spiritually. Would you do it for Him?

It's our choice--when things enter our minds that we know we need to do, that we even want to do or promise ourselves that we will do. But when are the times we treat them like "speed humps" and conquer the odds? And when are the times they conquer us?

If your answers are like mine, the person we most often let down is ourselves. We are the last to get much-needed attention. We suffer on with conditions that limit us while we go about trying to help others. But the concerning part is that it may have nothing at all about being self-less and service-oriented. It may have to do with refusing to do what it takes to take care of the one person who we ought to love because so many others dear to us depend upon-- ourselves.

The next time we drive over a speed hump, I hope it jars something within us to heal and nurture that part of us that is in the back of our minds as needing attention but always gets put on the back burner. For me, that is my weight and cholesterol. What is it for you? Whatever it is, I hope we can garner up whatever it takes to get it done and make it as lasting a part of our lives as the speed humps on the street between my house and the local school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Throw Me an Innertube

Back to the penguins on my shower curtain...one of the most curious of the bunch was floating in an innertube. Sure, it was cute, but what was it doing in an innertube? Now, me in an innertube would make a lot of sense...I might sink (I know they say fat floats, but for some reason I am quite capable of sinking). But a penguin can swim like ... well, a penguin.

That made me think about how we are sometimes like this penguin -- we tell ourselves we need something artifical, something additional, to survive, when we really have the ability to do so already within us.

Ever think about how many times a typical person tells himself/herself daily that he/she needs something artifical in order to make it? Listen around you for a while and you'll hear it everywhere:

1) I need a cup of coffee to wake me up and help me focus
2) I need some tylenol to take away my headache
3) I need an anti-anxiety pill to calm my nerves
4) I need a cigarette to help me cope with stress
5) I need a Pepsi for an energy boost
6) I need some alcohol to help me loosen up (or celebrate, or help me sleep, or help me get through the night)
7) I need some study snacks to help me get my homework done tonight (one of my favorite lines while I was in school...which means doughnuts, icecream, cookies, etc.)
8) I need a sleeping pill to help me fall asleep/stay asleep
9) I need a diet pill to help me lose weight
10) I need some chocolate to ... (just about anything can fill in this blank)

Now, I am certainly not against using medicine to help treat diseases. But, it really is fascinating how many times we send ourselves messages in a single day that we cannot do something without the artifical help of something we eat, drink, inhale or swallow.

"I can't do this myself...I need to take/eat/drink ___________ in order to _________________"

For some of us, this involves consuming a steady stream of stimulants, depressants, other drugs and junk food from sunrise to sunset all based on a schedule of needs we feel we cannot meet any other way. I worry about what all of this does physically to our bodies. But, I worry even more about the message we send ourselves by doing this:

"I cannot do this without..."

You can't wake up without coffee? Yes, you can. Millions of people do it everyday. Debate all you want about whether coffee helps or hurts the human body, but I believe that convincing yourself that you can't wake up, be alert or be nice to others without a morning cup is a dangerous road emotionally. Yes, you can wake up...your body and your mind have the power to do it and you don't need coffee to do it for you.

You can't calm your nerves without a cigarette? Yes, you can. You did it before you started smoking. Millions of people around you do it every day. You've fallen into the mental trap of telling yourself that, long-term harmful effects aside, you need a cigarette in order to get through the day. But, you don't. And don't tell me that you smoke becuase you like it and you choose to do it. You may tell yourself or others this on the surface, but you know deep down, when you face the real you, that you do it because you believe you need it...it is scary to face the world without it. You don't know if you really can stop it. Afterall, if you really believe yourself when you say you smoke out of choice, then why have you tried to stop before? It may be nice to tell yourself that you smoke today because you want to. But, when no one is looking, you have to admit that you don't believe you can live without it today. The amazing truth, however, is that you don't need it -- you are strong enough to make it without cigarettes. YOU can calm your nerves and be just fine. YOU can deal with the stress life presents. Many people with weaker wills than you have done it. You have the power within you to do it too.

Can't quit eating ice cream when you are stressed? Yes, you can. While nothing may help make it through a difficult finals-preparation study night (or fight with a significant other) like an entire carton of Ben & Jerry's, you can do just as well tonight without it. There are people all around the world who make it thorugh stressful nights without downing a carton of B&J--it is just the "innertube" you've convinced yourself you need because you won't let yourself believe you can do it on your own. Allow yourself to really look at what you are thinking and believing, and you'll see that it likely goes something like this:

"Something bad is happening, and it is really stressful."
"This is scary/sad/terrible, and I can't deal with it."
"What can I do to deal with this?"
"I need Ben and Jerry's"
"But, I probably shouldn't...it's got 200% of the daily value of saturated fat in one carton...and I always eat a whole carton. Plus I had a cheeseburger for lunch, so I definately don't need any more saturated fat."
"But, what is more important to me right now-- fighting off heart disease that could come 20 years from now, or getting through tonight?"
"That is a hard call...I mean, I could develop cancer or get in an accident 5 years from now, in which case the heart disease won't have mattered all that much, and I could definately use the escape into Ben and Jerry's tonight. And, how much plaque can one carton cause?"
"I can't handle all of this decision making and gloom and doom"
"Where is the Ben and Jerry's...maybe I'll just eat 1 serving's worth."
"(One serving later) How can anyone say that 1 serving of Ben and Jerry's is 1/4 of this carton...it must be mislabeled, and I'm feeling better already, so I better keep going."
"I probably shouldn't have eaten the whole carton, but I'll resist the temptation next time..tonight it helped me get through the stress."

So, here is a call to ditch the innertubes, whatever shape or form they may take in your life. You don't need them. They don't really help you, in fact they hurt you more than just physically. For, every day you pull out the innertube and float on the surface while the other penguins swim, you further convince yourself that you are not strong enough to make it without artifical help. You believe that if you swallow some "liquid courage" (or pill-shaped, or smoked-courage, or ice-cream courage) for just another day, maybe you will be strong enough tomorrow.

But the truth is that most people who eat becuase of stress today will do it again tomorrow. Most who smoke their "last cigarette" today, smoke their next one tomorrow.

How do you ditch the innertube? No one knows but you, and it comes one decision at a time. I've seen people get off of terribly-addictive drugs in a day without ever having a relapse. I've seen others fight it for years before making it clean for a whole year. But the strength is in the battle. And it all begins in the mind, one decision at a time.

The next time you reach for your own personal innertube, saying "I need _________ to do _____________", think about the penguin on my shower curtain. Toss it aside with a vow to do it yourself. Tell yourself, "If this is the best life can throw at me, then I've already won." We can wake up, we can be alert, we can manage stress, we can relax, we can fall asleep, we can face confrontation and discouragement ... all of our own power. Don't give that power away for another day.

Toss the innertube, and swim.